Building Bridges Initiative widens rift between Mt Kenya MPs

Monday, December 2nd, 2019 00:00 |
Agriculture Cabinet secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri (right) and other Mt Kenya leaders after a meeting in Embu on Saturday. Photo/PD/COURTESY

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report  unveiled last week has widened the rift among elected leaders from Mt. Kenya region, with some threatening to snub President Uhuru Kenyatta’s meetings.

Jubilee Party leaders, who are split in their support for Uhuru and his deputy William Ruto, complain of being constantly humiliated at presidential functions.

The BBI report — a product of the March 9, 2018 Handshake between the President and Opposition leader Raila Odinga - was aimed at uniting Kenya and re-engineering the country’s socio-political and economic architecture, especially inclusivity in governance.

But hardly a week after it was launched in a ceremony billed as the beginning of a national conversation at Nairobi’s Bomas of Kenya, it has quickly opened a fresh battlefront for politicians supporting the DP and Raila, who are seen as top contenders in the 2022 State House race.

Plot fightback

Addressing the more than 5,000 delegates at the Bomas event, the President called for an end to factions within Jubilee. But in what has been viewed as a show of defiance, 57 elected leaders allied to the Tanga Tanga team which backs Ruto’s 2022 bid, on Saturday afternoon converged in Embu to state their position over the BBI.

Meeting under the banner “Mount Kenya and Diaspora Elected Leaders,” the group led by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri is reported to have used the forum to plot a fight-back on the President and the BBI agenda.

Kiunjuri, whose recent political activities have placed him among the DP’s allies, talked of reading the report and discussing development issues affecting the region. 

One of the resolutions, which is said to have been triggered by events at Bomas where the DP and his allies are alleged to have been embarrassed, is boycotting presidential functions unless the leaders feel accommodated.

According to an MP who did not wish to be quoted, perhaps out of fear of attracting a backlash or reprisal, the leaders resolved to boycott presidential functions unless the agenda, list of speakers and how the speakers were picked, are disclosed to them in advance. 

“I can assure you that from today (Saturday) onward, you will see (some) Central Kenya MPs reacting differently (towards the President). We (Tanga Tanga) have been humiliated for too long,” said the MP. 

They also rejected a push by Raila and pro-Handshake leaders for a referendum to entrench the BBI proposals.

Some Jubilee MPs from central region, who have broken ranks with Ruto and are ardent supporters of the Handshake, are coalescing around Nominated MP Maina Kamanda and his Nyeri Town counterpart Ngunjiri Wambugu, popularly known as the Kieleweke team.

During the Bomas event, the DP’s allies were largely locked out of the programme, forcing Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen to protest, saying the event had been skewed to ensure those who held a different opinion did not speak.

The senator, a close Ruto ally, was heckled in the full glare of the President. It took the intervention of Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji, who chaired the BBI taskforce, to call for calm and allow Murkomen to speak.

The Embu meeting took place a day after Interior Cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i and Principal secretary Karanja Kibicho led top government officials, governors, senators and MPs, including those from the Opposition, to a fundraiser in Kirinyaga. Though organisers of the meeting were keen to project it as a fundraiser, it bore heavy political undertones.

Leaders clashed on whether the BBI report should be taken to Parliament or through the popular initiative, with Matiang’i appearing to favour the latter while the DP’s allies who attended rooting for the former.

The Interior CS, who together with his PS has been accused of undermining the DP, put on a brave face, maintaining that the attacks against them were sponsored by people fighting the President and his agenda.

“Kibicho and I work together and we were given this job by the President. We have been attacked, Kibicho is accused of undermining I don’t know who, another has been paying people (MPs) to calls the two of us the ‘terrible duo’ from the Office of the President, that we are the people who are oppressing others,” he said in a thinly-veiled attack on the DP.

Yesterday, while speaking in Lari, Kiambu, the DP fired back when he told civil servants to stop arrogance and serve the people, a message seen to have been directed at the CS. (See separate story on page 8)

Cheap handouts

Kiambaa MP Paul Koinange, a close Uhuru ally, said the unveiling of the BBI report had widened the Jubilee rift, saying the division is between elected leaders who have been benefiting from “cheap handouts” and those serving interests of Kenyans.   

The MP, who is also the chairman of the National Assembly Committee on Administration and National Security, said MPs cannot be trusted with passing the report, warning that Ruto-allied politicians “will be paid” to shoot it down.

“Today, the House is divided. The Jubilee Party is divided between champions of democracy and ‘tumbocracy’ where the former are thinking about the future of Kenyans and the latter are minding their selfish gains.

That is why they are taking a different route so that they can continue benefiting from the handouts which they earn for making noise,” claimed the MP, adding that Kenyans should be left to decide the fate of the report.

Koinange accused some of his colleagues of exploiting the cracks in the ruling party to undermine the President.

But controversial Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, who is among those opposed to the referendum, defended his colleagues who attended the Embu meeting against claims they were to converge.

The President’s allies think the meeting was a deliberate move by Ruto’s supporters to undermine the Head of State in their push for  the DP’s 2022 bid.

“Every time leaders in Mt Kenya region meet to discuss their issues, the propaganda machines go overdrive about how they have been paid by William Ruto. It is a very convenient no-brainer,” said Kuria.

The MP insisted that the BBI report should be taken to Parliament to save the country millions of shillings that could otherwise be spent in a referendum.

Kiambu Woman Representative Gathoni wa Muchomba said Tanga Tanga MPs cannot be trusted with the document, also claiming that cash may change hands to shoot it down. 

“Not all people were able to present their views to the BBI team, and now they are demanding that the report be taken to them. Do you want the report to be taken to Parliament to these crooks or to you? I know these MPs very well, they are normally taken to toilets to be bribed to pass reports,” she claimed.

Mt Kenya region has in the past voted as a bloc but if the rifts among the leaders are anything to go by, it could split the vote-rich political catchment.

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