President Kenyatta, according to those present, was in good spirits, unlike past occasions when he has reacted angrily to challenges from his backyard.
He talked off-the-cuff and interspersed his address with jokes and wry observations, but the entire proceedings probably provided a one-sided picture.
His most virulent critics never got a chance at the dais, with opportunities seemingly given only to those of moderate persuasion.
If there was one big take-home from President Uhuru Kenyatta’s meeting with leaders from his Mt Kenya backyard, it was that he no longer has the bully pulpit.
The long-awaited gathering came against a backdrop where the president has been progressively losing his political base to Deputy President William Ruto, whose aggressive early campaign for the 2022 presidential elections seems to have roped in a majority of Mt Kenya Members of Parliament.
The meeting came a few days after the President inexplicably skipped a much-awaited fund raising rally in Murang’a County whose timing clashed with Dr Ruto’s campaign jaunt in the same neighbourhood.
Although the DP had already cancelled his Murang’a visit amid fears of a likely political clash, the President still made his a late no-show, with crowds already gathered.
His office cited engagements with foreign leaders in Nairobi for the International Conference on Population and Development, but that seemed more like a convenient excuse than the real reason, and only added to perception that he was avoiding his strongholds.
The Sagana meeting also just a day after Dr Ruto tellingly referred to ‘Uhuru’s Jubilee’ in the latest instalment of a remarkable twitter tirade following on the war of words with ODM leader Raila Odinga’s supporters since his candidate MacDonald Mariga lost the Kibra parliamentary by-election.
The angry tweet was in reference to Mr Odinga, whom he accused of using deceit to destroy other political parties, and concluded by pledging to stand firm with Uhuru and Jubilee. However, the earlier reference to the ruling party as ‘Uhuru’s’, in contrast to the past references as a partnership, was not lost on observers.
Dr Ruto and his entourage of Tangatanga MPs have kept up a hectic schedule of campaign rallies across the country in defiance of the president’s constant pleas for an end to premature electioneering at the expense of the Jubilee government’s development agenda.
Many of those rallies have been used to hit out at the Building Bridges Initiative championed by President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, with some of the MPs often firing direct broadsides at the president as Dr Ruto looks on.
With the Building Bridges task force expected to release its delayed report any time now, it has been expected that the president would have to meet MPs and other political leaders from the Mt Kenya region to rally support for the initiative.
He has been aware of the hostility to his dalliance with Mr Odinga, which many in the Jubilee Party fear will be used to renege on the pledge to support Dr Ruto as his successor come 2022.
Apart from MPs abandoning him to queue up behind Dr Ruto’s cash-rich political machine, President Kenyatta has also had to contend with the fact that the ground in central Kenya, as in the rest of the country, has turned hostile as frustrations rise over the dire economic situation.
He has had to contend with accusations of neglecting his political base, hence the import of the Sagana State Lodge gathering against a backdrop of a disgruntled backyard and uncertainty over his relationship with Dr Ruto.