The battle to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta as the Mt Kenya kingpin has kicked off with several leaders warming up to inherit the vote-rich bloc.
The race has also taken regional undertones as politicians pitch for their man or woman while others opine that time will resolve the thorny issue of successor.
Murang’a Senator Irungu Kangata observed that just like former Presidents Mwai Kibaki and Daniel Moi, whose influence came to an end with their exit from power, the same will happen in Mt Kenya. His views were backed by Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua.
“It is difficult to groom someone when the President is still in office and active politically. But as he exits, new formations will rise,” Mr Gachagua said.
His sentiments have been shared by Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, who said a wave and circumstance will help the region get its leader when the time comes.
“In 2002, the region rejected Mr Kenyatta for Mr Kibaki, and from nowhere Mr Kenyatta succeeded Mr Kibaki in 2013. There is no cause for alarm, we will still get a leader when time and circumstances demand,” he told the Nation.
But that has not stopped the jostling. Some of the leaders who have shown interests in taking the leadership mantle are Murang’a Governor Mwangi wa Iria, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kunjuri, Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki, Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, former presidential candidate Peter Kenneth and Gatundu South legislator Moses Kuria.
And this line-up that is dominated by central Kenya leaders has worried their counterparts from Mt Kenya East counties of Embu, Tharaka Nithi and Meru. They want one of their own to be the ultimate kingpin.
Chuka IgambaNgomb’e MP Patrick Munene said they are watching keenly how the contest will unfold.
“Central has produced all Mt Kenya leaders since independence. We are watching keenly how they go about it this time. We cannot be talking about betrayal at the national level and yet we are betraying each other at regional level. We will not take it lying down,” he said.
Mr Kuria has declared intentions to run for the presidency and has started criss-crossing the region seeking for the support.
Political analysts have interpreted Mr Kuria’s move as going for the sun, but aiming to reach the moon.
Ms Njoki Nyambura, a political analyst, said Mr Kuria wants to consolidate his support in Mt Kenya so that he can then use his political muscles for negotiation of a central position of the region, cautioning that Mr Kuria’s strategy is resonating well with the region.
“People want to hear a bit of rebellion with a leader who they can affiliate themselves with, and Mr Kuria’s constant concerns of the region is positioning him as that leader; he may pull a surprise and see him in the bargaining table negotiating on behalf of the region,” she said.
However, Ms Nyambura noted that the only issue with Mr Kuria is that he comes from Kiambu, a county that has produced two presidents, but noted that it would depend on how Mr Kuria would work with other county leaders.
“He will surprise many since his simplicity and relationship with locals speaks volumes,” he said.
But other political observers have dismissed Mr Kuria, saying he could be assisting Deputy President William Ruto to consolidate his support in the region.
“Mr Kuria could be an ally of Dr Ruto and could be used to infiltrate the political dominance of Mr Kenyatta, as there seems to be a straining relationship between the two. And Mr Kenyatta may not support Dr Ruto’s presidential ambition in 2022,” Mr Kinyanjui Kariuki noted.
However, Mr Kuria told the Nation that he is serious in his quest and faulted both the Kieleweke and Tanga Tanga outfits.
He said they are a threat to the stake of Mt Kenya hence his decision to vie for the country’s top job.
“We don’t have a common script as both factions have weakened our region. While Kieleweke team is driven by raw hate, malice sheer contempt and blinded by the need to stop one person from vying for the presidency, Tanga Tanga team is a bunch of excited leaders who have demonstrated high level of amateurism, myopia and naivety, singing a chorus of one person without a pre-thought of our future stake in government as a region,” he said.
He likened the Tanga Tanga group with a scenario in 1978 where Mwai Kibaki, Charles Njonjo and GG Kariuki supported Daniel Moi, who ruled for 24 years, blindly.
Mr Wa Iria, who was the only governor to be re-elected in the region, has registered a political party that has since presented itself as 'Wanjiku’s' attorney by prosecuting policies that are ‘oppressive’ to the electorate.
The party known as Civic Renewal Party, registered by Mr Iria’s handlers, has been recruiting members in and outside Mt Kenya region.
Mr Wa Iria, who uses a popular slogan (No Wira Tu), meaning work only, has following in the region due to his massive grassroots support and social economic empowerment programmes that have uplifted the living standards of the locals and subsequent completion of Murang’a Cooperative Creameries - which has seen delegation from neighbouring counties trooping for benchmarking.
Governor Waiguru - who is serving her first term - rides with her experience in governance and leadership after serving at the Treasury before joining the Devolution ministry.
Ms Waiguru could be hoping to deputise Dr Ruto after he hinted that he is likely to be deputised by a woman on measures of equipping and supporting women grow in leadership.
Ms Waiguru is in the league of the only three governors in Kenya. And being the only in Mt Kenya, she stands to gain should Dr Ruto decide to ‘return a hand’ to central Kenya.
Her close allies describe her as a leader with the ability to mobilise and lobby as demonstrated in the recent devolution conference in Kirinyaga County.
“Despite her being new in office, Ms Waiguru has demonstrated resilience, a quality for [a] great leader who is able to lead in Mt Kenya region, given that she has an understanding of both government and politics,” Josiah Kamande told the Nation.
Ms Waiguru told the Nation that the Mt Kenya kingpin will be determined by party politics and that the gender factor, specifically female leaders, will be a key objective for Jubilee Party.
“Even as I note that there is no vacuum in the kingship of this region, when the time comes the elections of our party will be a key determinant on the region’s kingpin and Mr Kenyatta’s successor,” she said.
Mr Peter Kenneth has also been identified as a potential kingpin, with his political experience and connections working for him.
Mr Kenneth is one of the sponsors of team Kieleweke - which is opposed to Dr Ruto - and is a close friend of the President.
His financial muscle, experience in governance and the fact that he has never been associated with any scandal makes Gatanga MP Nduati Ngugi see him as the best kingpin in the region.
“He has served as Kenya Football Federation (KFF), assistant minister for various departments including Treasury and Cooperative and has vied for presidency - the experience that makes him the best to represent central Kenya on any negotiations table,” Mr Nduati said.
But Mr Gachagua said Mr Kenneth’s association with the Kieleweke team is hurting his ambitions.
“The same people of Kieleweke lied to him about Nairobi’s governorship race in 2017. He should dissociate himself with the group and campaign directly,” said the Mathira MP.
On Mr Kiunjuri’s candidature for the top job, he said the minister needs to first demonstrate what he has done for the region.
“Kiunjuri is the Agriculture CS yet our tea and coffee farmers are crying, and he is resolving sugar issues. He needs to tell Mt Kenya people what he has done for them before seeking the top seat,” Mr Gachagua adds.
Additional reporting by Wanjohi Githae