What you need to know:
- Mr Kenyatta drummed up support for the BBI, saying it will address the concerns on sharing of revenue.
- The president also lashed out his critics, saying his silence on the succession politics should not be confused for weakness.
President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday embarked on an aggressive fightback to regain his Mt Kenya political backyard and stem a coarse rebellion that threatens to make him a lame duck president before the end of his second and last term in office.
On the first of his four-day offensive in the region, he set the mood and lit socio-political fires with sharp and metaphoric Kikuyu sloganeering as he addressed 550 MCAs at Sagana State Lodge.
Pointedly, he warned that it was still inopportune to talk about the 2022 succession matrix.
In a speech that lasted about 35 minutes, during which he was egged on by a thrilled and euphoric crowd of ward representatives, the Head of State’s message was uniform and clear: that he will soon assert his political authority in the region so that even after he retires the region’s people benefit from whoever ascends to the presidency through the constitutional changes championed by himself and Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga.
Those in attendance were from Nyeri, Meru, Embu, Kirinyaga, Tharaka-Nithi, Nakuru, Murang’a, Kiambu, Laikipia, Nakuru and Nyandarua counties.
“Today I will speak boldly and be brutally honest from my heart about this region,” he said.
Support for BBI
“We must be honest to ourselves that if you are elected, you must do what is expected of you, not politicking. Even after my term ends, I will be actively involved in politics to ensure fairness and equality for all.”
His address was punctuated by an impassionate clamour for support for the Building Bridges Initiative by the restive Mt Kenya region, where a section of politicians allied to his deputy William Ruto have indicated they will not support the proposed constitutional changes.
Mr Kenyatta drummed up support for the BBI, saying it will address the concerns on sharing of revenue with those in populous regions gaining more.
Giving a long treatise on why the changes are important – he said they will address concerns on revenue sharing so that populous regions, like Mt Kenya, gain more, and that they will end Kenya’s cycle of do-or-die politics – he reiterated that the country was staring at a constitutional rebirth that would shape its future.
Members of County Assemblies are a crucial cog in the BBI push as they must pass its recommendations in plenary before a referendum is called. The President’s pleas to them, therefore, were a strategic investment in loyalty to him and allegiance to his dream.
But, seeing a moment to draw blood, the MCAs renewed their demands for lavish perks, including grants for top-of-the-range cars. The President sided with them.
This, though, was not the first time the President was being caught between a rock and a hard place by MCAs on the car grants issue. Ahead of the 2017 elections, he, together with Mr Ruto, pledged to support their push for the grants.
During a retreat for MCAs in Mombasa three years earlier, in 2014, Mr Kenyatta also told the ward representatives that they were entitled to car grants, just like Members of Parliament.
Yesterday, in the clearest indication yet that he would be at the centre of succession politics towards the end of his final term, Mr Kenyatta lashed out his critics, saying his silence on the matter should not be confused for weakness.
In what appeared to be a veiled attack at his deputy Ruto, he asked him to implement his “grand promises” to Kenyans now as he is still in government and not held back by anyone.
Criticising the culture, by people in positions of power and authority, of pledging huge economic benefits in the distant future, he posed: “Why can’t they do that now? How do you know they will deliver that which they are promising now?”
Mr Ruto’s supporters, especially those from the Mt Kenya region, have lately been restless on the campaign trail, and have gone all-out in the hunt for 2022 votes despite the President pleading that it is still too early to start campaigns.
Yesterday the President said he will not be held hostage by the politics of his succession, and that he will use his remaining time in office to ensure there is no more bloodshed after elections.
At one point he invoked God’s name and wondered why youth in Mt Kenya have become pawns in the scramble for political supremacy.
Politics of dynasties
He again admitted that corruption has bedeviled his government, and that the loot is being used to finance early campaigns and literally buy allegiance through handouts.
“Your money is stolen, then you are given back that same money in the pretext of assistance. Don’t you people think?” he asked the MCAs.
He also hit out at leaders who claim some powerful political families are scheming to retain state power, saying politics has little to do with an individual’s origin.
A section of politicians have argued that his March 2018 Handshake with Mr Odinga was aimed at the propagation of the “politics of dynasties”. From that, the counter-narrative of a “hustler movement” has emerged, risking to plunge the country into a nasty class war.
Mr Ruto has been the biggest and loudest proponent of that hustler narrative, and uses it to paint himself as the son of a poor man who dared to dream. His allies say the Handshake – between the son of a man who was the country’s founding president and another whose father was a vice-president -- is aimed at blockading his presidential ambitions in 2022.
President Kenyatta’s tour of Mt Kenya came in the week when politicians allied to Mr Ruto fired a lengthy letter to him warning of the death of the BBI and the emergence of a political vacuum that would soon be filled.
Betrayal and disrespect
That letter was met with condemnation by MPs allied to President Kenyatta, who yesterday accused their colleagues of betrayal and disrespect of the President and the region.
“Let us be honest, that hurriedly written letter by our Tangatanga colleagues was purely a cry to be invited to Sagana,” the letter read. “However, considering that Sagana is about promoting the BBI in our region, and based on the fact that this particular group is already committed against the BBI, why would they be invited to a function they have shown open hostility to?”
And, in response to a declaration by Ruto-allied MPs that Mr Odinga would find little political favour in Mt Kenya, the Uhuru-allied wing said the ODM leader had not been endorsed as the president’s successor.
“You have not told anyone in Mt Kenya to market Raila Odinga,” they addressed the President.
“If you have done so as it is being alleged by our Tangatanga colleagues, we cannot recall and we are not aware. We have always insisted that any 2022 candidate is welcome to campaign in Mt Kenya. The people will then decide who they can trust to continue the work started and done by you, without undue manipulation from anyone,” they said.
Additional reporting by Nicholas Komu