Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i is building a national political following that his friends now say is a step towards taking a shot at the Presidency in 2022, the Saturday Nation can reveal.
However, Dr Matiang’i insists he is not engaged in any political activity. He says his public engagements are purely for development and should not be mistaken for political activity.
But close associates say that Dr Matiang’i, who has so far kept his cards close to his chest about his plan post-Uhuru Kenyatta Presidency, has increased his dalliance with influential governors and political players, among them Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho and Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua.
In what appears to be carefully selected events, Dr Matiang’i has travelled to various counties to widen his following.
Lately, he has launched projects or held fundraisers in Meru County, travelled to Governor Anne Waiguru’s Kirinyaga County and toured Kitui County, where he held talks with Governor Charity Ngilu.
However, in a telephone interview on Friday, Dr Matiang’i stated that his public appearances are purely to initiate or supervise development projects in line with his ministerial position. His position in government requires him to oversee other ministries.
“I have not been involved in any political activity,” he said. “I have been engaged in development activities, pure and simple.”
He added: “But in doing this, I have been in the company of political leaders and I have heard them make those comments. I can’t say anything about that now. But we live in a democracy and there is freedom of expression. I can’t gag anyone.”
He said he has been given specific assignments by President Kenyatta that he has to accomplish.
“The President has given me a specific assignment, that is what I am doing. But I can’t do it alone. I have to work with wananchi and leaders,” he added.
The CS is also said to be working closely with his Cabinet colleague Eugene Wamalwa, one of the key leaders in western Kenya.
A few days ago, Mr Wamalwa, the Devolution CS, joined Dr Matiang’i and Prof George Magoha (Education), Joe Mucheru (ICT) and Keriako Tobiko (Environment) in visits to Nyanza counties.
The Cabinet Secretaries, in a powerful and well-packaged message, said their support for Dr Matiang’i was unwavering.
The Saturday Nation also learnt that opposition Raila Odinga has listed Dr Matiang’i among the individuals he might support for the presidency in 2022 if he will not be on the ballot.
Mr Odinga’s ODM party has dropped its past criticism of the CS with a number of its key officials becoming the latest defenders of Dr Matiang’i.
Just two weeks ago, ODM party chairman John Mbadi and Minority Whip Junet Mohamed praised the CS for being an “effective and efficient leader in various positions he has held in government.”
In what seemed to be his support for a Dr Matiang’i presidency, Mr Mbadi says that Dr Matiang’i “deserves a promotion.”
“When you are performing you aspire to get promotion. Kuna kitu inakuja hapa mbele na itakuwa na watu karibu tano, tunahakika utakuwa hapo (There is something in the offing in the near future and it comprises five people, and we expect you will be one of them),” the Suba North MP said during an event held two weeks ago.
Some of the CS’ handlers also believe he could be President Kenyatta’s heir apparent or the surprise 2022 candidate following the handshake between the Jubilee Party leader and his rival-turned-friend, Mr Odinga.
Once considered as an abrasive, cold and unwelcoming technocrat who was unpopular among the Gusii leaders, the CS appears to have registered a turnaround of fortunes with most of the elected leaders in the region now endorsing him for the presidency in 2022.
“We are rallying our people to support Dr Matiang’i for the presidency in 2022. We have been having meetings with youth, women and church leaders so as to strategise,” Nyamira County Woman Representative Jerusha Momanyi, who is a close ally of the CS, says.
In what appears to be a well-choreographed strategy, two weeks ago the Gusii Council of Elders endorsed Dr Matiang’i as the community spokesperson and vowed to support him for the presidency.
“Being a man who delivers on whatever assignment he has been given, we have faith in him to lead our community in 2022 and also to lead the country as president,” said Abagusii Council of Elders chairman James Matundura.
It is also understood that youth leaders from the Gusii region are planning to hold an event in which they will pledge their support for him if he decides to vie for the top seat.
“The youth of Gusii and Kenya are ready to support CS Matiang’i,” Brian Mambo, one of the youth leaders from the region, said.
Publicly, Dr Matiang’i has downplayed the political undertones in his community, only saying that his intention is to unite the community.
“We have to get united as a community so that we can develop our region,” he said during a function last week in Kisii County when some of the speakers confronted him to announce his intentions for 2022.
Away from Gusiiland, Dr Matiangi has been inspecting and launching government projects and travelling to various corners of the country.
Dr Matiangí has been chairing regular meetings bringing together select CSs at his Harambee House office every Tuesday on implementation of various government projects.
The CS has further been hosting international visitors and delegations from various parts of the country to discuss insecurity, growth and other issues and representing President Kenyatta at various events.
And while most national government officials like county commissioners and police commanders have been keeping off Deputy President William Ruto’s events, the officials have been attending and ensuring all was well in Dr Matiang’i’s functions.
Dr Matiang’i now appears to be keen to win the hearts of his Luo neighbours, who have suggested their support if their kingpin, Mr Odinga, endorses him.
Mr Odinga dampened the hopes of South Nyanza residents in 2002 when he sidestepped former Finance minister Simeon Nyachae and rallied behind Mwai Kibaki for the presidency, who went on to sweep Kanu from power on Narc ticket.
Dr Matiang’i, who until recently did not have a good rapport with a section of Nyanza politicians, received a welcome befitting a “king” during his tour of Migori with leaders stating they were ready to support him for a bigger role in government.
Mr Odinga has personally led his brigade in supporting the CS. Twice in his visits in Kisii, he has vehemently defended the CS over attacks from some Jubilee leaders.
“Huyu ni kijana ambaye anajua kufanya kazi (This is one man who understands his job),” said the former premier.
He added: “Wengine walitaka kuchafua jina lake… (some wanted to spoil his name. Matiang’i is as clean as a whistle… Leave him alone).”
ODM leaders who have showed their support for the CS include Migori Governor Okoth Obado, Senator Ochillo Ayacko (Migori), women representatives Gladys Wanga (Homa Bay), Pamella Odhiambo (Migori), Mishi Mboko (Mombasa), MPs Millie Odhiambo (Suba North), Tom Odege (Nyatike), Peter Masara (Suna West), and Caleb Hamisi (Saboti).
Political analyst JM Waiganjo says although Dr Matiang’i now commands significant attention in Gusiiland, having worked with Mzee Nyachae, he faces a huge task as Kenyans do not rate politicians as per their performance but take alliances and political mobilisations seriously.
Mr Waiganjo expressed doubt that President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga would rally behind Dr Matiang’í for the top seat.
According to the former Ol Joro Orok MP, although President Kenyatta had given Dr Matiang’i a lot of visibility, he might not publicly endorse anyone for the presidency.
Additional reporting by Ruth Mbula
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