Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri misses the political arena.
Although Cabinet secretaries should not engage in politics, Kiunjuri has intensified his political activities in Mt Kenya region, giving indications he is a man after something in 2022.
Even as President Uhuru Kenyatta’s succession politics intensify at the national level, the issue of who will step into his shoes in Mt Kenya is emerging.
For the first time in Kenya’s history, the region seems to be plunged in confusion on who will take over the mantle.
While Kiunjuri has kept his cards close to his chest about his post-Kenyatta presidency plan, his prominent hand in organising Mt Kenya region leaders to take a position on the Building Bridges Initiative left no doubt of his growing influence.
When the BBI team announced in October that they had completed compiling the report and it leaked out that they had recommended a change of government system from pure presidential to a parliamentary system, Kiunjuri quickly mobilised the Mt Kenya leaders for a meeting where they declared that they will oppose any changes.
Weeks after the report was unveiled at the Bomas of Kenya, Kiunjuri also mobilised over 57 MPs from Mt Kenya and even those from outside the region but have roots in Central for a retreat in Embu county.
The leaders concluded that Parliament was the only way to implement the report as opposed to a referendum, which is being championed by ODM leader Raila Odinga and his brigade.
The legislators said any constitutional amendment in relation to the report should be done in Parliament, as many aspects touch on the law and not an amendment to the Constitution.
Could Uhuru be secretly be grooming him to be the next Mt Kenya region kingpin? Is this the man Deputy President William Ruto is positioning to be his running mate in 2022? These are questions his friends and enemies are pondering with.
Political analyst Gabriel Muthuma opines that Kiunjuri is the right man to take over the leadership mantle from Uhuru, saying his ability to rally politicians from the region to take a common position is a clear indication of a unifying leader.
“In my view, Kiunjuri brings about a level of experience that few politicians have in Mt Kenya. He has a knack on the political language that sets him apart from the rest. He knows how to work the crowd. A key component when it comes to leadership,” Muthuma said.
He, however, said considering Kiunjuri is heading a crucial docket dealing directly with issues affecting the Mt Kenya region, he needs to put more effort to resolve what is affecting farming.
“Key among the deficit that he may face while servicing as CS Agriculture is the economic beating that coffee, tea and miraa has taken in the Central region,” he said.
USIU lecturer Prof Macharia Munene said while Uhuru will still be influential in Mt Kenya even after retiring in 2022, Kiunjuri has proven he has what it takes to lead the region.
“Kiunjuri is a foresighted leader and a politician who has matured over time. There is some element of desperation in the region on who will take over from Uhuru and Kiunjuri has seen that opportunity,”Munene said.
“With the exit of Uhuru, he is the best man suited for the job. People are looking for alternative voices and Kiunjuri seems to have an upper hand on that,” he added.
Uhuru and Ruto settled on Kiunjuri as the CS for Devolution and Planning in 2014 and the former Laikipia East MP would later be moved to the influential and lucrative Ministry of Agriculture where he has served to date.
In the Ministry of Agriculture, he has been faced with a lot of challenges, including the recurring maize crisis, fluctuating tea prices, importation of cheap milk and eggs that have flooded the market, dealing a blow to local farmers.
Kiunjuri has also had to deal with the storm that erupted in the wake of the ailing sugar sector, which has resulted in several state-owned sugarcane millers closing down.
INFLUENCE IN UHURU’S LEGACY
He holds a docket critical in Uhuru’s first plank of food security and holds sway on how the President will succeed in his Big Four agenda.
His unrivaled charm and political tentacles that spread across the Central region makes him an apparent heir to the throne and this has come with a price.
Those that perceive his fond ties with Ruto are unsettled and keen to cut him to size . At some point, there were choruses about his imminent sack from the Cabinet. There are also those who see him as a political maverick, who is able to steer his docket while dabbling with politics without spoiling the broth.
Kinangop MP Thuku Kwenya describes Kiunjuri as “a seasoned leader who is ripe to unite and lead the region”.
“Kiunjuri is one of our leaders who has what it takes to lead. He has experience in politics and government affairs and can equally ready to a political direction to take,” he said.
However, Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambungu holds a different view.
The abrasive first-time legislator says first, the CS comes from Laikipia county which falls under the Rift Valley and, therefore, has no standing to lead the real Mt Kenya.
Ngunjiri, who has had run-ins with Kiunjuri, says the CS so far has no record as to how he has used his ministerial positions to help Mt Kenya, noting that Uhuru will remain their leader even after finishing his term in 2022.
“My personal opinion is that he is not the one to take over from Uhuru. You cannot take over from Uhuru by staging a rebellion against him. Whoever is going to take over from Uhuru is the person who has assisted him to finish his term successfully and ensures he is respected to the end,” he said.
“Kiunjuri is part of the people who believe they can build their names by defying Uhuru Kenyatta. He thinks that defiance is going to make him a regional kingpin.”
“Kiunjuri’s political base is Laikipia, which is actually in the Rift Valley and therefore I don’t see how he can come from Rift Valley to come and lead people in Mt Kenya,” he added.
He said the person who is most likely to succeed Uhuru as Mt Kenya kingpin will be among those who will be in office after 2022.
Before venturing into politics, Kiunjuri taught at Kangema High School, Kiarithaini High School and Dr Kiano Boys School between 1983 and 1997.
The Moi University Bachelor of Education graduate quit teaching at Kiarithaini Secondary School, Nyeri county, in 1997 and was elected MP for Laikipia East on the Democratic Party P ticket.
The outspoken politician was re-elected in 2002 and 2007 but lost in 2013, when he vied for Laikipia governor.
His mastery of communicating in the Kikuyu language, especially through proverbs and idioms, is unmatched among Central Kenya politicians of his generation.