President Kenyatta is increasingly under pressure to turn the tide in his Mt Kenya backyard, a region perceived to have rebelled against him, and decisively steer his succession game plan.
As Mt Kenya prepares for Limuru Three conference, during which a declaration is expected on the presidential candidate the region will back in 2022, Mr Kenyatta finds himself grappling with challenges similar to those he faced during a related summit at the same venue a decade ago.
During the meeting convened by the Gikuyu, Embu, Meru Association (Gema) in 2010, as the constitutional referendum campaigns and President Mwai Kibaki succession unfolded, delegates protested that the region was rudderless.
Some, like then assistant minister Cecily Mbarire, told Mr Kenyatta that he had failed the community and challenged him to “start leading from the front”.
Ms Mbarire, who is now in Deputy President William Ruto’s camp, then told Mr Kenyatta — who sat at the front alongside cabinet ministers Kiraitu Murungi and Amos Kimunya — that the lukewarm “Yes” campaign for the constitution in Mt Kenya had made some lawmakers to drift towards the “No” camp because of the effective leadership by then cabinet minister Ruto.
Subsequently, Limuru Two conference in the run up to the 2013 General Election would crown Mr Kenyatta the region’s spokesperson.
He was later elected president on a joint ticket with Mr Ruto.
The region is once again at a crossroads, with President Kenyatta’s allies asking him to step up campaigns to slow down his deputy, who seemingly has made significant inroads in Mt Kenya.
The President was not part of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) rallies that Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga largely championed until the High Court and Court of Appeal scuttled it.
Mr Kenyatta is yet to accompany Mr Odinga for joint meetings in Mt Kenya as the ODM leader popularises the Azimio la Umoja (Declaration of Unity) virtually on his own.
ODM-Jubilee pre-election coalition talks have slowed down and the President has not openly endorsed anyone for the top seat.
Mr Kenyatta is in a fix on whether to anoint an heir who could be labelled a “project” — a tag the opposition capitalised on to sink his presidential ambitions in 2002 — or continue playing safe but with the resultant confusion in his turf.
Some have said it’s this apparent ambivalence that has faded the fortunes of the ruling Jubilee party and triggered a stampede to the Ruto-linked United Democratic Alliance (UDA) that’s attracting even Mr Kenyatta’s allies, like Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru.
The Mt Kenya Foundation (MFK), a caucus of tycoons that supported Mr Kenyatta and Mr Kibaki in previous elections, has begun vetting presidential aspirants ahead of Limuru Three. Even so, President Kenyatta’s role is contested.
Yesterday, MFK vice-chairman Titus Ibui told the Nation that whereas the President is the Gema spokesperson, his hands are tied on endorsing a successor.
“We want to talk to people and give the presidential hopefuls permission to go out and sell their policies to the region before the Limuru convention. The President has no say at this point,” Mr Ibui said.
“That’s how we made a decision to support President Kenyatta in 2013. He will attend Limuru Three as a member.”
However, Kieni MP Kanini Kega, who was named the chairman of the National Assembly Budget Committee when the President purged the DP’s allies in the House leadership, insisted Mr Kenyatta would be the convener of Limuru Three “expected before the end of this year”.
“Nobody should say President Kenyatta is hands-off. He’s part of the community and wants us to make the correct decision after listening to all the candidates even though we are seeing those with our interests at heart,” Mr Kega said.
He added that the President would pronounce himself on his successor after the Limuru Three conference.
“Mt Kenya people are very regimental. Like the President, who is one of us, we don’t want to impose leaders on people. That is why we are calling for consultations,” Mr Kega said.
The Kieni MP is among those leading Mr Odinga’s campaigns.
The MFK has hosted Mr Odinga and One Kenya Alliance (OKA) principals — Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper party), Musalia Mudavadi (Amani National Congress), Moses Wetang’ula ( Ford K) and Kanu’s Gideon Moi.
“When faced with a momentous decision, Mt Kenya leaders always retreat to come up with a consensus,” Mr Kega said.
Ms Waiguru said she welcomes any forum on Mt Kenya but added that people should be left to make independent decisions.
“A meeting in which a handful of people are attempting to steer the region in a particular direction will not go far. Wanjiku is determining the direction to take as a region,” the Kirinyaga county boss said yesterday.
“Ordinary people are determined and undeterred. The conference will only yield fruits if aligned with Wanjiku.”
The governor, however, absolved President Kenyatta and the leadership of Mt Kenya from accusations of failing to give direction to the community.
“I can’t blame the leaders. The situation has evolved. Circumstances have led us to a situation in which the people determine the direction,” she said.
Mr Ibui said that, as the presidential aspirants market themselves in Mt Kenya, they must respect Mr Kenyatta.
“Politics is about interests. We will definitely support a person who has the interests of the region at heart. The presidential hopeful must respect our leaders too,” the MFK vice-chairman said.
Gatanga MP Nduati Ngugi and his Nyeri Town colleague Wambugu Ngunjiri said Mt Kenya and the entire country are concerned with unity but insisted President Kenyatta still holds sway.
“The leadership of the mountain is securely under President Kenyatta. He has promised to give us direction when the right time comes,” Mr Ngugi said.
Mr Ngunjiri said the region determines its needs and interests.
“After that, we decide which leader is best placed to deliver on those needs. These will drive every successful succession forum in Mt Kenya until 2022,” Mr Ngunjiri said.
However, Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata, MPs Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu) and Rigathi Gachagua (Mathira) — who support the Ruto-for-president bid — said the people of Mt Kenya have already made their choice.
“The direction is clear and the mountain is behind Ruto. It has proved this by Ruto winning all by-elections in the region. Elected leaders are defecting to UDA,” Mr Kang’ata said.
Mr Nyoro said it’s not President Kenyatta’s mandate to decide his successor.
“Uhuru has failed the region economically. With regard to succession, that is not part of his work. The people will make decisions. In fact, they already have,” Mr Nyoro said.
Mr Gachagua said Mt Kenya people don’t need more directions.
“We request the President to allow the people to make their choices. Let him retire peacefully and in dignity,” he said.