Kenya: Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto Fight to Control Mt Kenya Region

President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) chats with his deputy, William Ruto (file photo).

Fresh battle lines have been drawn between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto for the control of the vote-rich Mt Kenya region.

To manage his succession, President Kenyatta has attempted to lock his deputy out of the region.

Basking in the glory of the approval of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) by the two Houses of Parliament - Senate and National Assembly - President Kenyatta has drawn the battle lines with his allies coming out guns blazing, ready for the battle for the soul of Mt Kenya.

Buoyed by the High Court ruling that stopped the BBI process last week, Dr Ruto is also keen to continue his onslaught against the President in his backyard as he seeks to market himself as the Kenyan leader standing with the masses.

"... now let's focus on Covid vaccination, economic recovery, the Big Four (agenda) and stay united," the DP wrote just a day after the five-judge bench blocked the BBI.

But even as the President and Dr Ruto eye Mt Kenya votes, ODM leader Raila Odinga as well as One Kenya Alliance, that brings together party leaders Musalia Mudavadi (Amani National Congress), Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper), Moses Wetang'ula (Ford Kenya) and Gideon Moi (Kanu), all who are allied to President Kenyatta, are also devising strategies for reaching out to the region ahead of 2022.

Initiation ceremony

On Saturday, Mr Mudavadi joined a host of top government officials and Mt Kenya leaders who attended an initiation ceremony for Kieni MP Kanini Kega's son at his rural home.

Even though Mr Kega told Nation the event was private, it had political connotations as majority of the speakers pledged their loyalty to the President.

Mr Mudavadi's presence was telling, being one of the front runners for president in the One Kenya Alliance.

Read: President Kenyatta's tough test in 2022 election plans

The fierce battle between the President's camp and Dr Ruto's for the soul of Mt Kenya, insiders say, is likely to escalate regardless of the final verdict on the BBI process.

Following the sailing of the BBI in Parliament, National Assembly Majority Leader Amos Kimunya told the DP that he was yet to see the fury of the voters in Mt Kenya region.

"Those who have been promised wheelbarrows in future must read the mood. The ground is solidly behind the President. We hope their leader has seen the light and will stop defying the President," Mr Kimunya said, insisting the President's numbers are intact both in Parliament and on the ground.

CoG in succession politics

Parliament On May 6 approved the BBI Bill, a joint project of President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga before the High Court blocked it a week later.

At least 235 MPs voted in support of the Bill, 83 opposed while two abstained, with the President's men promising the DP a battle royale in Mt Kenya region that they believe will now send the country's second in command into political oblivion by confining him to his Rift Valley backyard.

Strategists in President Kenyatta's camp believe Mt Kenya remains a key cog in his succession politics, hence the fresh plot to go full throttle and pull it from the DP's grip irrespective of how the BBI process goes.

Sources privy to the President's renewed charm offensive on the region said there are concerns that failure to whip the region solidly behind him would complicate his efforts to guide his succession and complicate chances of his heir apparent taking over.

President Kenyatta's men in the region now say they are awaiting the Court of Appeal's verdict on BBI to plan for the referendum vote if the appellate court sets the High Court ruling aside or just prepare for 2022 campaigns so that they can begin the process of the Mt Kenya takeover from the DP.

"The President just did two meetings in Mt Kenya and the notion on BBI changed, what if he goes to the field to ahead of the referendum, if all goes well, or the 2022 campaigns?" posed Kieini MP Kanini Kega, an ally of the president.

He went on: "Very soon, they will know we only have one leader in Mt Kenya, HE Uhuru Kenyatta. Where he will lead us, we shall go."

He said the President's camp will soon make a communication on their planned meetings with Mt Kenya voters to end the DP's "four-year support in the region.

Jubilee nominated MP Maina Kamanda said President Kenyatta is not a lame duck Head of State and "will move across all the constituencies in Mt Kenya and rally it solidly behind him."

"Uhuru will be at the centre of his succession. The DP's meetings with some leaders from the Mt Kenya region are not about how to benefit central Kenya, they are merely based on how he plans to reward individual leaders with positions. They are battling to be his running mate and we are wondering where they will end," Mr Kamanda said.

Fight back

But as the President's men prepare to counter the DP's inroads in the region, Dr Ruto has planned to develop a framework of engagement aimed at empowering residents of the region if he is elected president in next year's General Election.

The DP was also on May 8 plotting a fight back to retain Mt Kenya region amid an onslaught by the President's men to recover lost ground.

On May 8, Dr Ruto met at least three representatives from the Mt Kenya as he planned on strategies to retain the region's support that is now threatened, following the BBI voting in Parliament where some of his allies approved the document.

"(I had) an engagement with three representatives from each of the 11 counties from Mt Kenya region as a follow-up to the Maasai Mara meeting," the DP tweeted soon after the meeting with the leaders.

Three weeks ago, he held a similar meeting at the Maasai Mara where he revealed his economic empowerment plans for the region.

The President's men have, however, termed the DP's plans for the region as hot air. They have challenged him to explain what he had done in the area in his capacity as the second in command.

Jubilee vice chairman David Murathe explained that Dr Ruto is part of the presidency and should not purport to have better future plans for the region.

"He is a Deputy President while some of his people have been in the budget committee for the last three years. Why didn't they implement those ideas they are promising to implement after 2022 when they had those positions?" posed Mr Murathe.

Dr Ruto's allies have, however, maintained that so far the DP has a head start in Mt Kenya, no amount of intimidation or blackmail will change his support in the region.

Voting pattern

They say despite the voting pattern by county assemblies and National Assembly on the BBI Bill, Mt Kenya residents have embraced the DP and will vote for him in 2022.

Dr Ruto allies feel that the country's second in command had edged out all other presidential candidates in the area and that President Kenyatta's attempt to change their mind to support a different candidate will not succeed.

Kandara DP Alice Wahome accused President Kenyatta of seeking new allies at the expense of Dr Ruto, thus endearing the DP to the locals in Mt Kenya.

"The President looked for other allies unacceptable to the region and used methods of exclusivity and old style of politics that did not make sense to the people who put him and Dr Ruto to power twice," Ms Wahome said.

She argues that President Kenyatta has openly "orchestrated war and abusive treatment of his deputy thus earning him sympathy "from our borders and diaspora."

Murang'a Senator Irungu Kang'ata say the manner in which President has treated his deputy in the last four years has catapulted the DP to fame in Mt Kenya.

"People became sympathetic when they saw Dr Ruto's ill treatment. Even if his government wanted to fight Dr Ruto, they should have used more wiser and strategic plans as opposed to use of force. Raw force only embeds sympathy," Mr Kang'ata said.

"Those tactics include discriminatory arrests of Ruto allies; removal of his allies from parliamentary committees as well as relegation of Dr Ruto from running of government," Mr Kang'ata told Nation.

On January 22, 2019, President Kenyatta, through Executive Order Number 1 of 2019, appointed Interior Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiang'i chairperson of the National Development Implementation and Communication Cabinet Committee, a position that technically locked out Dr Ruto from overseeing government's development projects.

Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro said the DP stood with Mt Kenya region in 2013 and 2017 "and will be rewarded for his loyalty to the region."

"He stood with us when everyone else was against us in 2013 and 2017. He has stood with the Mt Kenya region by always visiting us when we need him. The residents have interacted with him and naturally liked him," Mr Nyoro said.

Nyeri Town MP Wambugu Ngunjiri wondered why the DP's lieutenants in the region were restless if he had its votes in his basket.

"They had already said they locked Mt Kenya. Wanting to lock it again means their work has collapsed. There is no way you can lock a region on promises but service delivery," Mr Ngunjiri noted.

He pointed out that the DP should use his position to empower the people of Mt Kenya instead of giving "empty promises."

Mr Kang'ata, however, insisted that the President was struggling to whip Mt Kenya back to his fold.

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