When Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri appeared alongside Mt Kenya MPs to state their stand on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report early last week, it sent tongues wagging.
It was the first time a minister was joining MPs at a press conference to issue what was essentially a political statement.
The 40 MPs were categorical that the BBI report must fully cater for the interests of the Mt Kenya region or they would reject it.
It was obvious from the statement that Mr Kiunjuri, the senior-most politician in the group, was questioning President Kenyatta’s often stated position in support of BBI.
But Saturday, the CS appeared to tone down his stance, saying he did not mean to “offend” anyone. Rather, he was just offering a “solution” given his “seniority” in politics.
“I am loyal to the President and I don't think anybody will be offended by me offering a solution when called upon. I am a senior member of the community with vast experience in leadership. I served as an MP for 15 years, an assistant minister for 10 years and now a Cabinet secretary,” he said.
“I was called upon by the legislators from the region to offer guidance on the imminent release of the BBI report, having been a member of the parliamentary Committee on the Constitution that sat in Naivasha in the 10th Parliament and I agreed. If called again by the leaders from the region, I will readily make myself available. We are just trying to ensure that the region's interests are fully catered for in the BBI report.”
It was not lost on observers that the MPs who flanked Mr Kiunjuri are known allies of Deputy President William Ruto, who has openly opposed the BBI.
He is also known to gravitate towards Mr Ruto’s 2022 candidacy and is perceived as the de facto leader of the anti-handshake grouping in the region, nicknamed Tangatanga.
On more than one occasion, President Kenyatta has scolded the CS in public over the discharge of his ministerial duties.
In June this year, Mr Kiunjuri also found himself in trouble when a function he was presiding over in Nyeri County was disrupted by pro-handshake supporters, allegedly at the behest of Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu.
It’s also instructive to note that Mr Kiunjuri was never part of the infamous La Mada meetings that took place to ostensibly discuss development matters in the Mt Kenya region.
On Saturday, he admitted that he attended a series of the MPs’ meetings that came up with a position regarding the report that is expected to be released this week.
The Nation has established that the BBI report has split MPs from the region right down the middle, with the Kiunjuri group vowing to shoot it down while the rival group, which supports the handshake, is giving it unconditional support.
Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria on Saturday accused Mr Kiunjuri of trying to engineer his own sacking from the Cabinet “so that he can gain some political mileage”.
During the Mashujaa Day celebrations, President Kenyatta did not hesitate to make known his position on the handshake, which gave birth to the BBI.
“Heroism, patriotism and love of country exhibited by our independence errand leaders persist to this day as embodied in the historic handshake through which political divides were breached for the sake of peace and a better Kenya,” the president said.
Mr Odinga, who spoke at the same venue, said the handshake between him and President Kenyatta was meant to improve the country’s leadership by bringing unity, fighting corruption, ethnicity and political division.
“It is for that reason that the BBI is coming. How many of us are supporting it?” Mr Odinga posed.
But as the President and Mr Odinga embraced the BBI, the Deputy President chose to give it a wide berth despite being repeatedly prompted by Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho.
During the press conference attended by Mr Kiunjuri, Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni warned that MPs from the Mt Kenya region will only support the report if it captures their views on inclusivity and the equitable distribution of resources they claimed to have presented during BBI’s public hearings across the country.
“We do hereby state our irreducible minimums that the need for inclusivity must address all the areas with regards to leadership, representation, resource allocation, and structure of government,” said Mr Kioni.
According to Nominated Senator Isaac Mwaura, the universal suffrage and the equality of the vote must remain the cardinal principles of representation within the framework of any government.
The Thursday media briefing was just a culmination of a series of meetings on the BBI report.
Asked why they picked on Mr Kiunjuri to offer guidance, an MP who did not want to go on record said; “for a long time whenever we come out to speak for the people, we have been branded as rebels. Kiunjuri presents a unifying factor.
“We know that Kiunjuri has everything to lose because he may be sacked from the cabinet. But if that is the price he has to pay for standing with the people, we will be with him,” he added.
But even as the MPs spoke, Mr Kuria accused them of lacking direction.
“The report will be out and anything detrimental will be dealt with on its own merit. Otherwise, it is very dishonest and there is a hidden agenda because they are extending their selfish political interests,” said Mr Kuria.