A group of influential tycoons are coalescing around ODM leader Raila Odinga and have lined up a series of meetings to weigh his policies on Mt Kenya and plot a path to power.
The meetings will be spearheaded by the Mt Kenya Foundation (MKF),a lobby group consisting of wealthy residents of the region that were influential in the re-election of President Mwai Kibaki, and President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017. They funded campaigns, mobilisation of voters and Jubilee party activities.
MKF deputy chairman and Kenya Leather Council chairman Titus Ibui told the Sunday Nation that they will meet the ODM leader on Tuesday after a planned meeting last week was postponed.
The organisers want Mr Odinga to assuage the region’s fears and support residents’ aspirations. Among the hard bargains the region plans to make in exchange for supporting any presidential candidate is correction of historical under-representation in Parliament due to what is perceived to be a lopsided electoral map and past gerrymandering that carved out more electoral units in sparsely populated regions than in dense ones across the country.
MKF communications director Joe Murimi said equality of the vote and representation is a perennial political gripe in the region that has always been relegated by electoral exigencies of the moment each time it comes up. They want the one man one shillings doctrine enshrined in law.
“The Tuesday meeting between MKF and Mr Odinga is also with a view to coordinating resource allocation and setting priorities for the region’s economic turn-around ahead of 2022. We are listening to all presidential contenders and our interests as a region are way bigger than only the position of a deputy president,” Mr Murimi said.
Former Equity Bank chairman Peter Munga, a senior member of MKF, noted: “There are going to be several other meetings to take place with different approaches and elements.”
But the foundation’s activities have attracted mixed reactions.
MP Jude Njomo, a staunch ally of President Kenyatta, told the Sunday Nation that any person who wants to be president should not isolate the Mt Kenya tycoons.
“They are very important people because they have money to fund a campaign and also they are voters. They have been giving directions in so many ways and they also influence quite a number of people, just like we have many other influential groups,” explained Mr Njomo..
Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata who was fired as Senate Majority Whip for associating with Deputy President William Ruto said: “Every person whether rich or poor matters equally in politics. Each person has a single vote and ODM boss Raila Odinga is at liberty to talk to any person in the region. Mt Kenya’s decision to support Ruto was done way back and concluded,” he said.
MKF, founded to support President Mwai Kibaki’s re-election in 2007 after the collapse of the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) on which he was elected in 2002. In 2017, they rewarded administrator’s whose areas had the highest voter out for helping to mobilise the vote for President Kenyatta.
For the outfit to invite Mr Odinga for a meeting ahead of the 2022 General Election is a sign of changing political times.
This is because the group was critical in locking Mr Odinga out of the region. It rolled out a massive and well-funded voter registration drive in counties, a key cog in the rallying of millions of voters for President Kenyatta. It also contracted jobless youth and boda boda riders in Mt Kenya counties to take eligible voters to voting centres on election day.
The new approach appears to have been informed by the realisation that the political difficulties the former Prime Minister is likely to face in the Jubilee stronghold, therefore opting to reach out to respected high ranking professionals and prominent business leaders to make inroads.
Today, Mr Odinga is expected in Nanyuki where he will meet influential businessmen and traders. He is expected to hold a series of meetings with PNU and Kanu county leaders before attending a church service in Nanyuki town.
“We have invited Mr Odinga to meet our small and medium-sized enterprises and guide us on how we will uplift the country’s economy,” said Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi.
This will be the second meeting with tycoons from the region. In June, Mr Odinga attended another meeting that included corporate executive Polycarp Igathe, former Gatanga MP Peter Keneth, nominated MP Maina Kamanda and former Cabinet Secretary Paul Otouma. Others included Siaya Senator James Orengo, Homa Bay politician Tom Allila and businessman Fred Rabongo.
Additional reporting by Onyango K’Onyango and James Murimi