Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua's political about-turn, to mend fences with Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, has confounded friend and foe, now curious about the effects.
Governor Mutua’s unexpected decision to work with Mr Musyoka is reminiscent of a political strategy President Uhuru Kenyatta adopted in the run-up to the 2007 General Election.
He abandoned his own State House bid to support then President Mwai Kibaki, who was seeking re-election.
Mr Kibaki, of the Party of National Unity (PNU), was reprieved by Mr Kenyatta's decision, as he had been leading troops in the opposition Kanu party.
Mr Kenyatta's candidacy would have affected his vote hunt in the Mt Kenya region.
Ukambani politics has long been defined by the rivalry between Mr Musyoka and governors Mutua, Charity Ngilu (Kitui) and Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni).
The latest point of divergence between the two camps was in January, when the governors staged parallel rallies to market the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) across the region, in a bid to isolate Mr Musyoka.
The rivalry was quickly arrested when Jubilee-linked business tycoon Peter Muthoka worked behind the scenes to have the governors join the official BBI rallies.
The Nation established that President Kenyatta and Mr Muthoka convinced Governor Mutua that he stood to benefit immensely if he closed ranks with the Wiper leader, the same way he did with his predecessor President Kibaki.
In the statement announcing his change of heart, Dr Mutua cautioned his colleagues against defeating the very purpose of the BBI by creating more political divisions in Ukambani.
The governors had vowed to lead a public participation process alongside one fronted by Mr Musyoka and had already addressed two rallies, in an apparent brinkmanship that left the region divided and confused.
Dr Mutua noted the need to bring leaders of all political persuasions together and proposed a joint meeting between the Wiper leader and county chiefs for a common political approach in the region.
“I propose a meeting involving His Excellency Kalonzo Musyoka, the three governors, senators and all MPs [so they can] speak with one voice because it is this form of unity of purpose for the BBI that President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga envisaged,” he said.
Upon returning from an overseas trip, the governor met Mr Musyoka at former President Daniel Moi’s Kabarnet home, where they went to condole with the family following Moi's death.
The upshot was that the two leaders will end tension among their supporters, which has defined the region for the last six years, and work together in readiness for 2022.
Dr Mutua’s change of tune and support for Mr Muysoka was informed by the realisation that, in the spirit of building bridges, he gains nothing if he continues to antagonise the Wiper leader in Ukambani.
Like President Kenyatta, who agreed to support his predecessor Kibaki’s re-election in 2007 to pacify the populous Kikuyu vote, Dr Mutua hopes to inherit Mr Musyoka’s Ukambani support base once the latter exits the scene.
“This is not about 2022 or our respective political outfits. It is only reasonable if we join hands in hunting together for our community, rather than work at cross-purposes yet the goals of ensuring Ukambani benefits from development projects are the same."
According to Yatta MP Charles Kilonzo, the change of strategy will afford Governor Mutua an easy time as he entrenches himself in the region, as he’ll not be seen as antagonising his mentor Mr Musyoka.
Mr Kilonzo, an independent MP, says Dr Mutua stands to reap more if he works with Mr Musyoka, given his youthful age.
“All leaders must emulate the two in unifying the community and bargaining for the national cake and future positions as a bloc. In this arrangement, devoid of petty political quarrels, the community will be more respected at the national stage."
Mr Musyoka, Mrs Ngilu and Prof Kibwana are in their late-sixties while Governor Mutua is 49 years old.
Other than President Kenyatta, the Machakos governor seems to be borrowing a leaf from Mr Musyoka, who worked many years under the political tutelage of the late Kamba kingpin Mulu Mutisya.
After Mr Mutisya exited the scene, Mr Musyoka emerged as the main political voice in Ukambani, inheriting the then ruling party's network in the region.
However, Governor Prof Kibwana has dismissed the dalliance between Mr Musyoka and Dr Mutua, saying it will be short-lived.
Prof Kibwana said he will not allow the two leaders to hold a joint rally on February 7 at Wote’s Unoa grounds in Makueni County, terming it an unnecessary disruption to county affairs.
Wiper MPs dared Governor Kibwana to make good his threat, saying that will peel off the pro-democracy mask Kenyans have always known him for.
“The rights to assembly and free speech are enshrined in the Constitution, which Prof Kibwana claims to have fought for. It would be very unfortunate if he spoiled those democratic credentials he’s known for,” said Mwingi west MP Charles Nguna.
The Wiper MP urged the governor to read the writing on the wall and join the Kalonzo–Mutua bandwagon to avoid being isolated and seen as the enemy of Kamba unity.
Governor Mutua said they agreed to hold more talks with Mr Musyoka to unify the community and chart a different course, beneficial to all the people.