Uhuru Kenyatta gave Raila Odinga a standing ovation when Raila arrived for the burial of legendary musician Joseph Kamaru in Murang’a.
A president is not expected to stand to greet people as he is the head of state but in Murang’a, Uhuru defied protocol, stood up and greeted Raila with two hands forcing William Ruto to follow suit.
Raila was cheered when he arrived at the funeral and when he was given a chance to address the mourners, ululations rent the air as he explained that the Building Bridges Initiative is not about the 2022 succession debate.
His speech was continuously interrupted with applause from the public, in a region that overwhelmingly voted for Uhuru and Ruto in last year’s election.
“I told the president that we should shake hands as Kenyans watch. The handshake was meant to unite Kenyans and has nothing to do with 2022 because that will come and go,” Raila said.
The ODM leader and former Kiambu governor William Kabogo became the centre of attraction in the burial of the crooner as there was prolonged cheering as they were introduced.
For Kabogo, who has openly declared he will campaign against Ruto in 2022, he is trying to position himself as the choice to inherit the leadership mantle from Uhuru and signs are evident that he will team up with the ODM leader.
Ruto’s foes in the region were vocal with nominated MP Maina Kamanda telling off those opposing the handshake between Uhuru and Raila. The former Starehe MP blames Ruto for his loss in the Jubilee Party primaries.
Speaking in Kiswahili, Kamanda whose ancestral roots are in Murang’a, claimed: “Raia wa kawaida wamefaidika sana na handshake lakini viongozi kwa vile wanataka viti bado ndio wana maneno lakini raia wako sawasawa”. Ironically, Central province people doing small trade in Nairobi are said to have suffered the most from the handshake as the authorities now demolish their business structures aware that Raila will not raise a finger as he was wont to in the past to gain political mileage bashing the government. The increase in tax on fuel that has seen the poor, many who hail from Central, suffer more, is also attributed to the handshake as Uhuru having tamed Raila knows that the poor are on their own because Raila who has made his name by ostensing to fight for them is tightly zipped in the mouth for now.
Since the March 9 Uhuru-Raila handshake, there has been murmurs both in the Jubilee Party and Nasa with allies of the two leaders who felt left out in the process leading to the pact silently and at times openly questioning it.
Indeed, when the president rose to address the mourners, he told off critics of the unity deal saying they should not be derailed by petty politics.
The president and Raila fought back claims that their unity deal was meant to scuttle Ruto’s presidential ambitions in 2022, claiming the March 9 handshake was aimed at healing a wounded nation that for years has been divided along tribal lines.
Since striking a political deal with Uhuru, Raila has been trying to gain a foothold in Mt Kenya politics with losers in the last elections gravitating towards him. An insider says Uhuru handlers are aware last year presidential elections results were interfered with as the Supreme Court ruled and decision by Raila to boycott repeat played in his hands. To Uhuru men, if Raila plays his cards well and sells the notion his elections have been stolen thrice, create leadership vacuum in opposition and eventually reclaim it after referendum, he will win sympathy across and give Ruto a run for his money by consolidating his opposition powerbase and penetrate Mt Kenya region.
By August last year, the vote-rich region comprising 10 counties appeared locked behind Ruto to succeed Uhuru in 2022.
Mount Kenya region consists of 10 counties — Embu, Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Laikipia, Meru, Murang’a, Nakuru, Nyandarua, Nyeri and Tharaka Nithi — that traditionally vote together because of the perceived ethnic bonds of the communities.
By 2022, the region will have more registered voters, which is making it a target for both Ruto and Raila. Also, the region does not have a strong presidential candidate and given the fact that it has produced three of the four presidents, the electorate are without option but to back a candidate from outside the community.
The ODM leader has increased his forays and interaction with the Kikuyu community as he seeks to wash away the tag that he is their enemy number one. Raila to win the community is pushing for a referendum to introduce a position of prime minister to be daggled to Kikuyu. Raila of late has also been preaching the pre- independent power deal in which his late father Jaramogi Odinga Oginga said no independence without the release of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta to sell the point, the Luo and Kikuyu can work together. To Raila, the bad relationship between Kenyatta and his father then vice-president was due to the cold war of Americans and Russians.
Recently, Raila met leaders from Mt Kenya East who while pledging their support for him should he contest in 2022, attacked Ruto.
Leaders who met the former premier were drawn from Meru, Tharaka Nithi and Embu counties.The attack on the DP was the second by leaders from the region.
In June, a grouping calling itself Kikuyu Council of Elders asked Ruto to retire alongside Uhuru in 2022.
Since the handshake, Raila has hosted many high-profile politicians, businessmen and professionals from the Mt Kenya region at his Capitol Hill office in Nairobi.
Most of the politicians visiting to consult lost in the last elections and have a grievance real or imagined against Ruto saying that he was the cause of their loss “because he does not want strong leaders in Central”. In defence, Ruto said that he would be daft as a politician to want weak leaders because a smart politician prefers the strong leaders who can easily win him influence where they come from. The losers include Kabogo, former MPs Jamleck Kamau of Kigumo, Kabando Wa Kabando, Mukurueini and Ndung’u Gethenji, Tetu.
There are also MPs like Nyeri Town’s Ngunjiri Wambugu who have stated their reluctance to back the DP. Ruto’s role during last year’s Jubilee nominations appears to have worked against him as far as the losers are concerned, with some claiming he plotted their downfall.
Kabogo and former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth are among leaders from the Kikuyu community who have publicly claimed Ruto orchestrated their downfall.
Ruto’s other headache is who to pick as his running mate in Central Kenya with some of his allies pushing for Tharaka Nithi senator and senate deputy speaker Kindiki Kithure from Mt Kenya East.
But Ruto’s dilemma is that leaders from Murang’a county have made it clear that his running mate must come from the region to be guaranteed the over 500,000 votes. Raila is aware of Ruto plan to name a Kikuyu either from Muranga and Kirinyaga as his deputy. The argument being, Kiambu has produced president twice, Nyeri once and now is the turn for either Muranga or Kirinyaga to be in the presidency.
On the other side, Raila in his calculations wants the Kikuyu who have enjoyed presidency to occupy the position of prime minister with power similar to deputy presidency.
Signs of the DP’s murky politics in Central Kenya has seen his allies in the region resort to wait-and-see power strategy.
There have been claims that some influential Kikuyus with State House connections who fear a new power setup are quietly backing Raila’s referendum push to radically change the structure of the executive and edge out Ruto in the Uhuru succession race.
Those being named as behind this plot include Interior principal secretary Karanja Kibicho, former presidential adviser Nancy Gitau and State House Comptroller Kinuthia Mbugua who also blames Ruto for his loss of Nakuru governor’s seat. Francis Kimemia, Nyandarua governor, former chief of the General Staff Julius Karangi are also mentioned.
Also on the loop is Jubilee Party vice chairman David Murathe, and a member of the First Family who are said to clandestinely supporting the law change to lock out Ruto.
According to analysts, Mount Kenya region elite is torn between supporting Raila and Ruto. The poor who outbalance the rich by 9 to 1 and who have nothing to lose and so the elite’s gospel that Ruto will upstage the applecart is to them alien language, are however firmly behind Ruto. Politically, the Kikuyus were always divided along regional lines, with Kiambu supporting Kanu in 2002 when Uhuru first contested for the presidency while Nyeri, Kirinyaga and Murang’a supported Mwai Kibaki.
Pundits says this might play out again in 2022, with one region supporting the DP while the rest will throw their weight behind Raila in case he runs. For now if Raila is not in the race 2022, the region will fall in Ruto hands.
Sources say Uhuru does not want to come out and annoint his successor and wants to play it safe the way Kibaki did in 2013 to allow Kenyans to decide. Uhuru fear also is, he does not want to fall in the same trap as it happened with former president Daniel arap Moi whose Uhuru 2002 project failed. Uhuru wants to influence his succession behind scenes. This would however be seen as betrayal to Ruto who has stood by him in two elections and could turn the rest of the country against Kikuyus as conniving and untrustworthy partners in effect pitting 42 against one again.
In Central, the anti-Ruto group is selling the narrative, it would be suicidal to give another Kalenjin the presidency, to rubbish Ruto’s bid to get Kikuyu votes. This as if the presidency last time did not move from a Kikuyu to a Kikuyu.
To this group, being on the same side with Ruto in 2013 was convenient to take “muthamaki” to State House. It ended at that. There is also talk that they do not owe anyone any debt. 2022 might be the year when they finally decide to have their payback.
The situation is further exacerbated by the 2017 Jubilee nominations, where Ruto was seen to influence the outcome is Central Kenya. There is a feeling residents were shortchanged by having their strong leaders replaced with people seen as weak, both politically and intellectually.
But there are those of the view Ruto has done a lot for the people of the Central region, personally conducting fundraisers in the area and initiating various development projects and therefore deserves their support.
Raila, who has fared badly in the region in his past presidential bids of 1997, 2007, 2013 and 2017, has been demonised as one who would stoke anarchy and implement policies that would hurt businesses and agricultural economies that the Central Kenya residents rely on.
There has also been the myth of historical rivalry between the Luo and Kikuyu communities, over which his critics claim he would be inclined to settle scores.
But with the handshake, the mood in Central Kenya is like the one in 2002 when Raila was embraced by the region which nicknamed him ‘Mutongoria njamba’ (strong leader).
But come 20o7 election, he was referred to as ‘Kimundu kiguruki’ (mad man). Suprisingly Musalia Mudavadi and Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka are not featuring anywhere in the region.Will the race end up a two-horse race between Ruto and Raila or a walkover for Ruto if Raila chickens out.
Analysts say Raila is working on a political formula in which he is to be seen as the only serious challenger of Ruto both with Jubilee and Nasa coalition and that is why he has been hosting Ruto political enemies in Jubilee at his Upper Hill office playing his political cards close to his chest but targeting the Kikuyu community more than Rutu Kalenjin one. Raila is aware,the Kalenjiin community has no time for Gideon Moi presidency but value Ruto.If Kalenjins are allowed to team with Kikuyus,then Ruto dream of occupying state house cannot be wished away.