In Summary
  • The President accused the MPs of spending all their time in politics and not concentrating on development.
  • The Deputy President William Ruto has key allies in every county who are a permanent feature in his forays to the regions.
  • Jubilee vice-chairman David Murathe wondered why the MPs had issues with being asked to focus on development.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s unexpected strong reaction to demands by Mt Kenya leaders could have adverse political implications on the Deputy President’s forays into the region.

Mr William Ruto, who relies on a strategy of direct engagement through frequent visits to endear himself to the electorate, may find himself with fewer local MPs accompanying him to functions after President Kenyatta warned against “loitering” while campaigning for 2022.

The President accused the MPs of spending all their time in politics and not concentrating on development — responding to the leaders’ claims at a retreat in Naivasha last week that the region had been neglected.

Multiple interviews with the region’s elected leaders indicated that after the dressing down by the President at a closed-door meeting and in public, most of those allied to the Deputy President — popularly referred to as Team Tangatanga (loitering) — are reconsidering being involved in the whirlwind tours and 2022 succession politics.

DEVELOPMENT AGENDA

The meetings are usually couched as pushing the development agenda but are dominated by succession politics and veiled criticism of the handshake between President Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Attempts by the Nation to engage several MPs last Friday and and Saturday on the events surrounding the President’s visit were met with silence — even from previously vocal legislators.

The President’s comment that he was not a lame duck despite serving his final term and uncertainty over his preferred successor have further muddied the waters.

On Friday, Mr Ruto was scheduled to attend the Karatina University graduation in Nyeri County, but he pulled out in unclear circumstances. However, he hosted the President and Mr Odinga for lunch at his Karen home.

BALANCING ACT

The Deputy President has key allies in every county who are a permanent feature in his forays to the regions.

“It will be a delicate balancing act between appearing to defy the President and openly supporting the Deputy President,” said an MP, who declined to talk on record “until things cool down”.

The main fear of the elected leaders is to appear to be taking on the President head-on as it may damage their chances of re-election.

One MP indicated that the “open hostility” by the President was serious and Mt Kenya leaders allied to the Deputy President will in the interim either keep off Mr Ruto’s meetings or tone down their rhetoric.

On Saturday, Jubilee vice-chairman David Murathe wondered why the MPs had issues with being asked to focus on development.

POLITICS

“We are no longer in the Moi days where development was dished out from State House, it is planned in Parliament today. Let the MPs know that the President was not elected because of them but they were elected because of the President,” he said, adding that the President’s unity agenda would not be distracted by “us versus them” politics.

The move to gag Mr Ruto’s allies in the region is not new as there were previous attempts behind the scenes to force them off the Deputy President’s tours.

But even as the MPs chose to remain silent for now, it appears the revolt against the President has been brewing.

One recent open signal involved many Mt Kenya MPs joining others to openly oppose the President’s memorandum to the controversial Finance Bill in September. Some also kept off the parliamentary group meeting at State House.

COMMON REFRAIN

In recent weeks, Jubilee Secretary-General and Cabinet Secretary without portfolio Raphael Tuju has been meeting elected leaders at the grassroots.

Mr Tuju first met MCAs before meeting MPs from different counties. Though Mr Tuju has previously told the Nation that the meetings were ordinary, insiders say they were meant to gauge the mood on the ground.

The elected leaders’ common refrain to Mr Tuju was that the President was unreachable and that they also wanted to know his stand on the 2022 succession.

It was after the series of these meetings that the MPs, on their own initiative, decided to have a strategy meeting in Naivasha.

It was instructive that they did not go to the Kenyatta family affiliated Great Rift Valley Lodge but instead chose Enashipai Lodge.

Sources indicated that State House got wind of the meeting, which was facilitated by a senior government official to avoid anyone hijacking the agenda.

RUDE SHOCK

The elected leaders were further emboldened after the President agreed to meet them at the central regional commissioner’s residence — instructively not the State Lodge at Sagana — but they were in for a rude shock after being reprimanded for addressing the President through the media and playing succession politics.

According to a source inside the tense Thursday meeting, the President is reported to have taken issue with Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria’s dalliance with the media.

Venye naweza kukuambia ni kwamba Kuria alisomewa sana (What I can tell you is that Kuria was lectured thoroughly),” said a source in the meeting.

There were expectations that Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata, who is also Senate Deputy Majority Whip, would be on the receiving end for proposing that the President should not retire from politics but he was spared. It was a small victory for the few MPs who have openly opposed the Deputy President.

COLD RECEPTION

The leaders’ memorandum on development also received a cold reception from the Head of State.

The MPs had just had lunch in the tents when the President’s motorcade arrived. On arrival, he said “naskia mko na maneno” (I’m told you have issues).

MPs Cecily Mbarire, Isaac Mwaura and Moses Kuria read to him a summary of the Naivasha meeting in point form.

“He was also presented with each constituency’s demands. Each MP had prepared the needs of his area. But the President said the documents were too bulky and he could not reply to each. He said he would look at them and communicate,” said one of the lawmakers, who spoke in confidence.

The source said the President advised the MPs to fashion their demands into a proposal and link their needs with specific Cabinet Secretaries. CS Peter Munya was appointed the liaison between MPs and the Executive.

SUCCESSION POLITICS

The President advised the leaders that he would not help much on issues such as resource allocation formula since it is done in Parliament and is upon the MPs to lobby.

“He told us his agenda is development and he will have a voice on succession politics. He also cautioned us against concentrating more on politics at the expense of development,” said our source, who ordinarily had issues speaking on record.

The meeting was against a backdrop of more than 36 visits by the Deputy President in the region as he consolidates support for his 2022 presidential bid.

But some regional legislators led by Ngunjiri Wambugu (Nyeri Town), Maina Kamanda (nominated) and Muturi Kigano (Kangema) have been opposed to Mr Ruto’s visits due to political statements made by those accompanying him.

EXPRESSED ANGER

After the meeting, the President refused to be escorted by the politicians to Nyeri town for a brief public rally and to Karatina to open the multi-million-shilling market. He was accompanied by Nyeri leaders only.

“Hii ingine ni maneno ya Nyeri kwa hivyo tutaenda na viongozi wa Nyeri (The rest is about Nyeri affairs and therefore we will go with Nyeri leaders),” the President is reported to have told the forum before he left.

But during a rally in Nyeri town, the President also expressed anger that an MP, who he did not name, had asked about the succession.