The gloves are finally off, the fists clinched and the blows as hard as they are calculated.
Atop his official vehicle in Kinangop on Friday, President Uhuru Kenyatta made it clear to a cheering crowd that he has scant faith in some of those closest to him, and that, despite concerted efforts to anoint his successor, he, as yet, does not have a preferred candidate in the 2022 race.
His remarks were the culmination of months of simmering political bile between two politicians who rode a huge popularity wave to State House in 2013, but who have in recent days progressively drifted apart.
No one dares face the other in the eye and let out the unspoken, but the tension between the two, the mistrust, and the guile of a cunning fox radiates from the depths of their chests. Unspoken, but clearly heard.
And so on Friday, while speaking at various stops in Nyandarua, a bullish Mr Kenyatta, speaking in his Kikuyu mother tongue, declared that he will inspect government projects himself after being “betrayed” by those he had hoped would help him deliver on his mandate.
The sentiments have largely been construed to refer to his deputy, senior government officials and a group of MPs largely from the ruling Jubilee Party, who have in the past few months embarked on a string of crusades to “inspect” or “launch” development projects across the country, led by Dr Ruto.
“I no longer trust anyone,” said the President in Githioro, Kinangop, visibly agitated but still careful not to drop any names despite prodding from a jubilant crowd.
“Those I used to send to represent me and ensure that development projects are on the right track started behaving like hyenas and doing their own things to enrich themselves. Let no one cheat you; from today, I am not sending anyone to help me. I’ll do it on my own.”
The Saturday Nation understands that, with these remarks, the President was also targeting plans by MPs allied to his deputy to organise parallel Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) rallies to rival the ongoing ones, which have his blessings.
On succession politics, Mr Kenyatta, who is serving his second and last term in office, said he has no preferred successor, in the clearest departure yet from his public pronouncements ahead of the 2017 presidential election, especially the remarks he made in Nakuru at the height of the presidential campaigns in 2017.
“They will have to wait for 20 years,” President Kenyatta said then, indicating that Jubilee planned to stay in power at least through four, five-year terms.
“I am doing 10 years, then Ruto will also do another 10. Let him (Mr Odinga) stop being a nuisance and retire; they (ODM leader Raila Odinga and his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka) will also benefit from the social protection fund we give to the elderly, so they should not be worried.”
But on Friday, egged on by a thrilled and euphoric crowd, he said he is not bothered or shaken by those insulting him or fighting the ‘Handshake’ between him and Mr Odinga and their Building Bridges project, adding that those opposed to their political truce are self-seekers.
“I have always told the leaders that we were elected to serve our people, not to politic, but they won’t hear. I was shocked to find that most areas in Kinangop have no electricity yet your leader (Ruto-allied MP Kwenya Thuku) is moving across the county engaging in politics and insulting me.
These people have been coming to tell me lies that they are working and all is well on the ground,” the President said.
FEAR OF BACKLASH
On the question of whether he feels the President is quietly reneging on his promise to back him in 2022, DP Ruto has been careful not to portray his boss as untrustworthy, instead saying he does not expect to be handed the presidency on a silver platter.
While his actions, including the creation of the Tangatanga outfit that largely comprises MPs from Mr Kenyatta’s Central Kenya backyard, have not sat down well with Mr Kenyatta, the DP is said to be keen not to directly antagonise the Head of State for fear of backlash.
Two weeks ago, he told the Nation that the “agreement between Uhuru and I was about more important things”.
“We have effectively put a stop to politics of violence, especially in Rift Valley and Central. Our coming together was never about power. Even when I had an opportunity to form a coalition government with him by deciding the positions to take, I made a conscious decision not to. I knew very well that I would have less say in a single party than in a coalition,” he continued.
The DP, however, remains hopeful that Mr Kenyatta will requite his good gesture in the past three presidential polls.
“Uhuru Kenyatta will support the candidate of the Jubilee Party in 2022. You can take that to the bank. As to who that candidate will be, that is up to Jubilee and its structures to decide.
If that candidate will be William Ruto, I can bet you that Uhuru Kenyatta will support me. If that candidate is going to be someone else, I can bet you I will support that candidate, and Uhuru Kenyatta will,” he said.
On the ongoing crackdown on graft in high places, the President said there will be no backing down.
“All corrupt leaders will rot in jail; that is where their associates and sympathisers will be visiting them. More arrests will be made. We are not victimising anyone. They should not blame me. Let them stop politicising the war on corruption. You did not steal on behalf of your family or community,” he said.
MPs affiliated to the Tangatanga movement skipped the event after Mr Thuku was removed from the presidential dais by security officers shortly before the President arrived.
The onslaught against Tangatanga-allied leaders was initiated by Nyandarua Governor Francis Kimemia, who said the central Kenya region will not allow anyone to continue insulting the President.
Mr Kimemia, the only other leader who spoke in Githioro, repeated his earlier sentiments that Mr Kenyatta is too young to retire from politics, and that he must be part of the next government.
The President did not comment on the statement. At each stopover, the President avoided the Tangatanga politicians and never greeted them as he launched a Sh4 billion Stawisha SME Mashinani Programme.
He issued 700 title deeds to squatters living in colonial villages at the Rurii Market and directed 500 others to be processed in three weeks.
He also said the government is preparing 40,000 land documents for Nyandarua squatters.