Accusations of inaccessibility and failing to take charge of his Mt Kenya political turf where he is regarded as the kingpin are said to have forced President Kenyatta to call for a regional leaders’ meeting in Nyeri today.
The President has been slowly losing the political support of Mt Kenya leaders and their constituents to Deputy President William Ruto, who has focused on building loyalty and followers in the region.
While the meeting targets leaders from the region, the timing is significant, coming as it does after a bruising contest in the Kibra by-election that deepened the chasm in the Jubilee coalition with one side allied to Mr Ruto fronting footballer McDonald Mariga, and the other led by nominated MP Maina Kamanda supporting ODM’s Bernard Otieno Okoth alias Imran, who won.
The bitter fallout also saw the DP’s lieutenants pile blame on Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and his Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho, who are the President’s confidantes.
The attack on the two leaders by Ruto men was seen as an affront on the President, which triggered some Jubilee leaders to call for the DP’s resignation.
The rare meeting will also be closely watched because it comes against the backdrop of tough economic times that some experts say were last seen in the 1980s.
And while the whole country is feeling the effect, Central and Nairobi regions, which are the business heartbeat of the nation, have been worst hit.
There have been complaints over closure of businesses due to hard economic times and failure by national and county governments to pay suppliers billions of shillings.
Politicians murmur that the President has neglected key sectors — coffee, tea and milk — that form the backbone of the vote-rich region.
Business tycoons have complained of punitive and restrictive policies that have hampered their growth.
The meeting also follows a battle to succeed President Kenyatta as Mt Kenya political kingpin when his term as president expires in 2022.
Unlike in previous successions, there is no clear successor this time round, a factor that is increasingly causing discomfort and a feeling of political vulnerability.
A string of political setbacks has also taken a heavy toll on the region’s collective psyche, fostering a deep sense of siege, which has seen cracks within the region’s leadership in the form of Jubilee Party’s Kieleweke and Tangatanga factions and women lobbies of Embrace and Inua Mama.
But the Nation on Thursday gathered that leaders from as far as Nakuru, Kajiado and Trans Nzoia counties in the Rift Valley could also attend the meeting at Sagana State Lodge.
The region includes Kiambu, Murang’a, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Nyandarua, Laikipia, Meru, Tharaka Nithi and Embu counties. County commissioners and their deputies invited the guests.
They include elected and nominated politicians, poll losers, religious leaders, businessmen, elders, influential Kikuyu radio stations presenters, and opinion shapers from the grassroots.
The two regions voted overwhelmingly for President Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 elections, but leaders from the two areas have, in the recent past, claimed they have been marginalised as a result of the peace deal between the Head of State and Opposition leader Raila Odinga.
It is these political developments that have laid bare the dilemma the President is in as far as Central Kenya is concerned, as he tries to balance competing interests.
A direct warning by the Head of State to Mt Kenya MPs against the ‘handshake’ in June, some of whom he will meet on Saturday, revealed the difficult position he finds himself in.
The ground in Central Kenya started shifting after the 2017 Jubilee Party primaries, which the DP managed and supervised.
Since then, the region, which has been voting as a bloc has appeared to be “politically confused” with leaders reading from different scripts on the 2022 political road map.
Although MPs invited for meeting remained cagey on the agenda, one of the items to be discussed extensively is the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), which a huge section of legislators from the region have opposed.
Some MPs have threatened to reject BBI proposals if they do not address the interests of the people from the region.
The meeting is expected to prepare the ground for President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, who plan to visit various parts of the country to market and implement the BBI report after they receive it.
On Thursday, nominated MP Maina Kamanda alluded to the fact that the meeting was in response to numerous complaints that the President was not available for his backyard.
CHARTING NEW PATH
Apart from the political issues, Mr Kamanda said, the President is also expected to address and highlight development projects of his administration in the region.
“He [Mr Kenyatta] has agreed to meet them [at] a forum to address all the issues and he will respond,” Mr Kamanda said.
Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria said he looked forward to the meeting, adding it was “long overdue”.
“I look forward to hearing what the President has for the region and the direction we should take, especially at a time when the leaders are divided,” he told the Nation on phone.
Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata said he hoped the President rallies the region behind BBI, unity and the just-concluded census, which has also divided leaders.
Asked whether the DP was expected at the meeting, the senator maintained the meeting should be a Mt Kenya affair.
North Imenti MP Rahim Dawood confirmed receiving the invitation yesterday.
“The agenda has not been shared, but we will attend. We must hear what he has for us,” he said.
Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wa also confirmed that he had received invitations for the meeting and promised to attend.
Mr Ichung’wa, who chairs the Budget and Appropriations Committee of the National Assembly and is a known ally of the Deputy President, has offered to oppose the BBI report arguing that it was a scheme by Mr Odinga to scuttle the Jubilee Party.
However, Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, another ally of the DP, said he was not aware of the meeting. “I’ve been too busy and running up down and I’ve missed one or two things,” he told the Nation.
Nyeri Woman Representative Rahab Mukami said she had shelved her fundraiser to attend the Sagana meeting. DP Ruto is expected to be the chief guest.
Last year, the President himself told off leaders who think he will have no say in succession politics, stating that he will have to state his position.
Among those said to be positioning themselves as de facto leaders in the region are Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri and Murang’a Governor Mwangi wa Iria.
Others whose names have been bandied around in political circles as possible running mates to Mr Ruto come 2022 are Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki, Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru and Trade Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya.
The meeting also comes after the President skipped a high-profile meeting in Murang’a last Sunday.
Additional reporting by Joseph Wangui, Ndun’gu Gachane and Ibrahim Oruko