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One foot in, one out: Mt Kenya leaders in a tight spot

By Eric Nyakagwa | September 28th 2021

With no prospect of fielding a presidential candidate in next August’s General Election, politicians from the Mt Kenya region are burning the midnight oil trying to secure their place in the next administration.

This has led to various political players, both individually and jointly, shifting gears as they seek to ensure they are not left in the political cold. Some of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s closest allies, like Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, have indicated their readiness to jump the Jubilee ship lest they sink with it. For now, it remains unclear how the situation in the region will crystallise and whether President Uhuru will be in a position to whip it together to move in line with his preferred succession plan.

With the BBI process still subject to court battles, political actors have set their eyes on the Deputy President’s position as one of the “irreducible minimums” that any presidential candidate eyeing the support of the vote-rich region must accede to secure their backing.

It is not a far-fetched demand as various presidential candidates, including Deputy President William Ruto, have previously promised to consider picking their running mates from the Mountain. Among the names floated as potential running mates include Waiguru, National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, former presidential candidate Peter Kenneth, former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria and his Mathira counterpart Rigathi Gachagua.

At one point, however, Ruto, who has heavily invested in the region, indicated he will go for a female running mate, a task that appears to have been complicated by the small number of potential women candidates in his corner.
Before they fell out over the NYS I scandal, Waiguru, then the Devolution CS, was seen as the most ideal partner for the DP but that is now far-fetched following his subsequent parting of ways with President Uhuru as far as the 2022 succession is concerned.

However, Waiguru remains a target for various presidential contenders with Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka recently paying her a courtesy call to discuss issues of mutual interest. Waiguru, who maintains her focus for now remains on defending her gubernatorial seat, has, however, indicated she is considering the various offers that have been extended to her.

But in an interesting turn, Amani leader Musalia Mudavadi on Tuesday dismissed assertions by his deputy Ayub Savula that the party is wooing Waiguru, terming his views personal during a TV interview. Waiguru had also in reaction to Savula’s remarks, stated that it was too early to commit herself leaving room to a potential patching up of ties with Ruto.

On the other hand, Muturi has since launched his presidential campaign but which almost immediately ran into headwinds when his installation as Mt Kenya spokesperson was opposed. In Mt Kenya East, Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi has also made it clear that  he will vet all candidates before deciding on who to back.

It is also believed that if President Uhuru eventually settles on former premier Raila Odinga as his preferred successor, the ODM leader’s running mate will most likely come from the Mountain, although that would depend on the coalition that will be backing him. However, it is the manner in which the region is seeking to get its piece of the cake – a huge chunk at that – that is becoming increasingly intriguing.

This is especially following the formation of the Mt Kenya Unity Forum (MKUF). The caucus brings together leaders of various political formations from Mt Kenya West and the Diaspora with the aim of ensuring the region gets equity in representation as well as sharing of resources and development. Among those present at a retreat in Naivasha which was to come up with a concrete agenda last weekend were Kuria, Gachagua and Kiunjuri, who are allied to Ruto and former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo, an associate of Uhuru’s.

During the meeting, where they agreed to come up with a blueprint for vetting presidential candidates, the group picked Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua as the convener/spokesperson. But it remains to be seen whether they will have their demands catered for by any presidential candidate given the complexity of ethnic and regional politics in Kenya.

A well placed United Democratic Alliance (UDA) official, who requested anonymity so as to speak freely, claimed the whole agenda of the caucus is to blackmail the DP, adding he is unlikely to fall into their trap. “All they want is for the DP to negotiate with them but on what basis? For instance, Moses Kuria has been the convener of that forum but says he supports Ruto. He also says he wants to field his own MPs. The other politicians in the group also have their own parties. In my opinion, negotiations should only happen post-election. For now, let everyone go to the field, campaign for their candidates and then we can negotiate based on the outcomes,” he told The Nairobian.

“As UDA, we also have candidates and we will go out there and campaign for them vigorously. That is why negotiations at this point are tricky. Because, you can reach a deal with someone, then at the end of the day, he delivers one or two MPs. Or the party leader himself fails to clinch a seat and yet you had agreed he would be your running mate or offered him key dockets such as Treasury or Interior.

“How will it work out because you would have already signed the pre-election coalition agreement and deposited it with the registrar, meaning it is binding?” he posed. On his part, History professor Macharia Munene argues that politicians are in a panic mode and are acting out of desperation based on the situation on the ground.
“There is a sense of desperation. All those names are just names without much impact. Things could change but it does not look good,” Prof Munene told The Nairobian.

“Putting conditions on presidential candidates is like entering MoUs; they are not binding. Once the candidate is in, ‘mambo kwisha’. A strong president can do whatever he wants.”

Mt Kenya voters are known to kick out a huge number of sitting MPs at every election cycle.
It is a fact Waiguru is alive to warning her colleagues that they should be alive to the fact that presidential candidates can easily bypass them and reach out to voters directly. But interestingly, even as political activities heighten on the Mountain, in Western, another vote-rich bloc, there is loud silence less than a year to the elections.


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