A three-hour closed-door meeting between Opposition leader Raila Odinga and a group of former Mt Kenya legislators and businessmen last week is causing jitters in the ruling Jubilee Party as pundits predict a Nyanza-Central political union ahead of the 2022 General Elections.
While some are seeing this as an opportunity to tear down an otherwise hostile political fence, others fear opening the doors to Mr Odinga could chip away on the political might of the region, cherished and jealously guarded by voters here for decades.
Among the latter are Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua and Kirinyaga County Jubilee Party boss Muriithi wa Kang’ara, who have read mischief in the meeting, saying Mr Odinga wants to divide the Central voting bloc.
They also told the Nation that the former MPs who met with Mr Odinga were spent forces seeking relevance and a route to consequence.
“Some of us were apprehensive after the handshake between Mr Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta (in March this year),” said Mr Gachagua.
“We were no sure whether or not Mr Odinga was genuine, and now he is trying to create mischief within Jubilee because we have elected leaders in Mt Kenya who should talk on behalf of the electorate.
Those he met are politicians who were rejected by the people. Why is he trying to prop them up?”
He argued that Mr Odinga wants to destabilise Jubilee Party ahead of the next General Election using a group that is “purporting to speak on behalf of the community yet it was rejected twice — at party primaries and the General Election”.
But former Tetu MP Ndung’u Gethenji, who was among the politicians who met with Mr Odinga in Nairobi last week, said their meeting had no 2022 political agenda.
“We did not discuss President Kenyatta’s succession, but rather how his handshake with Mr Odinga came about and the consequent unification of the country,” said Mr Gethenji. “We deliberated on ending the rift between Nyanza and Central and cooling the ethnic tensions in the country.”
He said he and the rest of the former MPs who attended the function know both the President and Mr Odinga lead substantial political constituencies, and that healing the nation must start with acknowledging the fact that those constituencies are hostile to each other at their political core.
But Mr Gachagua observed that there have been many other such attempts, including the short-lived political marriage between Mr Odinga and retired president Mwai Kibaki in the 2000s.
“Mr Odinga undermined Mr Kibaki from within,” said Mr Gachagua, referring to the long-held belief among Mr Kibaki’s supporters that the tensions that split the Grand Coalition alliance had stemmed from the Odinga side, and never from the Kibaki flank.
He further observed that there is no leadership vacuum in Mt Kenya, and so those who wish to create a tribal arithmetic between Nyanza and Central should do so with the blessings of those in office.
His sentiments were echoed by Mr Muriithi wa Kang’ara, the Kirinyaga Jubilee Party chief, who also censured the leaders, claiming the meeting is a wider scheme to block Deputy President William Ruto’s 2022 ambitions. It was not clear on Sunday whether Mr Kang’ara was speaking on his behalf or expressing the general feeling with Jubilee regarding the meeting.
Jubilee Party secretary-general Raphael Tuju was not available for comment.
Still, Mr Kang’ara said the politicians who met with Mr Odinga are bitter with leadership of the Jubilee Party after losing in the primaries last year.
“They lost because they were unpopular on the ground. They were in leadership when President Kenyatta led them in declaring support for Mr Ruto in 2022. They should not attempt to shortchange him (Mr Ruto),” said Mr Kang’ara.
He further told off the leaders for criticising Central Kenya politicians allied to Mr Ruto through what has come to be known pejoratively as the Tangatanga Movement.
The group, led by Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, Kirinyaga Woman Representative Wangui Ngirici, Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wa, and Mr Gachagua, has been moving around the country drumming up support for Mr Ruto’s bid to succeed President Kenyatta in 2022.
“Before they lost their seats, the same politicians were accompanying the DP in his functions. They are the people who said Mt Kenya owes Rift Valley a political debt.
In 2013 they were at Afraha Stadium in Nakuru when the President and his deputy exchanged The National Alliance and United Republican Party caps,” observed Mr Kang’ara, referring to the moment in 2013 when Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto took their political vows in front of an ecstatic crowd in Nakuru.
But former Mukurwe-ini MP Kabando wa Kabando, who also met with Mr Odinga last week, differed with Mr Kang’ara, saying those opposed to the unity pact between the Opposition leader and the President are busy selling phobia to voters.
He said that during the gathering, Mr Odinga briefed the Mt Kenya politicians and professionals about his handshake with President Kenyatta and their Building Bridges initiative launched on March 9 this year.
“The sell-by date of Raila phobia in Mt Kenya was March 9, 2018; and the same goes for Uhuru hate in Nasa strongholds,” he said. “The new Kenya will be extremely expensive to invest in corruption, tribalism, violence and disunity.”
Mr Esau Kioni, an ally to retired President Mwai Kibaki, said the issue of 2022 succession politics was avoided during the meeting with Mr Odinga as “it was not not a priority”.
“A week in politics is a long time and we have four years to 2022,” said the Democratic Party chairman.