Genesis of Mt Kenya’s rebellion against President Kenyatta

 President Uhuru Kenyatta

President Uhuru Kenyatta. When he implored his Mt Kenya supporters in 2013 to embrace William Ruto as his potential successor, he had unwittingly officiated a covenant even he could not break.  

Photo credit: File | PSCU

When President Uhuru Kenyatta implored his Mt Kenya supporters in 2013 to embrace William Ruto as his potential successor, he had unwittingly officiated a covenant even he could not break.

So determined were Mt Kenya residents to see Dr Ruto take over power in 2022 that, when Mr Kenyatta tried in 2018 to persuade them to renege on the ‘kumi yangu, kumi ya William (my 10 years in power, then William’s 10)’ promise, the Mountain would hear none of it.

It did not help matters that the President was floating a hard sell in the region – in the name of Azimio leader Raila Odinga – as the alternative.

In his campaigns in the Mt Kenya region, Dr Ruto's running mate Rigathi Gachagua was categorical that "of all the people we can wilfully surrender ourselves to as a region, Mr Odinga remains a political problem".

Mr Odinga’s candidacy drove a wedge between Mr Kenyatta and his backyard. The last straw was last week’s elections, where the region emphatically rejected the Azimio leader at the ballot.

The Monday announcement by Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) that Dr Ruto had bagged the presidency confirmed the earlier perception that Mr Kenyatta had lost the Mountain and could not help Mr Odinga scale it.

Duped by his handlers

But governance experts say Mr Kenyatta was duped by his handlers to go against the grain for the latter’s private gain. 

Mr Gachagua in his campaigns kept talking about "some of the President's men who were paupers just the other day, some of whom had even been declared bankrupt but within a very short time of surrounding the 'king' their fortunes have grown astronomically".

Mr Gachagua, who is now poised to take over the role of Mt Kenya Kingpin from Mr Kenyatta, further insisted the Head of State’s handlers, who included some close family members, had set Mr Kenyatta against his own people.
"A very nice person that is Mr Kenyatta...who I personally served as personal assistant for six years...a man I know very well and the love he has for us and we have for him...all of a sudden changed to a point he was treating us with raw distaste," Mr Gachagua said on several occasions.

The President, who is unanimously regarded in his community as a nice, down-to-earth and well-meaning leader, according to experts, was awfully managed by his aides. The affable mien of the President soon gave way to irascible anger and before long his goose was cooked.

The result was open rebellion by politicians who had walked with him and the voters, who started humiliating him by voting against his preferred candidates in by-elections in the region.

It all started with by-elections in Gituri Ward, Murang'a County and Rurii ward in Nyandarua County.

Other by-elections in which Uhuru’s preferred candidates lost included those held in Juja and Kiambaa constituencies in Kiambu County.

Mt Kenya political analyst Prof Ngugi Njoroge believes that nothing was really wrong with the President, “only that he represented a legion of voters who literally calculate their moves like investors”.

He says the President’s undoing was that, as he approached the end of his second term in office, his people started shopping for his replacement since they were not ready to retire with him.

“This saw his supporters start shopping for a political investment for the next 10 years. In the absence of a serious presidential contender from the region…and following the agreement they had with the President where he told them he would rule for 10 years and support Dr Ruto for a similar term, the people resorted to open defiance,” he said.

Kikuyu Council of Elders chairperson Wachira Kiago says “the President remains one of our most accomplished heroes who has given us our fair share of development even under a very lean national budget”.

Mr Kiago said the President may have built roads and connected the region to water and electricity, “but many of those who were elected alongside him went out of their way and started feeding Mt Kenya voters with all sorts of propaganda just to make the Head of State lose grip of 2022 Mt Kenya politics.”

Murang’a Elders’ Council chairperson Kiarie Ciombou said the worst of Mr Kenyatta’s moves was to endorse Mr Odinga for the presidency, "since he (Mr Odinga) is a person who carries lots of historical baggage that is frowned upon by Mt Kenya voters".

Another political analyst, Mr Herman Manyora, is of the opinion that the President made Dr Ruto a darling of the Mountain from the year 2013.

Mr Manyora told a local TV station that the President did not seem to have considered that Mt Kenya voters considered themselves the major stakeholders in his 2013 and 2017 presidential wins and expected their will to be respected.

Embracing Odinga

“Some of the areas where they felt disregarded included the President’s decision to embrace Mr Odinga as his most trusted politician despite his voters’ resolve to block him (Mr Odinga) from rising to power,” he said.

The bad feelings about the President’s stance on his succession were aggravated by his January 9, 2021 assertion at the burial ceremony of Amani National Congress Party Leader Musalia Mudavadi’s mother in Vihiga County, that his successor should not necessarily be from his community or that of the Deputy President’s.

Even Mr Kenyatta’s diehard supporters like Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth and Murang’a Governor Mwangi Wa Iria protested.

Both publicly contradicted the President’s sentiments, arguing that his view on who should succeed him was not backed by any law.

Wa Iria went ahead to declare that he would contest the presidency.

Kept off his backyard

The Head of State would in subsequent days keep off his backyard. His handlers explained that the infighting in Jubilee Party pitting Dr Ruto’s ‘Tangatanga’ camp against the Kieleweke faction, was the reason Mr Kenyatta rarely visited his political backyard.

Then on August 24, 2019, during the burial ceremony of departed benga musician John De Mathew, Mr Kenneth fired a salvo.

 “We hope the President will now pick a time when we are not in mourning and come and visit us so that we can revisit our strong friendship.”

Experts say the President failed to take heed and, instead, unleashed three missiles to the region, one calling undefined residents “washenzi” (stupid) and declaring that he was not anyone’s boy.

According to critics, Mr Kenyatta soured matters further when he threatened that his choice for 2022 succession would leave the region shell-shocked.

It was for this reason, the argument goes, that the President’s candidates were vanquished by Dr Ruto’s in the Juja and Kiambaa by-elections – literally the villages of Mr Kenyatta’s birth in Kiambu County.

As he heads to retirement, many find it sad that President Kenyatta is going home with a track record of a performer who never won appreciation.

Career administrator Joseph Kaguthi feels “the President was systematically set up against his people by overzealous handlers who he entrusted real power with”.

The former provincial commissioner cites the Ministry of Interior as one of the major sources of resentment for the President by his own people.

“After the 1992 General Election, I was the Provincial Commissioner for Nyanza where all elected members were in the opposition. I was representing a government that area residents perceived as a foreign occupation. Matters were not helped by the fact that we had been directed to shun meetings with opposition politicians,” he said.

Mr Kaguthi adds that he felt impelled to convince then President Daniel Moi that it was defeatist to avoid any politicians yet they represented the very people we as government served.

“That is one piece of wisdom that the Interior ministry has failed the President on, since it so openly disfranchised areas that were said to be under the grip of the Deputy President …The voters who follow their elected leaders took instances of harassment as evidence of direct contempt for them, hence the low rating of the Jubilee government in the Mt Kenya region,” he said.

Indeed, Dr Ruto’s followers have been accusing Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and his Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho of undermining the Hustler Nation loyalists.

On March 11, during his tour of Murang’a County, Dr Matiang’i dismissed the accusations, saying the claims “were only aimed at besmirching the President and emanating from politicians who had rebelled for no other reason but to be a nuisance and to make the President look and smell bad politically”.

Unjustifiably vilifying the president

Prof Peter Kagwanja feels the Tangatanga wing of Mt Kenya politics has done a good job of “unjustifiably vilifying the President as one who has failed in (formulating good) economic policies for the low-end population, especially small and medium-size enterprises as well as farmers”.

Prof Kagwanja says Tangatanga is to blame for not helping the President publicise his good intentions for his community “but rather launched a propaganda drive to portray him as a failure in service delivery while praising him as an individual”.

Best interest of Mt Kenya

Prof Kagwanja, who is an adjunct scholar at the University of Nairobi and the National Defence University, said the President has at all levels acted in the best interest of Mt Kenya region, where even by embracing Mr Odinga, he was winning them peace to help them trade freely in peace. Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya says Mr Kenyatta has worked hard to increase earnings from rice, coffee, tea, cotton, pyrethrum and livestock farmers, “but there are those who have made a political occupation of conveniently ignoring what Jubilee through executive initiative has achieved, only promising what has already been realized should they ascend to power.”

He said, “It has been very painful to watch a well-meaning President being insulted and all manner of insinuations directed his way by a crop of thankless politicians out to win personal favours in political formations but not in the interest of their people.”

‘Betrayed’

Murang'a Woman Rep Sabina Chege said the President has always pushed for the welfare of Mt Kenya region now and into the future, “but he was betrayed by people who were out to create divisions not only in the region, but across the country”.

She said that is how the region pawned itself to Dr Ruto without any demands regarding how the region would be rewarded or any guarantees on the region’s welfare. There was even no guarantee that implementation of the President’s legacy projects would continue.

Political slavery

Outgoing Kieni MP Kanini Kega predicts that "by defying President Kenyatta, the Mt Kenya region has just signed itself into political slavery and this could go on until it comes back to its senses".

Murang'a Governor-elect Irungu Kang'ata says "we are in good hands, these Jubilee rejects should just relax and see how the newly endorsed United Democratic Alliance (UDA) leaders will represent the interests of the region in Dr Ruto’s presidency".

He said "Mr Kega and “like-minded pessimists should relax and witness the great reformation of Mt Kenya region, which is now determined to think nationally and globally".

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