The vote-rich Mt Kenya region is undergoing a silent realignment as local leaders ponder a post-Uhuru Kenyatta era.
If he wins a re-election in 2017, the President will leave office in 2022 after serving the maximum two terms as per the dictates of the Constitution. But even with the President’s grip of the region intact, the race to succeed him as the regional king remains wide open, pundits say.
Of interest is the fact that politicians from Embu and Meru sub-regions of Mt Kenya, who have hitherto played second fiddle to their Kikuyu counterparts, are now angling to inherit the single biggest voting bloc in Kenya’s electoral map.
Only former President Mwai Kibai and President Kenyatta have gained total support from the region. FORD-Asili leader Kenneth Matiba was unable to get unparalleled support in 1992 as he shared the spoils with Kibaki, as did Uhuru and Kibaki in 2002.
Similarly, the founding President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, did not enjoy electoral support from Mt Kenya region since Kenyans did not elect their President directly through the ballot in the early years of 1960s and 1970s. The first competitive presidential electoral ballot was witnessed in 1992, following the re-introduction of multiparty politics.
Long before President Kenyatta exits from the scene, silent campaigns have kicked off in the region to inherit his seat as the political leader of the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru (Gema) region.
Macharia Munene, a political analyst, says the leader wishing to inherit Uhuru’s mantle will have to be seen as capable of convincing voters that he can protect their interests.
“The dynamics are still fluid, you cannot pigeonhole a whole community. It is only when circumstances converge and threats to the community are identified that the Gema nation will have someone they can rely on,” says Prof Munene, who teaches history and International Relations at the United States International University-Kenya (USIU).
He gives the analogy of veteran politician Matiba who, he says, was never seen as a leader of Kikuyu but emerged at the last minute to capture the imagination of the country because several factors converged to thrust him to the top.
There has been an ongoing debate that Kikuyus will have to give way to a leader from either the Meru or Embu region since all other past leaders from Mt Kenya have come from Central Kenya.
Senate Majority leader Kithure Kindiki, Meru Senator Kiraitu Murungi, Speaker Justin Muturi and Kenya National Congress leader Peter Kenneth are being mentioned in various quarters as potential kingpins of the region.
“It is not a question of Meru, Embu or Kikuyu. It is about the interests of the whole region that will come to play. The best person will have to ensure he or she plays to the perceptions of the community,” Munene says.
He says while Matiba was an insurance to the threat Mt Kenya residents faced from leaders from outside the region, Kibaki was lucky because he had stars “lighting” his political path. A big surname and the ICC case played to Uhuru’s advantage, he said.
Munene however says there is no one capable of taking the reins of Gema leadership among the current crop of leaders from the region.
A close confidant of President Kenyatta who requested not to be named said Deputy President William Ruto will play a key role in deciding Mt Kenya’s next leader depending on who he chooses as his running mate should he seek to run for the presidency in 2022.
“We cannot obviously tell the DP who he will chose to be his running mate. He may choose one from Western or even Coast. This would mean one of the top positions in Parliament will have to be given to someone from Mt Kenya who would become the region’s leader,” he said.
“Peter Kenneth would have been a good leader but he followed the path of the late Joseph Kamotho of going against the grain.”
The confidant however said President Kenyatta will also be instrumental in choosing his successor.
“He will not do it loudly like former President Moi, but quietly and behind the scenes like former President Kibaki,” he said.
David Kareithi, the Tigania West MP, said the Meru are “warming up” to lead Mt Kenya region, having supported the Kikuyu since independence. “We the Meru expect nothing but support from our Kikuyu brothers. We have supported them all these years and it’s their time to support us,” Mr Kareithi said, terming Kindiki as fit to lead the Meru.
The Senate Majority Leader has been traversing the region, in the company of the Deputy President, to sell the Government agenda.
Mpuru Aburi (Tigania East) said the Meru and entire central Kenya need to support Kindiki. “He is the senior most leader. He is in the right age bracket and above all he is well learned,” said the vocal ODM MP.
But Kirinyaga Governor Joseph Ndathi sees the current crop of leaders jostling to succeed the President in Mt Kenya region as sycophants.
“Mt Kenya has always gone for a fighter, a person who can withstand the national politics and who has a course. We do not have fighters right now, just sycophants,” he said.
Ndathi said although Meru Senator Kiraitu Murungi is a fighter, he is not in good books with Jubilee leaders, and may be overlooked for the position.
“No one should be happy to be seen as a leader of Gema come 2022. That is too risky politically. It is not a good tag. Dynamics change and you are left with your tag as the community moves on,” the governor cautioned.
But Starehe MP Maina Kamanda believes Kiraitu is the right man to lead the Mt Kenya region as he “represents political maturity”.
“Kiraitu would make a great Deputy President to Ruto. I still think it’s quite early for these questions to emerge since we still have an election ahead of us, but my bets would fall with Kiraitu,” he said.
Contacted, Kindiki said it was premature to discuss the region’s succession politics.
“It’s a pre-mature debate. As the senior most TNA leader, I am contented with my position which I’m using to bring cohesion both in the region and nationally. You just cant impose a leader on people. They will decide,” he said.
Kimani Ngunjiri, the Bahati MP, said only a strong candidate should fill President Kenyatta’s shoes when he retires.
“We do not want someone who will throw the country into bitter coalition politics of yester years. The region will prefer a strong steady leader,” said Ngunjiri.
Kanini Kega (Kieni) said a successor to the President in the region will emerge after next elections. He however dispelled the notion that Meru and Embu should have an upper hand. “One might think of a particular candidate, but what will happen if that person is kicked out in 2017,” he posed.