On February 23, 2022, President Uhuru Kenyatta, retreated to Sagana State Lodge 150km north of Nairobi located in the heartland of Kikuyu country, in Nyeri County. This was the fourth time (the mainstream media refer to it as the third), the president was headed to the lodge that gives succour to his indulgence in ethnic and regional politics.
It comes barely a year from when he was last there to prostrate his desperation and frustrations on regional politics gone rogue and his inability to reign-in on a recalcitrant deputy president. His great efforts at appeasing the Kikuyus are not helped by a political base that has turned its back on his counsel. To his utter dismay and fury, however much he has besmirched his deputy president to the Kikuyus, they have upheld their middle finger, against his wishes, six months to the general election.
On January 29, 2021, he summoned all the Members of County Assemblies (MCAs) from Mt Kenya region and sweet-talked them into supporting the Building Bridges Initiative BBI bill. Since inviting his biggest opponent, Raila Odinga, onto the steps of Harambee House, which houses the Office of the President, for a rapprochement, on March 9, 2018 and which birthed the initiative immediately afterwards, BBI has become his obsession. Just like it is Raila’s.
Speaking in Kikuyu language, on this day, he harangued less on the iniquities of his Deputy President William Ruto. “I never said I will not support William Ruto. Yes, I said kumi kumi, yangu kumi iliisha lini? True, I said 10 years for me and 10 for Ruto, but has my 10 years ended? This “10 years for me and 10 for Ruto,” a statement made by President Uhuru in 2013, has returned to hound him, as he vigorously fights to extricate himself from his eponymous deputy.
In September 2013, in Eldoret town, which is 300km northwest of Nairobi and Ruto’s hometown, a much leaner President Uhuru, atop a vehicle said; “They (the opposition) will (have to) wait for 20 years, kwa sababu miaka kumi ya Ruto iko (because Ruto’s 10 years are intact). At Afraha Stadium in Nakuru town, just before the March 4, 2013 general elections, Uhuru Kenyatta is also reported to have told the gathering that he would rule for 10 years and ensure that his running mate Ruto, also does his 10 years, if they assume office.
The MCAs acquiesced to his demands, after extorting a KSh4 million car loan from him. Then, as on February 23, the Sagana State Lodge rendezvous was an ethnic affair, but clothed as a national event, complete with an official State House imprimatur: the press releases (of course in English language) are communicated by the President’s official spokesperson. The event is covered by all media as a public occasion, yet the president speaks in his mother tongue, confines himself to partisan politics, reducing himself to politics of ethnic jingoism and sectarianism.
How are such meetings conducted in mother tongue supposed to be covered by the press? By relying on the translation provided by State House media corp? By the respective media houses employing Kikuyu language translators? By media houses transporting to Sagana, only journalists who are Kikuyu language savvy? Or perhaps the tacit message from the Sagana meetings organisers has always been, the event ought to be reported solely by Kikuyu media houses?
The January 29, 2021 Sagana meeting came hot on the heels of “a state of the nation” address to the Kikuyu people from State House, Nairobi on January 18 by President Uhuru in Kikuyu language. The event was broadcast live by Kikuyu language radio stations punctuated as it was, by the president’s exhortations and lamentations to a rebellious base at odds with his current view of politics.
Whichever the case, these Sagana meetings always elicit mixed and jaundiced feelings from Kenyans, who legitimately question the rationale behind a president engaging in tribal affairs, which are made to look like national events. The President’s cohorts have obnoxiously sometimes come up with excuses explaining away this obvious anomaly.
Far from being national events, the meetings are also premised with a lot of (presumed) anger and vitriol by the host. President Uhuru has lately been reminding Kenyans that he stands for peace, love, unity and harmony, especially, after he shook hands with Raila. But his actions in these meetings belie these values. Furious that many of the Central Kenya MPs are not kowtowing to his politics, he locked 41 MPs from the January 29 meeting. He, of course, also locks out his deputy president, but will discuss him nonetheless.
The tone of these meetings is always laced with stupefaction: The President groans and moans about a deputy president, who until not-to-long-ago, was dubbed “my brother William.” He rails practically against every one, who doesn’t seem to agree with him politically. Everyone is at fault apart from himself. He was angry with the MPs, because they dared address him through a missive which found its way to the press.
One of the issues that the MPs drew his attention to and which must have irked him even further, was reminding him that, “for eight years between 2011–2018, you consistently and persistently cautioned us that Raila Odinga was Kenya’s foremost problem and pleaded with us to send him home for the country to move forward. The successful effort you made to persuade the people to render Raila Odinga unacceptable in Mt Kenya cannot be undone in your life time.”
Magnanimity is not a word that sits comfortably with the president, who easily results to recrimination and subterfuge. President Daniel arap Moi, President Uhuru’s political father, mentor and Moi’s protégé, at the height of his power, used to remind anyone who cared to listen that politics is like wooing a woman – you use every wile in your possession to win her over without getting snooty or woolly. In January, 2021, working himself into a frenzy of real or imagined anger, he lamented and then lampooned the MPs, calling them loafers and losers.
Barely 12 months after January 2021 Sagana meeting, in which the President professed to not ever saying “I will not support Ruto,” he demanded from the rented crowd at Sagana in February, 2022 that they promise not to consider Ruto as an heir apparent, because, among other things, he is a thief. He has corrupted the clergy, who have equally corrupted the laity. He is dishonest, he is a ne’er-do-well and he’s a man of dubious distinction. He described him as being less forthright and whose scruples were wanting. In just a year’s time, the president after observing, “I didn’t say I won’t support Ruto,” was now telling the Kikuyu people to not elect Ruto, because he was “too risky for the country.”
The chief purpose of the 2022 Sagana retreat was to reveal to the mountain people the raison d’etre of his parting ways with “brother William.” Hence, the meeting was intended to show them the sign, the way to the Shangri La that is awaiting them, on August 9. Instead, the occasion became another of the president’s pent-up lamentations on his ostracised deputy.
Though, in a departure from the other meetings, this time around, he ferried along one of his State House aficionados to showcase, through a power-point presentation, his developments to Mt Kenya region. A carrot to say: look, I’ve done all these for you; you should now hearken to my voice, without question.
The accusations levelled against Ruto by his boss might as well be so. But which begs the simple questions: when did the President realise William Ruto was dangerous for the country? What did he do about it? Apart from endless lamentations?
As the Mt Kenya people wait to be spoken to yet again from Sagana State Lodge by President Uhuru in the lead-up to the August 9, 2022 elections, a once ardent supporter of President Uhuru, but now turned harsh critic opined that in 2013 the president reminded Kenyans that the ICC case was ‘a personal challenge.’ “He should also consider his feud with his deputy as a personal challenge and keep us out of it.”
The critic also reminded me that the road infrastructure developments his government has been undertaking in the larger Mt Kenya region, are neither a favour nor something to blackmail the Kikuyu vote with. “The roads have been built with debt, money that all Kenyans will pay painfully, his family won’t. The roads are a right, not a donation from the Kenyatta family…we’ll vote for whom we want. Period.”