By Felix Olick and James Mbaka
Peter Kenneth’s suspected 2022 Presidential bid has stoked anxiety in Deputy President William Ruto’s political base, following the KNC leader’s surprise endorsement of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s reelection.
While Jubilee Party honchos have publicly welcomed the high profile support, they have cautioned that JP has “an existing 20-year intact power plan” between Uhuru and Ruto.
On Sunday, 51-year-old Kenneth, previously seen to be championing an anti-tribal philosophy, announced he will rally behind Uhuru’s second term bid, and himself run for governor. He did not specify which county he will contest in, and played it safe by saying he has been approached by “two or three counties”.
His move will also complicate Jubilee’s arithmetic in Nairobi, as could become the sixth JP candidate hankering to unseat the incumbent Evans Kidero.
“We welcome Peter Kenneth to Jubilee and assure him free and fair nominations,” said National Assembly Majority leader Aden Duale, a key Ruto ally. “However, Kenneth must be aware that as Jubilee, we have a strategic plan for 20 years…Ruto has what it takes to succeed Uhuru for 10 years”.
Kenneth’s strategy is seen as disruptive to Ruto’s smooth inheritance of the key Central Kenya support base, as it is likely Uhuru’s supporters could shift their support to the former in 2022. This is especially so given that prominent politicians from the region have previously sent warning signals to the DP.
“The guys around the DP are not excited about it [Kenneth’s political ambitions]. If he successfully inherits Uhuru’s bloc and wins Nairobi governor, that would create a complication for the DP,” said political analyst Martin Andati.
The former Gatanga MP, who came a distant fourth in the 2013 Presidential polls, is among the most experienced politicians from the Mount Kenya region, with a good development track record.
His political game plan is seen to be reminiscent of Uhuru’s own 2007 strategy, in which he backed then President Mwai Kibaki’s second term, despite being the Official Opposition leader.
Uhuru would later seamlessly inherit the massive Mount Kenya vote bloc that propelled him to power in 2013.
Yesterday, Kajiado North MP Moses ole Sakuda termed Kenneth’s backing of Uhuru a self-cleansing move aimed at endearing himself to Central Kenya.
“He wants to redeem himself of the 2013 sin. He knows that Central Kenya is locked in for Uhuru and Ruto and the only way to be relevant is for him to support Uhuru in 2017,” Sakuda told the Star.
Political observers note that past Presidents from Central Kenya hailed from Nyeri and Kiambu and the narrative in 2022 will be that it is the turn of Murang’a, Kenneth’s backyard, to lead.
“Murang’a has always felt shortchanged by Kiambu. It is now in pivot position for a Presidential bid,” International Centre for Policy and Conflict Executive Director Ndung’u Wainaina told the Star.
“William Ruto is not Uhuru Kenyatta’s successor. Uhuru will do like his father: Pick someone from either the Maasai or Somali, or any other community that has not had the chance to lead the country as his successor, and have a Murang’a person deputise that person.”
Uhuru and his father, Kenya’s founding President Jomo Kenyatta, both hail from Kiambu, while Kibaki comes from Nyeri county.
In an exclusive interview with the Star in March this year, Kenneth vowed he would never join Jubilee and blasted Uhuru for presiding over big-money graft and failing to deliver on his 2013 election pledges.
“Kenyans are becoming a little bit desperate. They feel they are in a deep hole and they need to get out. Every other week there is a new scandal. We now have the Youth Fund. We don’t know what is next,” Kenneth exclaimed.
But on Sunday, the former Gatanga MP appeared to be a different man, full of praise for the Head of State and rooting for his reelection.
“There are many reasons why Uhuru needs to be supported for a second term. He has held this country together and has become a stickler for matters development,” he said after attending Mass at St Teresa’s Catholic Church, Eastleigh.
He, however, dodged the 2022 speculation, terming it premature.
“A day in politics is a long time, 2022 is too far. My immediate task is 2017 and not 2022,” he told journalists when asked if he was positioning himself as Uhuru’s heir apparent.
Mount Kenya power barons have been sending coded signals that backing from Central Kenya for Ruto’s 2022 Presidential bid may not necessarily be forthcoming.
Controversial Kiambu Governor William Kabogo and nominated Senator Paul Njoroge were the first to speak publicly about an issue that politicians generally prefer to talk about only in hushed tones.
Njoroge claimed that Mount Kenya’s support for Ruto’s bid is driven by fear of a return to violence in the Rift Valley and that Uhuru could easily be reelected with or without Ruto’s backing.
“The other fear is, if you don’t vote Ruto in 2022, you will be kicked out of the Rift Valley. That is rubbish – but our people have that fear. They are promising the Deputy President the top seat because of fear, not because they want him,” he stated.
A number of Jubilee politicians are positioning themselves in the Uhuru succession battle. Devolution CS Mwangi Kiunjiri and Kabogo are already angling to be Ruto’s running mate in 2022.
Yesterday nominated MP Johnson Sakaja welcomed Kenneth’s support for Uhuru’s reelection plan, but urged the former MP to fold up his Kenya National Congress party and join the Jubilee Party.