Several leaders are branding themselves as Central Kenya kingpins ahead of Uhuru's exit from active politics in 2022.
Several leaders are branding themselves as Central Kenya kingpins ahead of Uhuru's exit from active politics in 2022.

As the race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta picks up the pace, Central Kenya – a perceived substratum of Kenya’s political scape – is staring into the abyss and a straitened trek into a future without a commandeering kingpin.

It is for this reason that Central region leaders, who have for the last 7 years pledged their allegiance to Uhuru Kenyatta since his entry into the 2013 presidential contest, are now progressively gravitating towards Deputy President William Ruto, seen as a tentative heir-apparent to the presidency, according to political analyst Barack Muluka.

“I want to look President Uhuru Kenyatta straight in the eye and tell him that: You will be irrelevant politically next year! People will follow William Ruto since he is the future,” he said in a recent interview on Citizen TV’s JKLive.

Whereas most leaders from the region are setting up tents in Ruto’s campsite, there are those who have vocalised their opposition of his political manoeuvres. This has birthed two antithetical groupings – Pro-Ruto’s Team Tanga Tanga and its opposing faction labelled Team Kieleweke.

Team Tanga Tanga (a name coiled from President Uhuru Kenyatta’s oblique derision of his deputy’s increased countrywide travels last year) believes that Central Kenya is deeply indebted to Ruto and owes him their support in the 2022 presidential race. This group is also unequivocally opposed to the March 9, 2018 handshake between President Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga which has made the latter, an ex-officio member of the government.

The group is accusing Raila of plotting to decimate Jubilee from within by creating a rift between the president and his deputy with the intention of capitalising on the divisions to win the 2022 presidential race.

“I would like to ask President Kenyatta who is our father to protect us from being harassed by the step-father (Opposition leader) Raila Odinga,” Laikipia Women Representative Cate Waruguru said in a recent meeting, adding: “We worked hard to help this government win the 2017 election yet right now it is Raila and his cronies who are enjoying the luscious parts of the meat.”

The Tanga Tanga Movement’s Central Kenya chapter has within its ranks Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu, his Murang’a counterpart Mwangi wa Iria, Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika, MPs Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu), Kimani Ngunjiri (Bahati), Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu), Alice Wahome (Kandara), Kirinyaga Women Representative Purity Ngirici and her counterparts Rahab Mwikali (Nyeri), Sabina Chege (Murang’a), Faith Gitau (Nyandarua) and Waruguru (Laikipia).

Of these, it is Waititu and Wa Iria who are seemingly striving to be the region’s spokesperson and Ruto’s running mate in 2022.

Former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo, a Ruto-critic-turned-ally, has also become vocal on matters of regional interest. Kabogo fell out with Ruto in 2016 after he remarked that the DP would not be Central region’s automatic choice in 2022. He later blamed Ruto for rigging him out of Jubilee party primaries in the run-up to the 2017 elections over his 2022 remarks.

In recent weeks, however, Kabogo has come out strongly to defend Ruto against incessant attacks from different political quarters.

In stark contrast, Team Kieleweke (also labelled STOP Ruto movement) is in full support of the handshake between Uhuru and Raila and the call for a referendum to expand the executive.

The group has accused Ruto of engaging in early campaigns that are supposedly undermining the president’s commitment to achieving his Big Four agenda and his legacy.

Its ringleaders in the region are 2017 Nairobi gubernatorial candidate Peter Kenneth, nominated MP Maina Kamanda, Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu and former Jubilee Vice Chair David Murathe.

On the sidelines, the group has the solid backing of Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua, a fierce critic of Ruto and an overt opposition to his 2022 bid. Karua has stated severally that Ruto is not fit to be president owing to the numerous allegations of corruption levelled against him.

“I hold the view that @WilliamsRuto is the least qualified for the job and as such would never endorse him” Karua posted on his Twitter account last year, a position she still holds to date.”

Kenneth, who vied for the Nairobi seat as an independent candidate after he was felled by Mike Sonko in Jubilee primaries blames Ruto for his woes, same as Kamanda who lost to Charles Njagua in the party primaries.

Of these, it is Kenneth, Murathe and Karua who seem to be building their momentum with the intention of being in a pole position to dictate the region’s political course in the run-up to 2022 elections. It is worth noting that both Kenneth and Karua may also be readying for another stint at the presidency, having failed to win the race in 2013.

Moses Kuria, once Ruto’s man-at-arms, has in recent weeks cut a lonely figure, preferring to drum up support for his presidential candidature. Kuria was on the receiving end after he brazenly pilloried President Kenyatta for allegedly launching development projects in Opposition-leaning regions like Nyanza, while neglecting his Central region backyard.

Pundits are however of the opinion that Kuria’s decision to go it alone is strategically aimed at expanding his support-base beyond his Central Kenya backyard with the aim of increasing his bargaining power and possibly landing a running mate slot in Ruto’s camp in 2022.

For all intents and purposes, this political jigsaw puzzle in Central Kenya has to be fitted before the end of 2020, if the region is to have a serious stake in 2022 political play and eventual formation of the next government. Otherwise, without a vocal and influential kingpin to champion for its interests, Central Kenya is staring at a long and lonely stint in political oblivion.