Mt Kenya region feels heat of Uhuru, DP Ruto cold war
By Wangari Njuguna, Anthony Mwangi and Derek Otieno
The last-minute cancellation of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s visit to Murang’a county yesterday threw his Mt Kenya region into confusion about its future political direction.
Earlier, in what could have posed a protocol nightmare, his visit to the county for a fundraiser at St Peter’s ACK Cathedral in Kenol, Maragua, appeared to coincide with that of his deputy William Ruto, who was scheduled to visit Kandara area. But the DP cancelled his tour, too, and headed elsewhere for his Sunday engagements.
And yesterday, Murang’a residents and leaders missed both top Jubilee leaders as questions lingered about the unity of the party they backed en masse in the 2017.
Uhuru was represented by Interior Cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i while the Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka stood in for the DP.
There were fears of a clash of protocol were the two leaders to address two separate functions in the same county.
This is the third time the DP is calling off a trip to Murang’a. Ruto, who was also expected to tour Kirinyaga, instead attended a religious function in Narok.
Political analysts said the cancellation does help address the feeling that the President, who is serving his second and last term in office, has turned his attention away from his political base and concentrated on the Handshake between him and opposition leader Raila Odinga.
The Handshake is also being blamed for the growing rift within the ruling Jubilee leading to the emergence of groupings— Kieleweke said to back Uhuru and the Ruto-allied Tanga Tanga.
Hostile to BBI
There is a feeling the discord in Jubilee has hurt the implementation of party’s campaign promises in the region.
Politicians who spoke to People Daily said Mt Kenya region would be hostile to the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) unless the President launches significant development projects in the region.
In the past one year, the President has visited Murang’a but only to attend funerals with the most recent being in August for the burial of musician John de Matthew.
Yesterday, that disappointment was palpable in leaders and hundreds of people who had been moblised to receive the President in Murang’a.
With all the preparations having been completed, local leaders led by Murang’a Governor Mwangi wa Iria and MPs were at hand to receive the President.
However, an hour into his scheduled arrival, the presidential security agents started moving out of the compound, raising suspicion Uhuru was not coming after all.
Their fears were confirmed moments later when Cabinet secretaries Matiang’i, James Macharia (Transport) and Joe Mucheru (ICT) turned up, saying they were sent to represent the President.
Hosting heads of State
Mt Kenya South ACK Bishop Julius Karanu acknowledged having received a call from Uhuru yesterday morning informing him he would not make it to the service due to unavoidable circumstances.
“We were eager to host the President but he was not able to join us but promised to pay us a visit soon,” he said.
Matiang’i, who took over the role of the chief guest, said the President was hosting several heads of State who will be attending an international conference on health and population in Nairobi tomorrow.
“The President would have loved to be here but he had to stay back and welcome visiting heads of State,” he said, adding the President would soon tour the region to launch development projects.
There has been heightened political animosity in the region that has left politicians divided over many issues, including the yet-to-be launched BBI report.
Kandara MP Alice Wahome, who was to host the DP, Mary Waithira (Maragua) and Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro are staunch members of Tanga Tanga group.
Other area MPs Nduati Ngugi (Gatanga), Peter Kimari (Mathioya), Muturi Kigano (Kangema) and Ruth Mwaniki (Kigumo) belong to the Kieleweke camp.
Yesterday, social media was awash with people from Mt Kenya region asking why the Head of State had been giving the area a wide berth.
A visit to the region, which had been in the works for sometime, has been cancelled more than four times amid the deep rifts within Uhuru’s Jubilee Party.
A Cabinet secretary from the region said the mood is not right for the President to visit the area.
“Uhuru’s base in Central Kenya is divided on the BBI issue. The divisions that have played out in the public in Muranga, Nyeri and Kiambu inform this. It will not be for our good to have the tour at this time when people have suspicions that have torn the political base,” he said.
Speaking when they accompanied Ruto on a tour in Limuru at the weekend, MPs Kimani Ichungw’a (Kikuyu), Rigathi Gachagua (Mathira) Nyoro and Senator Susan Kihika asked residents to reject the BBI report.
“All of us supporting Ruto have resolved to shoot down this BBI thing,” said Kihika.
Uhuru has made public his support for the BBI report and even promised to campaign for it.
Fears are the tour might open wounds in a region afflicted by a myriad of problems including the coffee crisis, delayed infrastructure projects, and unfulfilled promises of the 2017 election.
“People in Central Kenya need to be told about coffee prices, jobs and infrastructure, not about BBI or a referendum that is expected to lead to a change of the Constitution,” said a first time MP from Murang’a.
But Mary Waithira, the host MP downplayed Uhuru’s absence in yesterday’s event, saying his development record speaks for itself.