With next year’s general election fast approaching, the Mount Kenya region finds itself at crossroads over Uhuru Kenyatta’s succession with the majority of the voters leaning towards William Ruto. Ruto who is emerging the frontrunner in the race to succeed his boss is recording rising popularity in the region forcing his detractors back to the drawing board to chart a new way of containing him.
Ruto’s latest move that sent shivers down the spine of his detractors was the unveiling by his allies of the United Democratic Alliance to be his vehicle for the presidency in the 2022 elections. The party, once its application for a change of name is sanctioned by the Registrar of Political Parties, will replace the Party of Development and Reform which is a coalition partner of the Jubilee party. The new party will use the wheelbarrow as its symbol and will have former Machakos Senator Johnson Muthama as its interim chairman. Ruto’s choice of the wheelbarrow as the symbol of the hustlers’ party is sending shivers down the spines of the so-called dynasties, which he aims to vanquish not only in Mount Kenya but also countrywide. This is due to the fact that hustlers and wheelbarrows make the elite nervous as they view them as a call for a class war between them and the poor. For Mount Kenya, the choice of the wheelbarrow resonates well with the majority poor, some of whom have benefited from the DP’s donations of such equipment to help them start businesses.
Indeed, Ruto’s growing grip on Mount Kenya politics was evident days after his allies announced the registration of UDA when Murang’a senator and senate chief whip Irungu Kang’ata, a close ally of the president, penned a damning letter to the head of state telling him the Building Bridges Initiative faces spectacular defeat in the region. The letter triggered political suspicion not only in ODM leader Raila Odinga’s camp but also in Central Kenya that some political bigwigs from the region are strategically testing ground before they abandon the BBI process. Those who defended the BBI included 10 governors who together with the national assembly majority leader Amos Kimunya trashed Kang’ata’s move as careless and immature, alleging it was a plot by Ruto’s axis to turn the tide against the BBI. The 10 governors who defended BBI included Francis Kimemia (Nyandarua), Kiraitu Murungi (Meru), Lee Kinyanjui (Nakuru), Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga), James Nyoro (Kiambu), Martin Wambora (Embu), Nderitu Muriithi (Laikipia), Mwangi wa Iria (Murang’a), Muthomi Njuki (Tharaka Nithi) and Mutahi Kahiga (Nyeri).
In his letter, Kang’ata said the BBI is unpopular and has approximately 2pc support in Mt Kenya. He also questioned the use of provincial administrators and police to collect the signatures to back the referendum. But the president’s allies felt the senator was preparing to follow nominated senator Isaac Mwaura, who had earlier moved to Ruto’s camp. Senator Mwaura, a vocal legislator, while defecting to Tangatanga had viciously attacked the Kenyatta and Moi families for holding onto power for more than 50 years. Senator Mwaura’s defection came days after another Ruto staunch supporter, Kandara MP Alice Wahome, launched a scathing attack on Uhuru, dismissing him as a failed president. According to political pundits, many Kikuyus are leaning towards Ruto because they view him as a fighter who stands up to great odds.
They are citing the fact that ahead of the 2013 election, Uhuru and Ruto turned their arraignment at the International Criminal Court into an anti-imperialist platform and gave their opponents a run for their money, going all the way to win the polls and are confident the DP will use the same magic to vanquish his opponents in 2022.
To contain Ruto, Uhuru’s strategists have been tapping influential ex-lawmakers from the region to deflate his influence. They now plan to add more fuel to this scheme by planting defectors in UDA who will walk out of the party during the 2022 polls primaries citing rigging, hence destabilise it from within. Another strategy in the cards is to bankroll friendly aspirants in all constituencies marked as DP’s strongholds to keep his allies busy fighting to win or retain their seats, hence deny them an opportunity to accompany Ruto in his national presidential campaigns.
As part of this scheme, former MPs in Mount Kenya with a grudge against DP Ruto for allegedly rigging them out of Jubilee primaries are to be used. But in reality, the former MPs are being prepared to challenge Ruto’s allies in Mount Kenya in 2022 polls. Some of those targeted in this scheme include MPs Rigathi Gachagua (Mathira), Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu), Alice Wahome (Kandara), Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu) and Moses Kuria (Gatundu South). In Mathira, former MP Peter Weru has been named the BBI coordinator to keep Gachagua busy while Joshua Toro is being bankrolled to face Wahome in Gatanga in 2022. Kiambu deputy governor Joyce Ngugi is being prepared to vanquish Kuria in Gatundu South while Kiambu Kanu vice-chairman and businessman Joseph Mukirae is being prepared to send Ichung’wa home in 2022.
The president has also been seeking to win over Mount Kenya by rolling out major economic policies to improve the dwindling fortunes of coffee, tea and dairy farmers. Insiders say former MPs are also being bankrolled to sell the narrative that a DP Ruto presidency will be a disaster not only for Mount Kenya but also the country as a whole. Leading troops in this campaign include former Subukia MP Koigi Wamwere who has been opining that Ruto has never demonstrated commitment to the elimination of corruption and supposed negative ethnicity and hence he is unsuitable to lead the country. This group is selling the narrative that Ruto has never been a patriot or a nationalist capable of sacrificing his personal interests to save the country from any danger or tragedy like a dictatorship.
They are vocal his presidency, with the current executive powers, will be as dangerous and one that will lead to erosion and violation of human rights. They are trying to justify this narrative by citing the fact that DP Ruto ostensibly has never fought for democracy and hence will not protect democracy as president because, philosophically, he does not believe in democracy. They are also citing the DP’s dalliance with Youth for Kenya 92 (YK 92) as evidence of his disdain for democracy, noting his background as a hustler should not persuade the poor to vote for him since he is no longer the poor person but a billionaire.
But Ruto, to his credit, has won over past bitter rivals such as former Kiambu governor William Kabogo who was the first to fire the first salvo that Mt Kenya voters will not automatically back him in 2022 to succeed Uhuru. Kabogo, as governor before he was defeated by Ferdinand Waititu, was the first to dismiss DP Ruto’s 2022 presidential bid. Later, little-known former nominated senator Paul Njoroge echoed the sentiments saying Central Kenya did not owe the DP a debt. But Kabogo has now made an about-turn to support Ruto while Njoroge has taken a low profile. Today, those in Kieleweke, which is opposed to Ruto include nominated MP Maina Kamanda, Ngunjiri Wambugu (Nyeri Town), Peter Mwathi (Limuru), Paul Koinange (Kiambaa), Mercy Gakuya (Kasarani), Muturi Kigano (Kangema), Ruth Mwaniki (Kigumo), Maoka Maore (Igembe North), former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth, former Dagoreti South MP Dennis Waweru and former Jubilee Party vice-chairman David Murathe. Some of the leaders were hosted by Kamanda in his Nyandarua home, a function also graced by Raila.
It is at the function that the DP Ruto’s detractors crafted a strategy to use women to contain his influence. At the meeting, the attendees backed Governor Waiguru to lead a group dubbed Daughters of the Mountain to lure women voters in Mount Kenya to back BBI and eventually vote for President Uhuru’s preferred candidate in 2022.