- Uhuru allies want to use the BBI campaigns expected next year to market the Uhuru-Raila bond in his Mt Kenya backyard.
- The new strategy will be a litmus test for Deputy President William Ruto who is also eyeing the region's vote.
President Uhuru Kenyatta's allies in Mt Kenya are working on an elaborate scheme to prepare residents to welcome ODM chief Raila Odinga who once was demonised in the region.
The President's troops are increasingly coming out to declare Mt Kenya will back Raila for president as the region's best bet to protect its interests.
The Star has established that bigwigs have lined up a series of meetings across the region to popularise Raila and endear him to about eight million voters.
Raila has not declared his intentions to succeed President Kenyatta but his supporters are putting pressure on him to run again for president.
For years, before the 2013 and 2017 polls, Raila had been vilified as the enemy of the Kikuyu people, a mad man who would destroy their interests.
Uhuru too joined the anti-Raila chorus. Then came the handshake.
“The meetings will mostly be private but with invited leaders and residents because of the Covid-19 restrictions,” veteran politician Maina Kamanda told the Star on Monday.
Part of the new plan is to get all influential Kikuyu leaders in Raila's corner, countering the old bogeyman narrative and signifying the country's politics is turning a new leaf.
The new strategy will be a litmus test for Deputy President William Ruto who is also eyeing the region's big vote basket for his own presidential bid.
A meeting last Friday at Kamanda's Ol Kalau home, Nyandarua county, was the first among many scheduled to drum up support for Raila.
The meeting was attended by five governors, some openly pledging to back the former prime minister's State House bid.
They included Meru's Kiraitu Murungi, Kiambu's James Nyoro, Kirinyaga's Anne Waiguru, Nyandarua's Francis Kimemia and Embu's Martin Wambora.
“Let us negotiate a good position for Mt Kenya region, let us not divide over our eight million votes," Kiraitu said
"I want us to calculate well and see who will implement the new Constitution and if you say it is Raila, I will be with you on that."
The session was also attended by some of the President's closest allies including Jubilee vice-chairman David Murathe and National Assembly Majority leader Amos Kimunya.
In fact, Kimunya announced the meeting was convened with the President's blessing.
Three other crucial meetings have been planned in Nyeri, Murang'a and Meru counties.
An endorsement by the Kikuyu Council of Elders in January next year is also expected in Nyeri, months after their historic visit to Raila's Bondo home in October.
Raila is also scheduled to meet Njuri Ncheke elders.
On Monday, Kamanda, an influential nominated MP, told the Star the President's troops across Mt Kenya region are being whipped to toe the line and back Raila.
“We have told our people we are going to support Raila because this country will be safe in his hands,” Kamanda said, adding that Jubilee's promises to DP Ruto had collapsed.
National Assembly Deputy Majority Whip Maoka Maore told the Star Mt Kenya was warming up to Raila and it was not if but when major declarations will be made.
“What is certain is that we are supporting ODM leader Raila Odinga because that is where the handshake is taking us. We shall talk to our people directly and tell them who the real enemy is - it is not Raila," the Igembe North MP said.
Maore, a key figure in Uhuru's circle, said the region stands to gain more under a Raila presidency than in any other arrangement.
“We are in for Raila for the long haul,” Maore said.
The ruthless charm offensive planned by the President's allies in his backyard could deflate Ruto's support and complicate his State House bid, 19 months to the general election.
Political analysts say the DP now faces an uphill battle in his bid to succeed the President.
Kimunya said Mt Kenya will not support Ruto because the DP is opposed to the BBI referendum, which he said proposes major benefits for the region.
“He [Ruto] has opposed the one man one shilling revenue formula and now he is pushing for the multiple-choice referendum so he can reject the 70 new constituencies. We cannot support such a man,” Kimunya said.
With the Building Bridges Initiative referendum likely to be approved by a majority of voters, Kimunya said, the region should support the ODM leader to continue the President's legacy plans.
“When one retires, the other remains [in leadership] to implement. As we pass BBI in Mt Kenya, we also carry the chief architect with us as the implementer past 2022,” Kimunya said of the need to support Raila.
He signalled the significance of the BBI in planning for the President's succession.
Ruto's allies have insisted Uhuru should honour a pre-2013 Jubilee election pledge in which the President declared that he would hand over to Ruto for another decade-long rule.
The President has, however, lashed out at Ruto for being impatient and running in the opposite direction instead of waiting for the succession baton at the right relay position.
Uhuru's allies have maintained the region is not aware of any binding deal to back Ruto in 2022. The March 9, 2018, handshake is seen as the way to retool Mt Kenya's political direction.
“This marriage was about two people, the rest of us went just to witness. If the [Uhuru-Ruto] marriage is dead, let it die and nobody should cry because we were not part of that,” Kamanda said on Friday.
He went on, “Stop coming here to tell us that it was 10 years for Uhuru and 10 years for another one ... We were not part of that."
The significance of the Ol Kalau meeting was captured by the attendance of luminaries from Mt Kenya, including ex-Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth.
Kenneth, a 2013 presidential candidate, is being touted for a key national position - either prime minister or deputy president - in Raila's BBI succession matrix.
Murathe is a key Uhuru confidant with a lot of sway within Jubilee and has disavowed any 2022 deal between Uhuru and Ruto, saying the DP should be ready to face competition for the party ticket.
The meeting at Kamanda's home was also attended by MPs Kanini Kega (Kieni), Sabina Chege (Muranga Woman Representative) and Kiambu Woman Representative Gathoni Wamuchomba, among others.
Raila has denied his handshake with Uhuru is loaded with 2022 succession missiles, saying their coming together is about the unity and prosperity of the country, not the 2022 General Election.
“We agreed with Uhuru that for now, we are not talking about 2022. That poll is an event that will come and go but Kenya will remain,” Raila said at the event.
(Edited by V. Graham)