Is Uhuru an isolated man? Mt Kenya friends, allies turn their backs on President Kenyatta

Uhuru Kenyatta

President Uhuru Kenyatta. 

Photo credit: File | PSCU

What you need to know:

  • In his Mt Kenya backyard, most of the MPs have quit the President’s Jubilee Party and joined DP Ruto’s UDA.
  • The latest to abandon the President is Speaker Justin Muturi, who’s been friends with him for over 30 years

Mr Justin Bedan Muturi was 31 in 1987 when he was posted to Thika as a resident magistrate. It was while at this station, which at the time also covered Gatundu and Kandara, that he would meet Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, then 26, given “the Kenyatta family had business interests in Thika”, he recalled once in an interview.

Mr Muturi would make his debut in Parliament in 1999 after a by-election to represent the then Siakago constituency. Two years later, Mr Kenyatta joined him after President Daniel Moi nominated him to join the House.

The following year, in 2002, Mr Kenyatta was named the Kanu presidential candidate. Although he lost in the General Election, he became the official leader of the opposition as Mr Muturi was re-elected.

In his second term in Parliament between 2003 and 2007, Mr Muturi served as the opposition chief whip, and after losing in the 2007 elections, he was elected Kanu national organising secretary in 2008.

The two friends would reunite in power in 2013 when Mr Kenyatta won the presidency and helped Mr Muturi get elected as the National Assembly Speaker. The President helped him secure re-election in 2017.

After 35 years, their friendship faces the greatest test yet, after Mr Muturi abandoned President Kenyatta to support the presidential bid of Deputy President William Ruto, whom the Head of State insists is unfit to rule.

Preferred successor

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Mr Muturi argues that President Kenyatta, who is backing ODM leader Raila Odinga as his preferred successor, represents the past and he is now looking to the future.

But Mr Muturi is not the only one fleeing the President’s camp.

Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, who served as Mr Kenyatta’s personal assistant between 2002 and 2006, has also abandoned him for Dr Ruto. As a Kanu presidential candidate in 2002, Mr Kenyatta travelled with Mr Gachagua throughout the country as his PA. “The person I knew then is not the person I know now,” Mr Gachagua told the Nation in March.

Rigathi Gachagua

Outgoing Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

President Kenyatta’s falling-out with his estranged deputy continues to cost him more elected leaders.

The Mt Kenya region has over 90 elected MPs, senators and governors, and a Nation analysis shows that President Kenyatta has lost the support of more than 60 of them.

Fortunes have dwindled

In the Mt Kenya East counties of Embu, Tharaka-Nithi and Meru, of the 25 elected leaders, only two remain firm in President Kenyatta’s camp, indicating clearly that his fortunes have dwindled in the region. President Kenyatta has the backing of Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi and Igembe North MP Maoka Maore, while those in DP Ruto’s camp in the three counties are MPs John Muchiri (Manyatta), Eric Muchangi (Runyenjes), Geoffrey Kingagi (Mbeere South) and Charles Muriuki (Mbeere North), Embu Governor Martin Wambora, Senator Njeru Ndwiga and Woman Rep Jane Wanjiku.

Others are MPs Paul Mwirigi (Igembe South), Cyprian Iringo (Igembe Central), John Mutunga (Tigania West), Josphat Kabeabea (Tigania East), Rahim Dawood (North Imenti), Murwithania Rindikiri (Buuri), Nguchine Kirima (Central Imenti), and Kathuri Murungi (South Imenti).

Also backing the DP are Meru Senator Mithika Linturi, Woman Rep Kawira Mwangaza, and MPs Kareke Mbiuki (Maara), Munene Ntwiga (Chuka/Igambang’ombe), and Gitonga Murugara (Tharaka), Tharaka-Nithi Governor Muthomi Njuki, Senator Kindiki Kithure and Beatrice Nkatha.

DP Ruto’s allies say President Kenyatta has failed to solidify his base because he has not paid enough attention to the woes facing the region, including declining prices of farm produce.

Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata told the Nation yesterday that DP Ruto’s frequent visits to the region have helped him build a strong bond with residents and local leaders.

“(DP Ruto) has visited the region frequently and created bonds with the locals for over nine years now. More people have seen Ruto in Central than they have seen Uhuru, leave alone Raila,” he said.

“The leaders want to align with the Central grassroots. No self-respecting leader would want to abandon the people, particularly as they head to the elections. Going against Ruto is risking a loss.”

Azimio la Umoja

Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, another Ruto ally, said only the DP has a clear agenda for the region and residents cannot gamble with their future by rallying behind Mr Odinga, the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya presidential hopeful.

“All Kenyans are comfortable with (DP Ruto) because he is a reflection of the population of Kenya. He understands what Kenyans go through. He is respectful and treats all with dignity. He has a clear agenda for the people of the Mt Kenya region and Kenya as a nation,” Mr Nyoro said.

Jubilee secretary-general and Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni told the Nation yesterday that most leaders from Mt Kenya who are joining DP Ruto’s camp are doing so because of “euphoria” and do not stand for anything,

“For those of us who have remained in Jubilee, we are leaders who can be trusted because we stand for something not those who are following euphoria and being bought,” he said.

The United Democratic Alliance (UDA) wave in the region, said Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, has been created by aspirants and not because the party is strong as claimed. Those defying President Kenyatta, he said, are doing so in order to be favoured by DP Ruto.

“The reason (there are) many UDA aspirants in Mt Kenya is that it’s easy. You just need to be defiant to Uhuru, and be able to pay the aspirant's fees. You don’t even need a manifesto or plan. And you can promise anything you think the public wants to hear, including lies,” he said.

“So you end up with a high concentration of UDA aspirants in one place and the noise they make makes it look like the party is popular there.”

Mr Wambugu claimed that a majority of leaders supporting DP Ruto do not believe in his State House bid and they are afraid to say so in public.

“What most Mt Kenya UDA guys aren’t saying publicly is that they do not believe Ruto will win the presidency. They know he most probably cannot beat the forces against him in favour of Raila. Not with the 2002 history in mind,” he said.

“So they are in UDA hoping to ride the ‘wave’ in the region to office. But once they lose nominations, they will leave UDA immediately. A party that will not form the government has nothing else to offer once someone loses the primaries.”

He added: “Meanwhile, this week, Jubilee unveils its candidates across the region. Unlike UDA, which went for quantity, Jubilee has gone for quality. Thus it is unveiling candidates with a positive personal history, a manifesto, and who will ride on what Jubilee has already done per area. And the party will put resources behind each nominee.”

In Nakuru, only Governor Lee Kinyanjui and MPs Raymond Moi (Rongai) and Samuel Arama (Nakuru Town West) are with President Kenyatta.

MPs Jayne Kihara (Naivasha), Kimani Ngunjiri (Bahati), Samuel Gachobe (Subukia), Joseph Tonui (Kuresoi South), Moses Cheboi (Kuresoi North), Charity Kathambi (Njoro), David Gikaria (Nakuru Town East), Kuria Kimani (Molo) and Martha Wangari (Gilgil), all elected under Jubilee, have since decamped to UDA.

In his home turf of Kiambu, only six elected leaders have stuck with President Kenyatta. They are MPs Anne Kibe (Gatundu North), Gabriel Kago (Githunguri), Jonah Mburu (Lari), Peter Mwathi (Limuru), and Jude Njomo (Kiambu Town), and Governor James Nyoro.

In DP Ruto’s camp are MPs Moses Kuria (Gatundu South), Wainaina wa Jungle (Thika Town), George Koimburi (Juja), Simon King’ara (Ruiru), John Njuguna (Kiambaa), Kimani Ichung’wah (Kikuyu), and Wamacukuru Kamau (Kabete), Senator Kimani Wamatangi and Woman Rep Gathoni Wamuchomba.

In Nyeri, President Kenyatta is supported by Senator Ephraim Maina, and MPs Ngunjiri Wambugu (Nyeri Town), Kanini Kega (Kieni) and Gichuki Mugambi (Othaya), while Dr Ruto has Governor Mutahi Kahiga, Rigathi Gachagua (Mathira), Gichuhi Mwangi (Tetu), Gathiaka Kiai (Mukurweini), and Rehab Mukami (Nyeri).

President Kenyatta seems to enjoy more support among leaders in Murang’a than any other Mt Kenya county. They are Governor Mwangi Wa Iria and MPs Kigano Muturi (Kangema), Peter Kimari (Mathioya), Sabina Chege (Murang’a), Joseph Nduati (Gatanga) and Ruth Mwaniki (Kigumo). Senator Irungu Kang’ata and MPs Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu), Mary Waithera (Maragua) and Alice Wahome (Kandara) support DP Ruto.

It’s a similar situation in Nyandarua, where a majority of leaders support President Kenyatta. They are Governor Francis Kimemia and MPs Kioni, Amos Kimunya (Kipipiri) and Thuku Kwenye (Kinangop). DP Ruto is backed by Senator Paul Githiomi, MP Michael Muchira Mwangi (Ol Joro Orok) and Woman Rep Faith Gitau.

In Laikipia, only Governor Ndiritu Muriithi and Laikipia North MP Sarah Korere are in President Kenyatta’s camp, while Senator John Kinyua and MPs Patrick Kariuki (Laikipia West) and Amin Deddy Mohamed (Laikipia East) and Woman Rep Catherine Waruguru (Laikipia) are with Dr Ruto.

In Kirinyaga, the President has the support of four elected leaders: Senator Charles Kibiru, MPs Wachira Kabinga (Mwea) and John Munene (Kirinyaga Central) and Woman Rep Purity Ngirici, while DP Ruto has Governor Anne Waiguru and MPs Githinji Robert (Gichugu) and George Kariuki (Ndia).

Grooming new leaders

Meanwhile, President Kenyatta is keen on grooming a new crop of leaders in his political bastion of Mt Kenya as he prepares to leave office after the August General Election.

Just as he was prepared for leadership by the likes of the late John Michuki, a powerful man in Mwai Kibaki’s administration, President Kenyatta is out to coach leaders from his backyard to propel his agenda when he retires.

With Dr Ruto having chosen leaders who are relatively new in politics to push his agenda, President Kenyatta seems to be reading from his estranged deputy’s script to turn things in Central Kenya in his favour.

Dr Ruto’s allies have been camping in Mt Kenya, prompting President Kenyatta to change tack in dealing with the DP, who wants to make him look like a lame-duck king in his own backyard. The DP is grooming political newcomers like Mr Nyoro, and Mr Ichung’wah, among others.

For his part, President Kenyatta is keen on priming the likes of Mr Kega, Mr Wambugu, Ms Chege, Mr Kioni and Jubilee deputy leader for operations Kinoti Gatobu to deal with the UDA wave. Both Mr Kega and Mr Kioni have been elevated to senior party positions.

Cherang’any MP Joshua Kutuny, the Jubilee deputy secretary-general, told the Nation yesterday that with the President focused on pushing his political interests regarding his succession, he is moulding new leaders in Mt Kenya so as to sell Mr Odinga’s candidacy.

“There is a new dimension. Is Uhuru grooming new people? With the new realignments where we have new secretary-general Jeremiah Kioni and Kanini Kega as director elections and Sabina Chega being very vocal, is Uhuru trying to prop up a new team?” Mr Kutuny asked.

Mr Kega defended President Kenyatta’s decision to groom new leaders in the party, arguing that they are committed to the Head of State’s agenda and are up to the task.

Committed to his cause

“It is not just a question of grooming but we have been very robust and active in the party. We are committed to his cause and that of our people,” he said. “We have been consistent and loyal. Basically, we have been given the opportunity to prove ourselves. Beyond reasonable doubt, leaders have seen that we are equal to the task.”

He added that his responsibility is ensuring that Jubilee clinches a majority of seats in the National Assembly, Senate, Council of Governors and county assemblies, in addition to selling Mr Odinga’s presidential bid.

“Now, my responsibility is to consolidate our party and sell our presidential candidate and ensure that we get as many seats as possible,” he said.

Mr Wambugu, the convener of the Mt Kenya Jubilee Caucus, yesterday said they are being mentored by the President as a way of moving the region forward.

“Uhuru was himself mentored by the leaders who went before him. Doing it for us is his way of paying it forward as we also will do during our time,” he said.

Ms Chege, on her part, said it is important for President Kenyatta to mentor new leaders as he retires in August.

“Every visionary leader grooms and mentors new leaders to take the mantle, which would be the greatest gift the President can give to his region,” she said.