By Nation Media
A small church in Kieni, Nyeri County, was yesterday turned into a theater of political intolerance that pitted President Uhuru Kenyatta’s supporters against his estranged deputy, William Ruto.
Days of tension over DP Ruto’s planned visit to Kieni culminated into chaos, as rival supporters opted for fist fights and other forms of violence to sort out their political differences.
Three churches had already declined to host the DP for their Sunday service, but his Nyeri point men pulled all stops to ensure he worshiped in the sleepy Mbiriri village, and the results were ugly. Fists were thrown and insults hurled as supporters of the DP and those of President Kenyatta and Kieni MP Kanini Kega clashed outside the church.
Dr Ruto and his Mt Kenya allies had been holding political talks in Nyeri since Friday, and the plan was to have him wind up his tour of Central Kenya region by attending a Sunday church service and addressing supporters in Kieni.
Initially, the DP and his entourage was to worship at the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) Mbiriri, but the clergy withdrew their invitation at the last minute.
Allies of the DP would then allege State involvement in sabotaging the scheduled church service, with the Kieni MP Mr Kega, a President Kenyatta loyalist, being accused of scuttling the meeting.
DP Ruto’s men led by Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua claimed Mr Kega, who has openly opposed the deputy president’s 2022 presidential bid, was behind the plot to block him from visiting his constituency.
After the PCEA pulled the plug on the DP and about 40 MPs who were to accompany him, they turned to other Pentecostal churches in the area but the Nation learned that two others turned him down.
Determined to show off their political might, they turned to the small, iron sheets-built Mbiriri Full Gospel Church, which accepted to host the DP and his allies.
The Kieni MP and other allies of president Kenyatta in the region saw the incessant push to worship in Mbiriri as an open taunt towards Mr Kega, especially given it was being spearheaded by Mr Gachagua who represents the neighbouring Mathira constituency.
“Let us just be honest. If you really wanted to worship with the DP why not go to a church in your own constituency? I believe the real motive was just to incite violence,” Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu said in the aftermath of the ugly confrontations.
The small church, measuring not more than 100 square feet, could not accommodate the huge number of political allies and rank and file supporters of the DP, and so they sought to have the service held at the neighbouring Mbiriri grounds.
This plan was, however, quickly thwarted by security agencies who blocked erection of tents at the grounds on Saturday evening, saying the planned political gathering had not been authorised.
A huge contingence of police was deployed to the area, with the police bosses in Kieni asking for reinforcements and additional riot gear from other police stations in anticipation of chaos.
On Sunday morning, all roads leading to Kabaru area were blocked at multiple sections with bonfires and rocks. Police started clearing the roads as early as 4am.
The DP’s men then went on to mobilise more than 1,500 people from across Nyeri County to attend the “sunday service” in a church with a membership of less than 200 worshippers.
The Nation observed some of the people being ferried in trucks and lorries to Mbiriri ahead of the service.
All Covid-19 preventive protocols were thrown out of the window as the crowds thronged the church compound wearing the UDA Party merchandise.
Goons were also deployed by politicians, with one group instructed to not allow any of Mr Kega’s supporters in the area and those allied to the DP instructed to eject them.
As the church service got underway, pockets of youths engaged in fist fights outside the church, with supporters of the Kieni MP being forcefully ejected from the grounds.
The Nation observed some people being roughed up and sustaining slight injuries, but sub-County Police Commander Wilberforce Sicharanyi said no reports of injuries were made at the local police station.
On the other end of the grounds, the church choir’s praise and worship songs were being drowned down by political chants as politicians trooped in.
The DP and his allies would then direct their frustration and insults towards Mr Kega, for allegedly trying to block the church service.
“I was told the big service that was to be held outside could not go on but I was informed of a small tin church that would agree to host us. I am warning those trying to block us from going to church that they will get the wrath of God,” DP Ruto said.
Mr Gachagua turned an accusing finger towards his Kieni counterpart, claiming he was using state resources to try and sabotage the deputy president’s plans.
“The area leader planned to have the road blocked and sabotage the DP. We do not understand why an elected leader would try and block the DP from coming to the people,” Mr Gachagua said.
On the other hand, Mr Kega and other allies of the president hit out at the DP and the church for disrespecting places of worship.
“The church is failing because they are selling the pulpit to be used to fan hatred and incite violence. We are pleading with the church and cautioning them to not allow politicians to desecrate places of worship,” Mr Kega said.
DP Ruto said picking a running mate will not be his priority ahead of 2022. He said he will focus on taking views of the people, which will set the agenda and form his manifesto.
“Right now the priority is to reach out to the people. Political positions are not a priority for us right now,” said the deputy president.