Powerful Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i is reportedly planning for a presidential run following signals that he has secured the backing of two of the country’s most influential leaders.
The details emerged as Matiang’i and Deputy President William Ruto openly clashed — signalling the increasing bad blood between the duo — who could face off in the 2022 presidential duel.
Within Ruto’s camp there is growing anxiety that Matiang’i is being propped up by powerful people, including influential individuals within the First Family.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition chief Raila Odinga are quietly positioning the workaholic super CS as their possible compromise candidate.
Matiang’i earlier frosty relationship with Raila has thawed and most of the ODM leader’s trusted allies are warming up to him.
He has recently made several trips to Raila’s Luo Nyanza backyard in the company of several ODM leaders, launching a couple of development projects and presiding over fundraisers.
The tough-talking CS has also taken up communal activities, visiting his rural Kisii backyard several times, in a strategy to rally the region behind him.
He could fill the void left by former Cabinet minister Simon Nyachae who retired 12 years ago as the spokesman for and unifying figure of the Kisii community.
Since the handshake, the CS holds Raila in high regard and has in various public fora heaped praise on him as a “statesman”.
The latest signal of Matiang’i growing influence was witnessed on Friday in Kirinyaga where he led a host of pro-handshake politicians, among them six governors and at least 50 MPs, to a fundraiser.
Matiangi chairs the powerful National Development Implementation and Communication Cabinet Committee, charged with the implementation and monitoring of all development projects.
The role puts Matiangi at the heart of the Executive and is seen to have whittled down the influence of the DP who had been launching development projects countrywide.
Just a day before, Matiangi had been dispatched by Uhuru to a goat auction in Kajiado county where he was accompanied by Environment CS Keriako Tobiko and Governor Joseph Lenku.
During the Kirinyaga event, Matiangi openly lashed out at Ruto while extolling Uhuru and Raila and drumming up support for the Building Bridges Initiative.
Matiangi publicly announced that he had been sent with donations from the President and Raila, “our two leaders”.
“President Uhuru Kenyatta is aware we are here and sent us with his contribution, and the Honourable former Prime Minister Raila Odinga has also sent greetings and his contributions through ODM deputy party leader Hassan Joho,” Matiang’i announced.
Looking like a man who has secured the backing of his Kisii community, Matiang’i landed in Kirinyaga with a majority of the region’s elected leaders, including its two governors James Ongwae (Kisii) and John Nyagarama (Nyamira).
Also in attendance were Governor Joho (Mombasa), Suna East MP Junet Mohamed and Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli.
“Matiang’i comes out as a serious presidential candidate from his demeanour and the forceful way he has been doing his work. He has outshone his colleagues and is definitely telling the big boys, ‘Bring it on and I will win the presidency’,” political analyst Herman Manyora told the Star.
“On his own, Matiang’i may not have the muscle because he is a newcomer in this game. But if he is propped up by Uhuru or Raila, then he comes out as a strong candidate…All over the world, ministers who have outshone their Cabinet colleagues have come out to be presidents or prime ministers.”
During the Kirinyaga event, Matiang’i accused some unnamed politician of hiring individuals to taint his name and that of Interior PS Karanja Kibicho.
“Somebody paid some people to claim that we are the terrible duo from the office of the President,” Matiang’i said.
He went ahead to launch a tirage against Ruto, making it clear that they [he and Kibicho] only take instructions from the President.
“A country is led like a family. Is there a family that is led by two men? No. A family is only led by one man,” Matiang’i declared, insisting that his loyalty was only to President Uhuru.
It was Matiangi’s robust response to relentless attacks from Ruto’s foot soldiers that appeared to have opened the floodgates.
On Sunday, a furious Ruto launched a scathing attack on Matiang’i whom he accused of openly displaying of arrogance and disrespect
“I want to ask every civil servant who has been given a job by Uhuru Kenyatta and the Jubilee administration to stop chest-thumping, to stop arrogance, to stop disrespect,” Ruto fired back.
Speaking in Kiambu county yesterday, Ruto reminded the CS that they were appointed courtesy of the Jubilee administration and trashed claims by Matiang’i that they were serving the President.
“When you are going to meet the citizens, go with humility. Don’t say you have been sent by the President to speak with disrespect to the people. I know Uhuru Kenyatta, our President. He is a humble man who has never addressed Kenyans with arrogance.”
On Sunday, several politicians who spoke to the Star said the former literature lecturer at the University of Nairobi had proved his mettle.
“Matiang’i is a results-oriented performer who is easily acceptable across the board. Kenyans are willing to look up to him as an alternative candidate for the presidency in 2022. Kenyans are tired of the game of the musical chairs by the well-known familiar faces and are yearning for change,” Kitutu Chache South MP Richard Onyonka told the Star.
He admitted, however, that for Matiang’i to be a formidable candidate, he must have the goodwill of the Uhuru and Raila.
Interestingly, Dagoretti North MP Simba Arati, a diehard Raila supporter, also said Matiangi’s candidature will break the monotony of the usual faces in a presidential run.
“The time has come for a Kisii to rise to the top of the country’s leadership. Matiang’i has shown the potential in leading this country. We want to ask other Kenyans to join hands with us and give the country the president it has been longing for,” Kitutu Chache North MP Jimmy Angwenyi told the Star.
On August 31, during the burial of former assistant minister Hezron Manduku, Kisii leaders pressed Raila to pass the leadership baton to Matiang’i.
“I don’t need to be introduced to Matiang’i,” Raila responded. “He is my son. Kisii is my home. Go slow, I know how to plan on this.”
Yesterday, several leaders allied to Ruto hit out at Matiang’i and called on Uhuru to rein him in.
“Matiang’i should know that the position he holds is a very small one and he knows nothing about leadership and politics. I dare him to face me in a contest for an MCA seat in is Nyamira county and he will lose terribly,” Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen said.
Soy MP Caleb Kostany said Matiangi’s decision to respect only Uhuru and Raila meant his days in government were numbered.
The attacks on Matiang’i in events from Kiambu to Eldoret appeared to have been coordinated.