Succession battle in Mt Kenya veers to shrines and politics of identity

Succession battle in Mt Kenya veers to shrines and politics of identity

The battle for the control of succession politics in the Mt Kenya region has veered to shrines and the question of cultural identity.

Troops loyal to the ‘Handshake’ duo of President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga on the one hand and allies of Deputy President William Ruto on the other have been embroiled in bitter exchanges on who should be the region’s kingpin in light of the President’s expected exit from power come next year.

The Handshake’s Kieleweke faction and Dr Ruto’s Tangatanga brigade are also split on who should negotiate on behalf of the region as well as the party of choice for the region in the lead-up to the general election slated for next year.

The political rivalry was escalated by the May 22 coronation of National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi as the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru Association (Gema) spokesman by a group of elders patronised by the President’s cousin, Mr Kung’u Muigai.

Read: Justin Muturi coronation widens rift in Mt Kenya 

Also read: Kung’u Muigai: Elders have final say on Mt Kenya politics

The coronation was also attended by Mr Mathenge Wairegi – who leads a faction of the Gikuyu elders – and nine others.

The event seemed to have the blessings of the national security apparatus, with regional police commanders showing up to provide security at the Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga shrine, which is believed to be the home of Gikuyu and Mumbi, the founding parents of the Agikuyu community.

The event also had the backing of Mt Kenya East governors – Kiraitu Murungi (Meru), Muthomi Njuki (Tharaka-Nithi) and Martin Nyaga Wambora (Embu).

Opposition and cleansing

Before the dust could settle on the coronation, a group of elders and politicians opposed to Mr Muturi’s installation as the Mt Kenya spokesperson announced “a cleansing and bonding meeting of the council of elders and politicians”, in what is seen as an attempt to pour cold water on efforts to hoist Muturi to the political helm of the region.

The cleansing ceremony was planned yesterday at Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga Shrine and the bonding meeting for the elders and politicians was held on the same day at Mumbi grounds.

According to Kikuyu Council of Elders Chairman Wachira Kiago, community sages from Lamu, Uasin Gishu, Nakuru, Murang’a, Kiambu, Nairobi, Kajiado, Murang’a, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Embu, Meru, Laikipia and Tharaka-Nithi will attend.

“Our mission will be to cleanse our shrine that the Muturi event debased in his coronation. We do not hold political coronations in our shrines, which are places of worship and prayer,” he said.

The attendants will slaughter goats, enjoy the community’s traditional brew, muratina, and cleanse the allegedly desecrated shrine with goat tripe (tatha).

The planned rituals, according to Mr Kiago, will render Muturi’s coronation null and void, impose a generational curse on those who organised it and save the entire Gema community from the wrath of the gods.

Mr Kiago’s group enjoys the backing of governors Mwangi wa Iria (Murang’a), Anne Múmbi Waiguru (Kirinyaga), Mutahi Kahiga (Nyeri), Lee Kinyanjui (Nakuru), Francis Kimemia (Nyandarua) and James Nyoro (Kiambu).

Muranga shrine cleansing, Muranga Governor Mwangi wa Iria

Murang'a Governor Mwangi wa Iria among kikuyu elders from Kiama Kia Ma and the Kikuyu Council of Elders pray facing Mt Kenya at Mumbi grounds in Murang'a town after a cleansing ceremony at the Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga shrine on June 4, 2021.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

Muigai unbowed

A seemingly unbowed Mr Muigai told the Nation Muturi’s coronation was not held in any place of prayer and worship, arguing that Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga the community’s cultural home.

“That place is the home of our parents. There is no sacrilege in children taking their friends to their parents’ home. We went there to discuss matters of culture and not politics. We did not make Mr Muturi a political elder but mandated him to be our link in reaching out to the Mt Kenya East brothers and sisters,” he said.

Mr Muigai accused those opposed to Muturi’s coronation of sensationalising nd distorting the issue for political expediency.

He revealed their next step is to take Mr Muturi to the seat of Mwenenyaga (the Agikuyu deity who is believed to reside atop Mt Kenya) for the ultimate blessings and to protect him from the actions of his detractors.

“He has been anointed by the Agikuyu, Aembu and Ameru elders…we only need the blessings of Mwenenyaga to cushion him against onslaught by others,” he said.

In what is shaping up to be a battle of wits, Mr Muturi's confidants told the Nation the Speaker of the National Assembly is the trump card the President promised the region in November 2018 while on a tour of Nyeri County.

“You think because Uhuru is going home in 2022 he will not have a word on what will happen? I am telling them that when the right time comes, I will have something to say…and my choice will shock you,” the President said back then.

With the President’s earlier promise to his deputy that he would support him for the presidency from 2022 to 2032 in serious doubt, some see the hand of the Head of State in Mr Muturi’s steady and powered run into the inner lane of Mt Kenya politics.

They cite the fact that, before his crowning in Murang’a, Mr Muturi had already been installed as regional spokesperson in Embu and Meru counties.

A declaration by Jubilee think-tank member Peter Kagwanja that the function had the blessings of the President – an assertion echoed by Mr Muigai – compounded the issue.

“The President is very much aware and we have his blessings,” Prof Kagwanja said.

Mr Muturi, however, told the Nation that “this was just a normal meeting with likeminded Mt Kenya elders in the search for fast-slipping Gema unity”.

Tangatanga-leaning Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua termed the coronation “an act of preparing the dynasties to colonise Hustlers”.

Mr Muturi further clarified that he is not interested in the presidency in 2022, “but our communities must be represented in the pre-election trading of horses and we must be there as a united team”.

More on this: Why Muturi must watch out 

Also read: Why elders won't crown female community spokespersons

Boat rocked

Not everyone is buying into his rather diplomatic rationalisation of his coronation.

“The function has stirred succession politics in Mt Kenya region and dangerously rocked many political ambitions among area politicians,” said Prof Ngugi Njoroge, a political analyst.

Mr Muigai told the Nation that "what we have done is birthing Mt Kenya unity ahead of President Kenyatta's retirement in 2022".

Career administrator and elder Joseph Kaguthi termed the political developments in the region healthy if managed well.

“We do not want to push for escalated divisions in all these engagements. In fact, efforts are on to convince Mr Muturi to attend the Friday meeting, so that he be incorporated into the region’s search for unity as well as end the bad blood his coronation has bred,” he said.

Gema Chairman Lawi Imathiu said “we only hope that in all these functions what will be promoted is not petty rhetoric but a genuine desire to whip our communities to join the rest of Kenyans in unity of purpose”.

Prof Imathiu said any function that is not about cohesiveness and prosperity of the region would remain a failed effort.

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