What you need to know:
- Factional feuds have rocked the governing party with Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua seemingly under fire from some lawmakers.
- President Ruto recently told leaders from the Mt Kenya region to stop engaging in succession politics and focus on service delivery.
The unfolding political supremacy battle within Kenya Kwanza in the Mt Kenya region has lifted the lid on the ongoing succession politics, amid talk of a powerful hidden hand keen on managing the region’s political future.
The fight for the region’s political soul mirrors the cold war between President William Ruto and his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta, which led to the two falling out, and Mr Kenyatta throwing his weight behind Azimio la Umoja One Kenya leader Raila Odinga in the 2022 presidential elections.
President Ruto has since called to order his wrangling lieutenants in the face of murmurs of a possible bigger plot to cut Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua to size. However, there is more than meets the eye in the political tussle between Mr Gachagua and Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro.
What started as a cold war between the two leaders who enjoy a close relationship with the President has quickly morphed into a full-blown political rebellion.
Two weeks ago, more than 15 UDA MPs endorsed Mr Nyoro for the presidency in 2032. In a move that exposed the growing rift in the vote-rich region, the leaders said the second-term MP was the viable successor to President Ruto.
Sending a major political message was the presence of MPs from far and wide, including the Rift Valley —Josses Lelmengit (Emgwen), Jematiah Sergon (Baringo) and Paul Biego (Chesumei). Those from Western were Didmus Barasa (Kimilili) and Fred Ikana (Shinyalu). There was also Shurie Omar (Balambala) from North Eastern.
East Africa Legislative Assembly MP Kanini Kega, who is a close ally of DP Gachagua, expressed fears that there is a more powerful hand behind the eruption of the dissidence in Mt Kenya region. He said what is being witnessed are early campaigns packaged to cause divisions in the region.
“For now, not many will realise the reason why we must have our own party, but with time it will become clearer,” said Mr Kega.
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Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga added that the region risks playing into the hands of “our enemies” intent on causing divisions in Mt Kenya.
In a thinly veiled salvo against the President, the governor said that all who want to deal with the people of Mt Kenya must do so through the DP.
“He is the principal assistant to President Ruto and by virtue of that status, is our kingpin,” said the second-term governor.
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Nyeri Senator Wahome Wamatinga pointed to a similar move within UDA, with plans to create more than one deputy party leader as part of the scheme to undermine Mr Gachagua.
“They are suggesting that the new party should have several deputy party leaders when in exercise of power we have only one deputy president who automatically should assume that role in whatever new contest party is to be formed,” added Mr Wamatinga.
He reminded Mr Nyoro that such wars will not take the region far, reminding him that “buffaloes do not move together because of love but because of the shared purpose of defending themselves against danger”.
Kiambu Senator Karungo Thang’wa said the group opposed to the DP is engaged in sideshows intended to test political waters and settle personal scores.
He said the politicians are trying to set counties in the region against each other for their selfish political reasons.
“Whatever they are doing, they are destroying Ndindi Nyoro rather than building him. If there is a hidden hand in the scheme, then it must be Ndindi himself as he feels he is a big man being the Budget committee chair,” said Mr Thang’wa.
Mr Gachagua’s successor as Mathira MP, Eric Wamumbi, said there is no leadership vacuum in the region as their political supremo is the DP.
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He warned the faction opposed to Mr Gachagua that they will face the wrath of the Mt Kenya people come 2027 should they not rally behind the DP.
“We have a leader in Mt Kenya by the name of Gachagua and any other leader in the region should align behind him. They are ambitious but the time is not now,” said Mr Wamumbi.
“Some people were trying to insinuate that the President is silent but he has now spoken. He gave us guidance. The MPs should now concentrate on the jobs they were elected to do,” he added.
The attacks against Mr Gachagua started on October 10, 2023, when former Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri accused him of sidelining those who helped him to bag the deputy presidency and lording over other leaders in the region.
He narrated how, together with other leaders, they pleaded with President Ruto to pick Mr Gachagua over Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki as his deputy.
“I chaired the Karen meeting where we made a passionate plea to Ruto to appoint him as the running mate. We cried tears pleading his case to Ruto who was under immense pressure to pick Kithure Kindiki as the running mate,” Mr Ngunjiri said.
“But once he got into power, he started sidelining those who pleaded his case to Ruto. You have now disowned most of us and you treat us like trash,” he added.
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The same sentiments were to be repeated by Murang’a Senator Joe Nyutu, who took a swipe at the DP on January 14, saying the Mt Kenya region cannot afford to be in the hands of a “condescending leader” who goes about disparaging other leaders’ names to higher authorities instead of uniting them into a fortress for future strategy.
The first-term senator added that “positions” do not win one direct endorsement since there are other considerations to winning unanimous acceptability.
He went ahead to ask President Ruto to replace Mr Gachagua with the Kiharu MP in his 2027 re-election bid, arguing that the President’s prospects for re-election could be dimmed by maintaining Mr Gachagua as his deputy.
“We will request Ruto to choose a young person from Murang’a who is Ndindi Nyoro; Gachagua has lost his ground, treating people disrespectfully, including elected leaders,” said Mr Nyutu.
Public Service Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria, who has been at loggerheads with the DP, also got roped into the chorus, urging Mt Kenya region leaders to mentor young leaders like Mr Nyoro instead of subjecting them to political opposition.
“We should support the young leaders in Mt Kenya, and thus Ndindi Nyoro should not be fought,” said the former Gatundu South MP.
Feeling the heat, Mr Gachagua hit back at his critics, saying he has no time for succession politics, which he termed an insult to Kenyans who expect service delivery.
“I was sworn in as the principal assistant to the President, and I will do just that. I will not be dissuaded from that by engaging in unnecessary and uncalled-for succession politics,” said Mr Gachagua.
“I am focused on this administration and I have no other agenda but to make sure that I assist President Ruto to succeed in the economic transformation of this country,” he added.
Speaking in Gilgil Constituency, Nakuru County, President Ruto moved to avert a fallout in the region by asking politicians to shun the succession debate.
He said that he was disturbed that Kenya Kwanza leaders elected to help him tackle different challenges were spending time talking about succession politics and forming political camps rather than seeking solutions to the problems.
“I want to ask leaders, especially those in UDA and Kenya Kwanza, to step down any contest for whatever position, whether in the present or future, so that we can work and focus on delivering to Kenyans,” said the President.
“It will be an insult to Kenyans that instead of delivering our promises, we are politicking. Kenyans need to see who we are as leaders. Let them come slowly. We have said we will mentor them but they should not push us,” he said.
Political analyst Javas Bigambo says the unfolding fight for the soul of the region is stemming from the division that preceded the picking of Mr Gachagua as Dr Ruto’s running mate.
He says that the region’s politicians who backed Prof Kindiki were yet to reconcile with the decision to drop the former Tharaka Nithi Senator.
He described as far-fetched, claims a powerful hand could be fermenting the division.
“I would not consider it as mere political posturing. It should be understood that there was a rift in UDA when they settled on Gachagua. Gachagua needs to bring together the MPs and try to unite them,” said Mr Bigambo.
“I don’t think the President could be the one fuelling the rift because he needs a united Mt Kenya for purposes of his re-election,” he added.
The current political war facing DP Gachagua mirrors the one that Dr Josephat Karanja, Kenya’s fifth vice-president, faced.
Elected in a by-election in 1986 as Mathare MP, Karanja was quickly elevated to the VP position in 1988 to replace Mwai Kibaki, who President Daniel Moi had moved to the Health docket after a falling out with him.
Dr Karanja took office with gusto, never sparing a moment to show off his powers, which became his Achille’s heel.
Karanja had no strong political base or experience, having served as an MP for only two years. Hardly a year into office, he called top security officials for a national security briefing when Moi was outside the country.
The move irked Moi who tore into an unnamed person who had dared usurp his powers. He set his attack dogs against Karanja, with former Embakasi MP David Mwenje moving a motion of no confidence against the VP.
What followed was Karanja’s ignominious exit, resigning after just one year and one month in office.
Drawing parallels, when Mr Gachagua came into office, he pushed the narrative of the government being of only shareholders and that he was the de facto leader of Mt Kenya while Dr Ruto was the leader of the other regions.
Further, he used to publicly say he would be walking around State House with an eye out on who was visiting the President and having a say on the appointments made.
Unapologetic, the one-term Mathira MP acted like a co-President who wanted equal share of the government by virtue of Mt Kenya overwhelmingly voting for Kenya Kwanza.