Kiunjuri has mastered the art of playing above his league

Saturday June 27 2020

Former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri when he launched his new political party on June 24, 2020. PHOTO | COURTESY


Sometime in 2006, a group of us working with the Sunday Nation decided to drive for a weekend outing outside Nairobi to cool off and have some fun. A colleague had selected 'The Old House', a charming colonial-style hostelry in Nanyuki.

As we were settling down for our nyama choma and drinks, our party was joined by an unexpected guest. It was Mwangi Kiunjuri, a well-known local politician. He came uninvited, but was welcome anyway and as a Nanyuki-based politico, I guess he had a right to check out visitors invading his neighbourhood. I had met him before, so we naturally got to chat.

Around that time Kiunjuri, together with the governor-to-be of Nyeri Nderitu Gachagua, was promoting a proposed political party called GNU (Grand National Union).

I was skeptical about his baby’s prospects and I told him as much. As is his habit, he was quite rosy about it, even laying a bet with me with his money, whose source I didn't know much of or care about. (Incidentally since he is the one who offered the bet unprompted, he owes me.)

He lost the bet big-time. GNU barely registered a whimper, with its only notable success being Gachagua, who got elected governor in 2013. Kiunjuri was whipped badly in the governor’s race in Laikipia).

Kiunjuri is a fellow whose ambition often overtakes him. I recall an apt line Winston Churchill once used on Clement Attlee, Britain’s post-World War II Labour prime minister: “Mr Attlee is a modest man. And he has a lot to be modest about.” It’s debatable whether Kiunjuri is even modest.


Last Wednesday, he launched another party, called The Service Party (TSP). It comes with screaming yellow colours like a Blue Band advert. It will be focused on service, Kiunjuri helpfully explained. He was emphatic he wouldn’t contest for Laikipia governor. Oh. That could mean he will go for a higher position. Like of president. I, however, doubt very much that this is his plan.

Kiunjuri is basically thinking he can carve out his own regional powerbase on the assumption that Jubilee has run its course.

With his typical sense of self-importance, he believes there exists a regional vacuum he is best placed to fill. From there he calculates he can negotiate for whatever he wants with whoever is presidential front-runner in 2022, perhaps even for the deputy presidency.

It’s a plan with many wild assumptions. One being that TSP is by rights guaranteed to gain traction. Or that Uhuru Kenyatta is becoming politically irrelevant soon.

Speculation on what this TSP is all about centres on two possibilities. One, it could offer itself as a safe home for the Jubilee Asili crew in the likelihood the outfit is not registered, which the Registrar of Political Parties confirmed last week she won’t, citing legal obstacles. She did so while brushing off an application by some obscure businessman to “reserve” the Jubilee Asili name.

The man, who claimed to be apolitical, said he nevertheless found the name “exciting”.

Anyway, chances were that the honchos of the ruling Jubilee were never going to allow the appropriation of the name, complete with the party logo, by the strange offshoot.

However, let me tell Kiunjuri something for free if he is hoping to hawk his new party to the owners of Jubilee Asili.

I doubt very much they would want to put themselves at the mercy of a party where their names or those of their very trusted proxies are not on the registration certificate.

Kiunjuri may be chummy with those owners, or so he thinks, but I am afraid the trust level is not what he imagines it is.

This is something he, and certain others, will learn in good time.

That leaves the other alternative TSP could be considering: Positioning to be a coalition partner of whatever is birthed from Jubilee Asili. In doing this Kiunjuri will be his usual self – playing above his league.

By forming a party and portraying it as a partner to a bigger outfit, Kiunjuri will be posing as some kind of equal stakeholder.

Better still, he hopes to gain from whatever ministerial spoils will accrue if that coalition hits the jackpot. Am I reading too much in TSP’s dominant yellow colours as an identity marker with the similarly yellow-clad Jubilee Asili? Or the defunct URP?

Just like with the now dead GNU, I frankly don’t get the necessity of pushing for this TSP. Kiunjuri is not known to have a strong conceptual or ideologically inclined mind, his prowess in spinning Kikuyu riddles notwithstanding.

I wish him well nonetheless. At least he has a registered party, unlike his friends who are floating aimlessly around wondering where to nest.

[email protected]