Why top political leaders all want slice of Mt Kenya
Eric Wainaina @EWainaina
Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s tour of Murang’a on Tuesday has brought to the fore the aggressive, and behind the scenes, scramble for the vote-rich Mt Kenya region.
The ODM leader, who was hosted by former presidential candidate Peter Kenneth, Governor Mwangi Wa Iria, business mogul S K Macharia and other Central Kenya leaders, was the latest prospective presidential candidate to tour the region in a bid to court the projected eight million voters.
Raila’s tour came a few days after ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi criss-crossed the region.
Deputy President William Ruto has been a fixture in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s backyard since the 2017 General Election.
Raila, who failed to make inroads in the area in past elections, was accompanied by a strong ODM delegation, among them Embakasi MP Babu Owino who triggered demonstrations in the region in the last election after he hurled unprintable words at Uhuru.
While the event at Macharia’s rural residence in Gatanga was projected as an ordinary meeting where Raila was to meet Central Kenya musicians, sources disclosed to People Daily that it was well planned by local leaders led by Kenneth and nominated MP Maina Kamanda to market Raila.
Almost all leading politicians have in recent months been making forays into Central Kenya in what is turning out to be a fierce battle for the projected eight million votes, and close to two million others from the Gema community living outside the region.
Like a bride attracting men across the ridges who would go to the extent of sending emissaries to bad mouth competitors, some of the politicians have deployed surrogates to deliver the region’s votes to them.
“Mt Kenya has the most votes as we head to the next elections. Close to eight million (is up for grabs). It also has a regional kingpin who’s retiring as president.
Again it doesn’t have anyone who has come out from within with a realistic chance of having a successful run for President,” Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, a staunch Uhuru supporter said.
This has turned the region into a battleground – even literally – as leaders engage in divisive succession politics which at times involves violence and use of abusive language by surrogates of Uhuru, Ruto, Raila and Mudavadi. Last year, two people died in Murang’a during a visit by the DP.
From a deputy keen to penetrate the region on his own in order to advance his ambitions after falling out with his boss, quest by Raila to win part of the region’s votes to top up what he garnered in 2017, to young and ambitious leaders hoping to control the region’s voting, Mt Kenya is the new playground of Kenya’s politics.
Also at play is the push by Uhuru’s backers to consolidate the region against the DP who, until recently, was hopping to automatically inherit the votes.
The emergence of the One Kenya Alliance (OKA), whose leadership is eyeing a share of the region’s support as they seek to create a third force, and the rift between Mt Kenya East and Central Kenya regions have also spiced up the fight.
Pundits and politicians from across the political camps agree that the region is divided by external factors where presidential candidates are eyeing its support.
Furthermore, the quest by some elected and non-elected leaders to succeed the President as the region’s kingpin is fueling the fire that has put the region in the headlines for months.
Dr Michael Mugo, the national deputy chairman of the Kikuyu Elders’ Council, Kiama Kia Ma, likened the current situation to a bride on offer but is yet to decide whom to get engaged to, saying every man will try to sweet-talk her hoping to win her.
“When there are many beautiful girls in a village, men travel from far away hoping to win their hearts and that is where Central Kenya is.
Many men, who in this case are politicians from other regions, are trooping here hoping to win over the voters,” Mugo said.
During the 2017 elections, the region had 5.3 million votes, 31 per cent of the total 19.6 million registered voters.
The region comprises of Kiambu, Murang’a, Nyeri, Embu, Kirinyaga, Nyandarua, Laikipia, Meru, Tharaka Nithi and Nakuru counties as well as parts of Nairobi.
According Wambugu, the DP is not sitting pretty, especially after the almost 50-50 split in the recent Kiambaa by-election despite his four-year investment in the region.
He says that other presidential candidates are eyeing what Ruto has hitherto considered to be on his side while local leaders are also determined to snatch from him the half that is in his basket hence the heightened political activity.
For instance, on Sunday, while Ruto was in Ol-Kalou, Nyandarua, for the home coming of Rurii Ward Rep who was recently elected on his United Democratic Alliance, local governor Francis Kimemia was hosting Mudavadi in the neighbouring Njabi-ini area.
The previous day, the ANC boss and Kimemia held a series of public events in Ol-Kalou. In the past two weeks, Mudavadi has also toured Nyeri and Meru counties.
Raila has in the recent months been hosted by elders from the region and made tours.
Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, who has declared he will contest the presidency, is also determined to make his presence felt in the region.
He has recently visited Kiambu, Meru, Embu, Murang’a and Nyeri. Yesterday, he hosted a delegation from Kirinyaga County at the Kabarnet Gardens in Nairobi.
Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata, a Ruto supporter, agrees that emerging horses in the presidential race keen to get a share of the votes, is among the factors contributing to heightened political activity in the region.
He says that the fact that local leaders have taken sides is adding impetus to the activity.
“That’s because the President is retiring and it seems there is no consequential leader from the region to vie for the presidency. It is also a huge vote basket.
As for unity, some Mt Kenya leaders want Raila, while others want Ruto. How can they unite?” he asked.
There is a real possibility that for the first time in 15 years, the region will go to a General election divided.
“The largest community in the country has become a follower of someone. On what basis can that happen yet you have been key players in national politics?
We are wondering what foundation is making you do the following. None! No direction, just non-existing promises,” Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho said.
Lack of Uhuru’s heir apparent, pundits ague, has also jolted ambitious leaders in the region among them National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, Kenneth, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, his predecessor Mwangi Kiunjuri, Wa Iria, Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru and former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo.
Others are MPs Moses Kuria (Gatundu South), Kimani Ichun’gwa (Kikuyu), Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu) and Rigathi Gachagua (Mathira), all who are jostling to be the voice of the region.
In May, Muturi was coronated the region’s spokesperson in a controversial ceremony that was dismissed as meaningless by many leaders.
Among those who rejected the installation is Munya who was last weekend endorsed for the position by several governors and lawmakers from region.