Is Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Kiunjuri daring Uhuru to sack him?
On October 24, last year, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri called a press conference attended by 42 MPs associated with Deputy President William Ruto, and issued conditions for accepting the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) proposals.
A month later, on November 29, he convened another meeting of 57 elected leaders in Embu, which resolved to boycott presidential functions because of alleged humiliation.
This was in reaction to what they interpreted as exclusion during the launch of the BBI report at the Bomas of Kenya.
During the burial of Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua’s mother last Tuesday, Kiunjuri was the only CS at the function where leaders allied to Ruto sought to demonstrate that the Mt Kenya region was solidly behind the DP.
Kiunjuri’s interactions, pronouncements and body language, have prompted political observers to ask: Is the minister provoking the President to sack him?
Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, an ardent Uhuru supporter and who has had run-ins with the minister, yesterday said Kiunjuri was indeed behaving in a manner to suggest he wants to be fired.
“He keeps talking about 2022 which the President, who is his boss, has warned about. He is talking of a government that will be created as though he does not believe in the current one in which he serves,”the MP told the People Daily.
He added: “He is basically preparing ground for crying foul when he is finally sacked.
His plan is if he is removed from the Cabinet because of his incompetence, he will start complaining that he has been sacked because of his political affiliation.”
According to the MP, the Agriculture CS’s activities in the last year have been contemptuous of the Head of State, and called for his sacking.
The CS, who considers himself as the most senior Kikuyu politician after the President, has been actively lobbying to be Ruto’s running-mate in 2022.
His supporters, notably Laikipia Woman Rep Cate Waruguru and her Nyeri counterpart Rahab Mukami, have asked the DP to consider Kiunjuri for the post.
“We are telling Dr Ruto that if we (Jubilee Party) are giving him the presidential candidacy, the DP’s position should be reserved for CS Kiunjuri,” said Mukami during a meeting in Laikipia last year.
But Laikipia Senator John Kinyua, a Kiunjuri ally, said people who want him sacked were fighting the CS, saying some leaders from Nyeri have been agitating for a Cabinet position.
“Kiunjuri has never disrespected the President. In fact, being a grassroots person who has a political background, he has been articulating the President’s agenda to mwananchi but there are people who want to throw dirt at him so that he can look bad in the eyes of the President with the intention of having him sacked hoping they will get the position,” he said.
Kinyua said, unlike other ministers from Central Kenya, comments by Kiunjuri, who served as Laikipia East MP until 2012, carry political weight, which exposes him to attacks.
“If the other CSs from our region were to talk about BBI, it wouldn’t carry much weight like Kiunjuri. In politics, all pronouncements either attract endorsement or criticism,” said the senator.
But Ngunjiri accused Kiunjuri of being ungrateful to Uhuru who in 2015 resuscitated his political career by appointing him to the Cabinet after losing the battle for Laikipia governorship to Joshua Irungu in the 2013 election.
After the appointment, Kiunjuri appeared to have landed on the path to be groomed as the President’s heir apparent in the Mount Kenya region.
The President had convinced the former lawmaker to ditch local politics and join the government where he would enjoy national limelight.
Kiunjuri, who is known for his mastery of the Gikuyu language and who likes punctuating his statements with proverbs, is the only politician from Central Kenya serving in the Cabinet.
However, since the start of the President’s second term, the CS seems to have embarked on a different political direction.
Kiunjuri could not be reached for a comment yesterday and his personal assistant said he was held up in a day-long meeting to discuss the locust invasion in North Eastern Kenya.
But in the past, the CS has defended his political activities and relationship with Ruto who has expressed his reservations about the BBI.
“If James Macharia (Transport) opens a project (in Mount Kenya), there is no problem, when Joe Mucheru commissions a project, there is no problem, the same with Sicily Kariuki and the same with Margaret Kobia. But when Kiunjuri is seen, it becomes politics.
I will not stop being vocal on issues related to the Kikuyu community and telling them about the (political) future of the community,” he said in reference to other ministers from Mt Kenya region.
Kiunjuri was in October 2018 reprimanded by the President after money meant for maize farmers was paid out to well-connected individuals and has since been facing hostility from leaders close to the Head of State.
Obuya Bagaka, a political scientist, said Kiunjuri, who he described as “over ambitious” has gone against the agenda of the President which is “anti-politicking and pro-development”.
“What Kiunjuri is doing is not to necessarily oppose the President but to advance his political agenda which is to make himself the post-Uhuru’s retirement alternative and package himself as a possible running mate of Ruto.
That is why he buttresses the automatic support talk for the DP in 2022 by Mount Kenya region,” he said.
Kikuyu Council of Elders chairman Wachira Kiago yesterday said, from his activities, Kiunjuri has defied the President; mostly on early campaigns for 2022 and the characters of people he associates with.
“Uhuru has made it clear that he is uncomfortable with anyone doing early campaigns, but Kiunjuri has gone full throttle on the same by moving around talking about his 2022 intentions and who he will support; that is in itself disobeying his employer,” said Kiago.
When Mt Kenya ministers were accused of plotting to assassinate the DP in June last year, they defended themselves saying the meetings at which the alleged plot was being hatched were development forums sanctioned by the President. However, Kiunjuri quickly rubbished their defence.
Speaking in Kwale County the same day his colleagues were summoned by detectives, the CS feigned ignorance of the happenings, instead restating his allegiance to both President Kenyatta and Ruto, as leaders of government.
It will be interesting to see whether Kiunjuri will manage to maintain this tricky political balance this new year.