Uhuru Kenyatta's public appearance stirs politics in Mount Kenya

 Uhuru Kenyatta

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta attends the burial of former Assistant Inspector General of Police King'ori Mwangi at Ndugamano village in Tetu constituency on February 17, 2024

Photo credit: Mwangi Muiruri | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Some of these things are not planned. Politics is dynamic. One day means a lot in politics.
  • Uhuru is now seen as supporting Gachagua and vice versa. Their inner circle seems to have realised that they can't go far if they are divided.

Retired President Uhuru Kenyatta's public appearance in Mt Kenya over the weekend has stirred the region's politics, leaving locals guessing his next political move.

This comes amid reports of a quiet political truce between the Jubilee Party stalwart and Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, who has since toned down his repeated attacks on his former boss turned fierce political rival as the DP seeks to consolidate his control over the region.

The former president, who has kept a low political profile and focused on his international duties since his preferred presidential candidate Raila Odinga was beaten in the August 2022 polls, attended the funeral of former Deputy Inspector General of Police King'ori Mwangi in Nyeri.

He later went to the burial of former Cabinet Minister Amos Kimunya's wife in Nyandarua County.

Mr Kenyatta's outing came a day after President William Ruto wrapped up his three-day tour of central Kenya and as Mr Odinga formally announced his interest in the state-backed African Union Commission chairmanship, throwing the opposition into disarray.

"Some of these things are not planned. Politics is dynamic. One day means a lot in politics. Uhuru is now seen as supporting Gachagua and vice versa. Their inner circle seems to have realised that they can't go far if they are divided," said Moi University lecturer and political commentator Nyaga Kindiki.

The professor of International Education and Policy said politics was about interests with the battle in the vote-rich region whose support is crucial for one to win the presidency now being who will be the local political kingpin in the 2027 and 2032 general elections with the assumption and belief that Ruto will be re-elected.

The don likened what is happening in Mt Kenya and the country to the Kanu vs. Kadu battle at independence that emerged between Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and the doyen of opposition politics Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

"It is the same Kanu game being played as Ruto, Uhuru and Gachagua were all products of Daniel Moi, Jomo Kenyatta and Kanu now disguised as TNA, UDA, Jubilee and Kenya Kwanza against the politics of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga now through ODM, Nasa, and Azimio. They are the same people and only the forest has changed. They are doing the same thing they did in the past," Prof Kindiki said.

Mr Kenyatta, who was seen as a major threat to Kenya Kwanza's stranglehold on its Mt Kenya base due to his huge political and economic resources, his family name and performance record, with some residents feeling they were better off economically during his reign, is likely to be more politically weakened if Mr Odinga bags the AU job.

"Without Raila, it will take time for the opposition to stand on its own. It will be weak. Politics aside, because he is in business, Uhuru must now look like he is supporting Gachagua because of his interests as it will be difficult for him if he does not support the current government," Prof Kindiki said.

The growing political relationship between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Gachagua and their supporters also follows a push by the Agikuyu Council of Elders for Central Kenya to speak with one voice to increase its bargaining power. The elders also pushed for respect for Mr Kenyatta and his mother, Mama Ngina Kenyatta, after rowdy youths invaded the family compound at the height of the opposition's anti-government protests.

In the past two months, the agriculturally rich area has witnessed heightened political activity after the Gachagua-Ndindi rivalry threatened growth, even as locals pressed the government to fulfill its campaign promises to ensure better prices for their crops and a lower cost of living.

Political temperatures dropped after President Ruto spoke out and backed his deputy in the battle for the soul of Mt Kenya, with Prof Kindiki now observing that "everyone has aligned and is now backing Gachagua with support for his rival Ndindi Nyoro wading."

"The change of tune was seen when Gachagua gathered more than 100 MPs, mostly from the Rift Valley, at a harambee in Murang'a to throw their weight behind him. Ndindi must now toe the line and support DP Gachagua and what the president is saying," Prof. Kindiki said.

A rare powerful speech on Saturday in which Mr Gachagua described Mr Kenyatta as "a friend, a brother, our son and our leader" signaled the changing politics in Mt Kenya as the area regroups and goes back to the drawing board to find ways of grabbing the presidency after Mr Ruto's tenure.

Mr Gachagua, who attended the burial of 17 people who died after consuming illicit alcohol in neighboring Kirinyaga, said he had hoped to find Mr Kenyatta at Mwangi's funeral, saying he was his personal assistant for 18 years, was his confidant and defender, and that they only differed over his choice of presidential candidate ahead of the 2022 polls.

"We stayed together for 17 years and only disagreed for two years. We had some minor disagreements, but the elections are over now. He is our leader," said Mr Gachagua, who has since won the support of a majority of Jubilee leaders in Mt Kenya.

He said there was no bad blood between him and Mr Kenyatta and that theirs was just a difference of opinion.

Prof Kindiki said President Ruto cannot work well without his deputy as he is his principal assistant and that he should learn from the headache he went through after falling out with Uhuru.

"If the President fights the DP, he will be digging his own political grave like Uhuru did. Getting rid of the DP is not easy. The two were elected on the same ticket. They are like Siamese twins and can't be separated.

He said Kenya's Kwanza government should find ways to work with Mr Kenyatta because if Mr Odinga gets the AU job, he will technically be in the Kenyan government.

"You can't be AU chairperson if you are not supported by your ruling government. You can't be AU chairman and be in the opposition because it will be like fighting the government. The opposition now has to look for another leader," Prof Kindiki said.

On Saturday, Mr Gachagua welcomed Mt Kenya leaders who are in opposition - including Mr Kenyatta - to support and work with the Kenya Kwanza administration.

The DP said he was ready to meet and reconcile with the former President and that it was time to unite the leaders of the region behind President Ruto for more benefits.

On his push for unity, Mr Gachagua said the region's relevance in national politics is based on the unity of its people.

"Our unity is our strength. Let us shun divisions and avoid inter-county politics," he said.

Leaders present at the event supported the DP and praised his determination to work with all people - both in government and in opposition.

"I am at the forefront of supporting the Deputy President and we are solidly behind him as a region. We also support his initiatives such as the fight against illicit liquor and reforms in the agricultural sector," said Public Service Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria.

Kiambu Senator Karungo Thang'wa also commended the Deputy President for welcoming opposition politicians into the Kenya Kwanza's fold, describing him as the region's unifying factor.

"As the unifying factor and the most senior leader, you convene a meeting for Mt. Kenya leaders and invite retired President Kenyatta. You are the unifying factor," said Mr Thang'wa.

Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga asked Kenyatta to invite Mt Kenya leaders for a "goat eating" session, which the former president acknowledged as he left Mwangi's funeral in Tetu.

"Your Excellency, we recognise the good work you have done for this region despite the hurdles. The roads will have a remarkable impact on the people of this region. We want you to call us now and speak to us as our leader."