6 January 2018

Kenya: Will Kiunjuri Make It Back to the Cabinet?

Photo: The East African
President Uhuru Kenyatta

It must have been a really long night, one that was punctuated by twisting and turning, numerous butterflies in the stomachs of the Cabinet Secretaries who served in President Uhuru Kenyatta's first term but were not mentioned in the list of the six to be retained.

When President Kenyatta pulled a fast on the nation by abruptly naming part of his cabinet without giving any signal, the head of state must have sent those he didn't mention into a panic, if at all they were not aware of the developments.

The three-time Laikipia East MP Mwangi Kiunjuri, who rose from being a secondary school teacher, a mini-lorry owner perhaps was a sure bet for most people of being on the list of the first six.

At the height of the 2017 campaigns, Kenyatta turned down a request by Kiunjuri to run for governor of Laikipia, informing him that he needed him in Nairobi to continue defending the government and its policies.

Nobody can, therefore, be faulted for expecting his name to feature in the list of the first names to be mentioned, after all, of the CS's in President Kenyatta's first term, none defended the Jubilee administration with zeal like Kiunjuri.

Onesmus Waiguru, an ardent supporter of the Jubilee Party who also follows the politics of mount Kenya keenly thinks that he won't make it back to the cabinet. He, however, said that it won't be because he didn't deliver but because of the currents of succession politics currently raging in Mount Kenya.

"He doesn't have the blessings of the decision makers of Mount Kenya, they aren't happy with him," Waiguru said.

"It could be because of his ambitions which is making people uncomfortable, but they will seek to neutralise him. Remember in 2013, his party Government of National Unity (GNU) even managed to grab a governor in Nyeri."

University of Nairobi (UoN) Public Policy don, who did not want to be mentioned in this report doesn't agree with Waiguru. He actually believes that the 2022 succession politics will be the same ray of hope that will catapult him back to the cabinet.

He is perhaps one of the politicians who are capable of vigorous, quick and sharp-witted reaction to critics and he possesses unparalleled grass roots mobilizing ability owing to his previous career as a tout and a teacher, qualities that Deputy President William Ruto would need in 2022 to galvanize his support base.

"If he is going to make it back to the cabinet, it will be because of Ruto's hand. Remember that in Kenya, appointments aren't made much so on the basis of merit but loyalty," the don said.

Though he clarified that he might not come back in the same docket, the don said that he also has the 'diaspora Kikuyu' advantage. His deep pockets could also come in handy as he is said to be worth Sh798 million and has palatial homes in Nanyuki, Sagana and Nairobi.

He quipped that Mount Kenya might not be loyal to a retired President, therefore Ruto will be strategically looking for people who can mobilize the vote-rich basket when Kenyatta is done with his term.

"Remember Kibaki couldn't even influence Othaya's Member of Parliament (MP), the seat he held" adding that "he couldn't also influence the MCA seat in his own backyard in 2013."

What seems to put the two together is the similarity in their stories, two men without powerful surnames rising to the high table and are now forces in their own right. And both blossomed under the second and third presidents of Kenya and their oratory skills came in handy to set them apart.

"He has openly been seen as a Pro Ruto politician in central Kenya. Even when the former Kiambu governor said Central Kenya's 2022 support for Ruto will not be automatic, he was among the senior politicians from the region who shut him down," he said.

The very same gifts which have propelled him to the height of political success seems to be the Achilles heels that he has to fight to succeed.

"If you look at the current crop of politicians from central Kenya, Kiunjuri has the flare and the charisma. Ruto needs people he can hang on," he said.

The don said that the only reason why Kiunjuri might be seen as a non-performer in the eyes of the public is partly that of the big shoes he inherited from the 'scandal-driven', highly visible and energetic Kirinyaga governor Anne Waiguru.

"Waiguru's work was double-edged. She was tasked to make the former premier Raila Odinga to look bad by sorting his Kibera backyard," he said.

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