Akorino Church events are often pure fun and joy. The energetic rhythms and dancing seem to indicate the origins of the world-famous reggae beats — which should be music to the ears of President Kenyatta, who is known to groove to the sounds of Bob Marley.
But when the President switches from the official English or Kiswahili languages to address a public gathering in his mother-tongue, we know that ‘things are elephant’ — to borrow from the local parlance.
That was the situation at the Kasarani Stadium on Sunday, with the President’s extraordinary broadside directed at allies of Deputy President William Ruto.
The President has been known to lose his cool in public before, most commonly during election campaigns, when the target was long-term opposition foe-turned-ally Raila Odinga.
If anyone ever doubted that the famous UhuRuto camaraderie has irretrievably broken down, such illusions were shattered at Sunday’s Akorino Church annual convention.
Mr Ruto was present and looked on stoically as the President angrily berated his deputy’s faction. He accused the group of taking him for granted, mistaking his silence for cowardice and acting as if he owed them his office.
President Kenyatta did not have to mention names for it to be clear whom he was referring to. A signal of what was to come was probably provided early on, when the DP arrived late at Kasarani to take his place beside the President, who was already seated — a clear breach of protocol.
What was notable, anyway, was that as the DP arrived to take his seat, the easy familiarity he used to enjoy with the President was not in evidence. President Kenyatta’s famous bone-crunching handshake, back-slapping and laughter was replaced by a limp extended hand with his eyes focused in the opposite direction.
The stiff and awkward body language was evident throughout, and when the President rose to speak, it was not long before he launched into the angry tirade.
Though the President, at any public function, is presumed to be addressing the nation, it was telling that he chose to speak in the Kikuyu vernacular.
Justification can be provided by the fact that the Akorino Church is an almost-exclusively Kikuyu outfit, and even though the function was in Nairobi rather than in central Kenya, that was the audience.
The President was, therefore, addressing the Kikuyu community. His anger was aimed particularly at parliamentarians from the wider Mount Kenya region, who rode to political office on his coattails but abandoned him in his final term to join the well-oiled Ruto campaign caravan.
Apart from politicking instead of supporting his development agenda, what most annoys the President about the MPs is that, in effectively dumping him for Mr Ruto, they have rejected his newfound accord with Mr Odinga and also stand in opposition to his anti-corruption campaign.
The President’s Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) with Mr Odinga — touted as the answer to Kenya’s perennial episodes of electoral violence — and the renewed war against the scourge of corruption, are even more important than the ‘Big Four’ development agenda in President Kenyatta’s belated effort to craft a legacy.
The President on Sunday vowed that obstructionism by the MPs would not distract him from the path he has set for his people, a reference to the BBI, but he must be painfully aware that it’s not just the elected leaders in his backyard he has lost but probably the people as well.
Although he hinted that he would soon embark on visits to central Kenya, previous visits intended to sell BBI in the company of Mr Odinga have been shelved, probably sensing the latent hostility.
It must be deeply frustrating for the President to lose his base, and he probably has no option but to go out in aggressive political tours if he intends to regain it.
That will mean campaigning directly against the MPs who have thrown in their lot with Mr Ruto, and maybe also matching the fabled largesse said to be dished out to buy loyalty.
But that is an option fraught with risks. He has to look back at his predecessors Mwai Kibaki and Daniel arap Moi, who failed dismally in efforts to influence political direction as they vacated office.
He might also recall that the last time he launched a tirade against Mr Ruto’s central Kenya MPs, the slurs he delivered were swiftly appropriated by the DP’s campaign propaganda outfit and turned around to be depicted as insults directed at his voters.