Lawmakers from 11 counties are secretly meeting at night to craft economic and political demands they want agreed on with Deputy President William Ruto before the 2022 elections and have formed a team to spearhead the talks, the Nation can now reveal.
The meetings are being held in the home of Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua in Nairobi's Karen suburb.
On Friday and Saturday night, 48 lawmakers, mostly from Mt Kenya, Rift Valley and Nairobi trickled to Karen in shifts to agree on a team that will spearhead the initiative in what marks a surprise turn in political strategy as most of the leaders are already in Mr Ruto's camp.
Fourteen others met via Zoom on Saturday, a list seen by the Nation shows.
"Yes, I hosted the meeting in different shifts as per the health guidelines. What's wrong with us meeting? Baba is meeting some Mt Kenya governors, Kalonzo was meeting comedians. What is the big deal?" said Mr Gachagua when contacted by the Nation on Sunday.
Consequently, they have agreed to form an 11-member team from 11 counties that will agree on the economic intervention needed in Mt Kenya and the political positions the region should get after 2022 if the Ruto team wins power.
The 11-member team includes Mr Gachagua (Nyeri), Meru Senator Mithika Linturi, Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri (Nakuru) Nominated MP Cecily Mbarire (Embu), Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung'wa (Kiambu), Tharaka Nithi Women Rep Beatrice Nyaga, Kirinyaga Woman Rep Wangui Ngirici, Kandara MP Alice Wahome (Murangá), Laikipia Senator John Kinyua, Nyandarua Women Rep Faith Gitau and Embakasi North MP James Gakuya (Nairobi).
They plan to hold either online meetings or physical gatherings if Covid-19 restrictions are lifted and allow residents from the region to give their views on the plan before approving it.
Another five-member committee will then consolidate the economic suggestions into a "marshal plan" and policy interventions.
Its members include Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika, Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, Dagoretti South MP John Kiarie, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria and Ndia MP George Kariuki.
A senator who did not want to be quoted on record told the Nation that some lawmakers floated the idea that Mr Ruto reserve the deputy president slot for Mt Kenya region while others felt that it should come as a package, where the region not only gets the DP position, but other strategic ministries and parastatals.
Many, according to insiders, seemed to accept the DP position as the bare minimum but the hardest task will be to settle on a candidate for the slot.
However, the leaders agreed to wait until the Building Bridges Initiative is either passed or rejected to agree on the positions. But Mr Nyoro denied that they discussed any political positions.
"You are putting the cart before the horse. We all agreed that Mr Ruto should first accept our economic proposals for our people before we discuss politics. The Uhuru regime has bankrupted our traders. Economy first," added Mr Nyoro.
Among the economic demands floated, he said, was having a minimum guaranteed prices for major crops grown in the region, funds for traders, water projects and rural roads.
"Powerful people from Mt Kenya are holding positions yet industries belonging to our people are being closed and importers have been run out of town. We want structures to protect our economy first then agree on who will safeguard our interests afterwards," added Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichungwa.
MPs said Mr Ruto should publicly agree to the economic plan before the 2022 elections. But will the leaders also give the other presidential candidates the same demands?
"Our people have asked us to negotiate with Mr Ruto as he is their preferred presidential candidate. Even the DP knows we are meeting and we will make these demands for our people. Ask the other Kieleweke side who they are negotiating with," Mr Gachagua said and refused to elaborate further.
But other MPs who support President Kenyatta dismissed the pro-Ruto group, accusing them of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
"These guys already committed their support to Ruto, way before they negotiated anything. They cannot negotiate with a man they have already committed themselves to. They have been campaigning for Ruto for the last three years, to the extent of disrespecting their own President. What will they do if Ruto doesn't accept their terms? Leave him? They can't leave him. Where would they go?" said Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu.
"Politics is the art of negotiation. We are negotiating an economic plan for our people. What is Kieleweke offering our people? Who is even their candidate they can negotiate with?" rebutted Mr Nyoro, the Kiharu MP.
However, the Nyeri Town MP said only President Kenyatta can negotiate on behalf of the region, and that he will do so at the right time.
"We first must finish this term, and finish very strong with current President Kenyatta. It's actually Ruto, or anyone else who wants to be President, who needs to come to us, with a begging bowl, not the other way around. We will wait at home for the guy with the best deal for us."
The negotiations will likely anger President Kenyatta's camp as he made it very clear in the meetings at Sagana State Lodge that he will give directions of the community at the right time.
Mr Gachagua said that the President and Kieleweke side is too busy with BBI to negotiate for the region while Mr Ichungwa said only Dr Ruto had released an economic plan, and thus only one they can negotiate with.
"He is for empowerment versus those who just want power. He is for enterprise, others want entitlement. Others are just discussing positions instead of jobs," added Mr Ichung'wa.
The meetings in the region come in the wake of political movements nationally.
On Sunday, Mr Odinga's and President Kenyatta's key men were hosted by Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli at his Kajiado home, the latest in the political meetings at the trade unionist's home.
Of interest was the presence of Jubilee Secretary General Raphael Tuju, a key President Kenyatta's political strategist, and who had never attended any of the previous meetings at Mr Atwoli's home.
Others present yesterday were Suna East MP Junet Mohamed, Siaya senator James Orengo, Jubilee vice chairman David Murathe and former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth, all who have publicly vouched for Mr Odinga's presidency.
Even though Mr Tuju insisted the meeting was just a social gathering "for nyama choma," Mr Mohammed said they discussed a wide range of issues including the BBI.
"It was just a nyama choma (roast meat) easting session with the usual off the cuff remarks," said Mr Tuju who was visiting the home for the first time. He said it would have been "antisocial" not to be part of the photo session after attending the meeting.
Mr Mohamed who is also the BBI Secretariat's co-chairman said Mr Tuju's presence should not be blown out of proportion, adding that they had an opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues including dispensing off with the BBI.
"We discussed many things among them BBI. And agreed to ensure we complete parliamentary processes as fast as possible so that by July we have the referendum so that we dispense off with the BBI," Mr Mohamed said.
He said they expect the parliamentary committees which meets with their experts today to complete all their programmes this Week so that MPs have a say on the Bill and the process to go on.
Mr Odinga met Mt Kenya and Nairobi leaders over weekend.
He met Kiambu Governor James Nyoro on Saturday and had earlier on held talks with Nairobi Deputy Governor Ann Kananu.
Mr Ruto one week ago met with 17 governors where he asked for their support for 2022 and vowed to end the perennial cash crisis that has hit counties if he is elected.
Some of the governors said they cannot publicly show their support now for fear of "intimidation" but would do so "at the right time."
The meeting was followed by a highly publicized encounter with Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya where both parties remained cagey on the nature of their negotiations.
President Kenyatta, on the other hand, is consolidating his support by trying to keep his coalition with Mr Odinga alive while ensuring he does not lose the support of the One Kenya Alliance.