Mwangi Kiunjuri

 The Service Party (TSP) leader Mwangi Kiunjuri during the interview with the Nation at his office in Nairobi, on January 6, 2022.

| Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

Kiunjuri: My love-hate ties with Ruto and Mt Kenya loss in BBI flop

What you need to know:

  • Kiunjuri says some central Kenya leaders are nostalgic about some aspects of Building Bridges Initiative.
  • Former CS says he would consider being a running mate if approached by key presidential candidates.

In the second part of the interview with the Sunday Nation, former Agriculture CS Festus Mwangi Kiunjuri reveals why he declined the offer to become UDA secretary-general, the position now held by Ms Veronica Maina and instead opted to form his own party, The Service Party (TSP).

Plus the fight between small parties and Deputy President William Ruto, possibility of working together and why some central Kenya leaders are nostalgic about some aspects of Building Bridges Initiative.

There is what is referred to as the Uhuru Consensus that saw aspirants with roots from central Kenya prevailed upon to drop their bids in places like Kajiado, Laikipia in the interest of cohesion. As TSP, is this something you would like to continue?

It is unfair and an affront on our people and this should never be entertained. As TSP, we will never entertain it. TSP will field candidates across the country and there are no compromises that will be made. We are fielding a governor in Lamu, a senator, a woman rep, MPs, MCAs and we are not going to discuss anything with anybody.

In Kajiado, we are going to field a woman representative. We are going to field senators, governors, but that does not mean we are going to field people from central Kenya only. We will field suitable candidates and we will go for all elective posts.

In Trans Nzoia County, we have a woman, a very competitive candidate who has been asked to step down every time she wants to vie. We are going to field her. Let the people decide. I

t is the same in Isiolo, our interests have been stopped for long, the candidates with roots in Meru have always been asked to step down. You cannot call other Kenyans tribal because they are exercising their democratic rights. That is not tribalism.

On representation, the BBI proposed additional seats and it was seen as an attempt to correct that imbalance. Does it mean the BBI was a missed opportunity for Mount Kenya?

Yes it was. BBI was politicised, demonised and sadly the people used to fight it are from the Mt Kenya yet we were going to be its greatest beneficiaries. When you look at every discussion, even some of the bills being discussed at the National Assembly, there are some clauses that are offending and need to be expunged through consensus.

Moreover, when consensus fails, the votes take place. That is democracy. If you look deeply, you see that BBI’s intentions were watered down and the opponents were able to convince Kenyans that it was all about creating positions. It is true that it had some offending clauses but that was no reason to reject it in total. We have a constitution in the country that offers parameters on how you can create constituencies. We have 290 constituencies and IEBC’s mandate is to only work with the 290 constituencies. BBI was correcting this.

Therefore, the only way to cure under-representation is to ensure that you expand the cake and ensure that we have more constituencies and that is what BBI was proposing 70 extra constituencies. That is the only way you can have equity in this country. These 70 seats were not going to Mt Kenya; in fact, Coast was the greatest beneficiary.

But somebody somewhere at the back of their minds looked at it as an Uhuru Kenyatta affair and central Kenya were the ones to benefit. I can tell you some of those guys who pretend to love us now more than Christ loves  the church, are the same guys who fight anything that comes to Mt Kenya region. 

DP Ruto recently rejected proposals from other friendly parties for a zonal formula on fielding candidates by parties, is TSP among those pushing for this?

I have been friends with the DP but we agreed that all of us must create our own independent parties. Of course there have been discussions here and there about joining hands to form one party, but this has been very clear that TSP can never be dissolved.

A party can only have a say and voice when it is properly grounded and that is why we embarked on listening tours across the country. You saw us recruiting members for TSP. TSP will never discuss the issue of zoning. TSP can never discuss zoning because this zoning will only disadvantage us; it is killing democracies and certain communities.

Is there a possibility of TSP and its party leader joining hands with DP, again?

It is possible but for now, our major concentration is on building a strong party. We are building strong candidates who are competitive. I want to assure you that the next government will be a coalition government. No one has the ability to form the next government without a coalition because individually, they are far from getting the majority.

If you hear them campaign out there, you will think they have taken the whole world with them, that they pocketed some regions and declared them their territories and bedrooms. Things are changing each day. For the record, I am a person who likes fighting for his space and not to be given and that is why I rejected being the secretary-general of UDA and formed TSP to fight it out with other parties.

Mwangi Kiunjuri

 The Service Party (TSP) leader Mwangi Kiunjuri during the interview with the Nation at his office in Nairobi, on January 6, 2022.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

Before bolting out of UDA, you were accused alongside MP Moses Kuria of blackmailing the DP in your negotiations regarding control of Mt Kenya vote basket. Was that the case?

First, we have never had any discussion with the DP on Mt Kenya votes. We also sympathise with those who say so. They are people who work to malign others, to demonise others because for them to grow, they must cut others to size. For them to walk, they want you to kneel so that you are their size. For their relevance out there, they must provoke battles with us, but we have decided to ignore them.

For context, the accusation was arising from within the DP’s camp concerning the question of a running mate from central Kenya. Your name, that of Moses Kuria and MP Gachagua featured. So, did the kitchen become too hot for you and Kuria?

I have been very categorical as an experienced politician. I am among the top 10 politicians in this country. However young I am, I have grown to that level and I am a party leader today. I am very aware that there are qualities needed for one to be a deputy president.

I am very aware that any serious presidential candidate must listen to the ground for they have their own intelligence. They must for instance listen to the people of Meru, whom they respect within Mt Kenya region and not these people declaring themselves as kingpins. Some have declared themselves and some have been declared.

I have never said that I want to be the deputy president. These are desperate people who can do anything to propel their names to the national records; they are sycophants, bootlickers of the highest order, and you know them by name. If I were to be the president of this country, I would listen to the people. I would go to Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Murang’a, Kiambu, Nakuru, to all Mt Kenya regions and diaspora and ask who has the respect of the Mt Kenya people and in the same respect check if they have the capacity to deliver, not only the vote but also as a DP. 

Qualifications are like beauty, they are in the eyes of the beholder. You might realise some of the presidential candidates are not interested in popular candidates, those with potential but in those they can manipulate and would not be obstacles in their quest to single-handedly control the country. Sometimes being independent minded can also work against one under such circumstances. So, if you can deliver the votes and are popular in the region, you may be disqualified and they look for those who they can manipulate.

Would you consider being a running mate if any of the key presidential candidates approached you?

I will consider. All of us are ambitious; the pinnacle of politics is to become the president of this country, and being a deputy president can get you to that goal. It can give you a head start and you cannot ignore that whoever is the deputy president has a head start in the State House race.

However, that does not mean that being a deputy president; you automatically have the blessings to be the president. You have seen the trouble DP Ruto is going through. Surprisingly, none of the vice-presidents ever became president save for when Jomo died to pave way for Moi; even Kibaki became president after. It is not an automatic thing. It has never bothered me. I believe in competition, I am resilient and I am full of determination and passion, I do not believe in free things.

I have already said that some people just want to pick a running mate who is the most docile person. At the end of the day, that can be a really idle office; it is an office where somebody can say your work is to read newspapers and that is it. It is an office that requires somebody with the least qualifications because your deputy president does not have to represent you in foreign meetings, you can send the CS for Foreign Affairs. He does not have to attend infrastructure conferences; you can send the CS, Infrastructure. It is an office that can be ignored, and it has been ignored.

Remember, and note this, the deputy president has been jobless for the last three years since the day Matiang’i was named super minister, his powers became null and void and that office has remained muted and irrelevant for the last two or so years. It is a clear indication that you can do without a deputy president. 

Mwangi Kiunjuri

 The Service Party (TSP) leader Mwangi Kiunjuri during the interview with the Nation at his office in Nairobi, on January 6, 2022.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

Uhuru has done it, 2020, 2021 and now 2022. Therefore, it is not a very important office as people want to carry it. You cannot sit down there waiting to be named the deputy president because it can really frustrate you.

Second, I am not the only person with the potential to be the deputy president; all the others have the capacity and ability. If I were to be picked as running mate, that candidate would come and explain to my people and thereafter request them to release for that new role.

Do you think that your knowledge and connection among the Kikuyu worked against you in the end. It may have put you as a possible regional kingpin after the president and that some people didn’t want that?

Let me say this for the record, I have had the advantage of campaigning for Mwai Kibaki, he trusted me and that is why in both 2005 and 2010 referendums, he picked me to campaign in Mt Kenya. The protocol was very clear; it was me, Uhuru and Kibaki.

I always invited Uhuru Kenyatta who then invited the President and the President would speak. Maybe the plan was to finish me on the ground, maybe the plan was to create an opportunity for another person. What I like focusing on is the positive side to it. I would not have come to this level if I was still a Cabinet Secretary.

What seat are you going for in the next elections?

I am running for MP Laikipia East. If I have to be part of the next government, I would like to walk there with a lot of dignity and respect so that nobody will give me the position of a Cabinet minister then demean me the following day because I have no political standing.

Lastly, being an MP, I can be Leader of the Majority, Leader of the Minority and I can lead my flock to the battlefield where I belong in parliament.

In addition, in TSP, we are very clear, parties are formed to form the government or influence it. Form a government when you succeed to be part of that government or influence when you are in the opposition and so, we have a clear role that we can play from either side.

Why are you not vying for governor, as you wanted to in 2017?

If I really want to market TSP to be a national party, don’t you think I will be so limited to do so if I am governor? As Laikipia governor, I can only interact with 47 governors, but governors are too busy and have no time to entertain your dreams of forming a strong party.

In terms of interaction, the National Assembly is the place to be. If I run for senator, again, there are only 47 senators. Their work is capped and they are dealing with issues of counties. An MP at the National Assembly however cuts across. He is in the constituency, in the National Assembly that has 349 members. It is a wider net. You cast your net wider. If I really want to engage in serious campaigns, market my party, the place to do it is in the parliament. Many people have not been strategic. The kitchen of this country’s politics is the National Assembly.

You worked with Kibaki and Uhuru, both as Presidents. Compare their leadership styles?

I do not want to answer that.

Critics rate your performance as Agriculture CS as dismal, and others say you did well. How do you assess yourself?

I did very well. One, the president himself announced during his State of the Nation address in 2020 that he will not be able to do a lot for the Big Four but he has achieved in laying the foundation. However, one of our major achievements is we were able to come up with a ten-year Agriculture Sector Growth and Transformation Strategy. 

Anyone who will come to the ministry, anybody coming to be the President of the country will use that strategy. The only question is, since I left, has there been any progress in the sector? Will they build on the foundation that we left for them? That strategy is one of my achievements.

You cannot talk of agriculture without mentioning some of the things I did. I brought a lot of growth and progressive policies and regulations in the sector. I have a good record, I brought 70 per cent of the regulations that had been lying idle for 10 years. I came up with regulations governing the production of potatoes, coffee and so much more. I am very proud of what I did in the agriculture sector.

When should we expect Limuru Three to be convened?

Limuru Three is not a preserve of anybody.  There are so many people involved. We have politicians, the business community and academia. It is an area we have so many players and it has not been discussed yet. As a forum, we are ready now. If it is called, we are ready for it.

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