For a long time, central Kenya appeared totally committed to the Jubilee Party 2022 succession politics, which, according to the party’s 2013 and 2017 memorandum of understanding, favours Deputy President William Ruto to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Since 2013, leaders from the vote-rich region, which has been pro-UhuRuto, maintained that they would automatically back Mr Ruto in the 2022 elections.
Leaders both from and out of the region, who were perceived to be the enemies of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Ruto were unwelcome, and those who dared visit received a hostile reception.
When Nasa co-principal and ODM leader Raila Odinga visited Kiambu last year during the presidential election campaigns, his motorcade was stoned in Thika.
Then aspiring Nairobi Woman Rep Esther Passaris of ODM was also heckled on a separate tour.
This created the impression that the region, comprising Kiambu, Murang’a, Nyeri, Kirinyaga and Nyandarua counties, was “exclusive” to pro-Jubilee politicians, and many opposition leaders simply avoided it.
Local leaders like Ms Martha Karua and Mr Peter Kenneth, who had worked with Mr Odinga, and former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo, and former Mukurweini MP Kabando wa Kabando, who called for dialogue between Jubilee and the opposition, were branded traitors.
But the March 9 “handshake” between President Kenyatta, and Mr Odinga, seems to have thrown all the “arranged” plans into disarray, and has seen the region welcoming politicians from other areas and parties.
Prof Peter Kagwanja, a political analyst, says the handshake has levelled the playing ground for all politicians, adding that the idea of an automatic successor to President Kenyatta’s as far as central Kenyan politics is concerned, “has gone with the wind”.
He adds that President Kenyatta’s recent remarks that his choice of successor will be a shocker opened the region to all, including hitherto Jubilee enemies because it negated the original idea that Mr Ruto would be his automatic successor.
“The central region does not oppose anybody outright, not Ruto or even Raila. We can correctly say that it is up for grabs. People have grievances against the government because of the alleged manipulated party primaries and underdevelopment, which are likely to hurt Jubilee more than anybody else,” Prof Kagwanja, a former government adviser and currently the chief executive of the Africa Policy Institute told the Nation.
The handshake, which took many by surprise, has opened the door to perceived enemies, who have started making inroads into the region and local leaders are now comfortably taking photos with them, which was previously unthinkable.
Those who have visited Mr Odinga include Governor Ann Waiguru, Mr Kabogo, and former Kigumo MP Jamleck Kamau. Others are former Senator Kembi Gitura (Muranga), former MPs Ndungu Gathenji (Tetu) and Kabando (Mukuruweini) and the Kikuyu Council of Elders, who asked the President to deal with those opposing the “handshake”.
Last week, a group of leaders from the region, including Mr Gitura, Mr Mutahi Kagwe (Nyeri) and Mr Muriuki Karue (Nyandarua) held a meeting with ODM deputy party leader Wycliffe Oparanya, implying that plans could be afoot to form a political coalition with Mr Odinga.
Mr Odinga, Mr Mudavadi, and Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, who locals had branded as enemies due do their political stance against either the President or his deputy, are freely visiting the region.
This has not gone down well with some of Mr Ruto’s allies, who have not only boycotted their events, continued to organise events for the DP, mostly church fundraisers and the launching of CDF projects.
Mr Ruto’s allies, including Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu, MPs Kimani Ichung’wa and (Kikuyu) and Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu) have been uncomfortable with Mr Odinga, who they say is using the “handshake” to frustrate the DP’s political ambition.
In April, Mr Odinga accompanied the President to politician Kenneth Matiba’s burial in Murang’a where mourners warmly welcomed him and in August, he received a heroic welcome to Murang’a University of Technology, where he was the chief guest.
In October he attended Kikuyu musician Joseph Kamau’s funeral, in Murang’a, where he was wildly cheered on arrival, and his speech consistently interrupted by loud applause from the public.