For President Kenyatta, it doesn't get worse than this in politics

Uhuru Kenyatta

Deputy President William Ruto welcomes President Uhuru Kenyatta to make his address during the annual National Prayer Breakfast at Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi on May 26, 2022. 

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • That the President could not sit with his deputy or the Speakers of Parliament shows that he is increasingly getting isolated.
  • The drive to isolate and politically annihilate the Deputy President was expected to reach its destination.

At this week’s National Prayer Breakfast in Nairobi, the unspoken political divide was as loud as it was apparent. President Uhuru Kenyatta sat at the foremost VIP table with only two other people: Chief Justice Martha Koome and Attorney-General Kihara Kariuki.

The prayer event was President Kenyatta’s 10th since he took office in 2013. In the previous nine functions, the foremost VIP table exuded power of at least two arms of government, the Executive and the Legislature. The President, the Deputy President and the Speakers of the National Assembly and Senate would hold fort. The Judiciary would be on its own table.

This year, it was different. And it was not difficult to see why. With the President having taken a different political trajectory from DP William Ruto and Speakers Justin Muturi and Ken Lusaka, government protocol – in its wisdom or lack of it – must have come to the conclusion that a similar arrangement would have been hugely uncomfortable.

Dr Ruto and the Speakers, now in the Kenya Kwanza Alliance, sat at a table next to the President, who is in Raila Odinga’s Azimio. And with a stroke of government goose bumps, the whole arrangement negated the theme of the meeting: Transition and, indeed, unity. That the President could not sit with his deputy or the Speakers of Parliament shows that he is increasingly getting isolated. The lameduck phase has set in strongly and furiously.

President Kenyatta started his second term with the objective of stamping his authority on the five years as he crafted a legacy devoid of anyone else. He wanted to be in charge, not just of the programme of government, but also the politics and everything else in between. But the plan appears to have backfired and gone up in smoke.

Voices getting louder 

His legacy in infrastructure is solid and visible, but increasingly the voices are getting louder with the seminal question: But at what cost? Take the 27km expressway from Nairobi’s ABC Place to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. It started as a Sh67 billion project that was ostensibly meant to quicken movement between the airport and the city centre and also roll back traffic gridlocks.

At the last count, it had gobbled up Sh87 billion – a whopping Sh20 billion more. With murmurs about the old ‘Hustlers’ road below severely compromised, there is a plan to award a Sh9 billion tender to improve it. That would push the project to Sh96 billion or Sh3.5 billion a kilometre! In Kenya! Add spiralling debt and hyper-inflation to this mix and the President’s legacy begins to sound more like ignominy. Debt has risen by nearly Sh6 trillion in the past five years and its effects are just beginning to be felt.

At the political level, the President’s efforts have borne little or no fruit at all. The only success was in wooing his political nemesis, Mr Odinga, to his side in the much-publicised Handshake of March 2018. Everything was going according to plan and key national political leaders were at the President’s beck and call. The drive to isolate and politically annihilate the Deputy President was expected to reach its destination.

But something was amiss. As the President’s group planned and caucused in boardrooms on proposed changes to the Constitution, Dr Ruto was on the stumps with the people, popularising the message of a better tomorrow through renewal of economic conditions, beginning at the bottom where majority of Kenyans are feeling the pangs of an economy-gone-rogue.

Hustler economic story

The much-hyped constitutional moment came face to face with the Hustler economic story and the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) started to taste insipid in the mouth. 

The superior courts, all the three of them, saved the country from the jalopy experiment and the rest, as they say, is history. This set of affairs kicked in a chain of events that has left the President’s political project in tatters if not in limbo. Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi and Ford Kenya chief Moses Wetang’ula were the first to vote with their feet and join Dr Ruto, leading to the birth of the Kenya Kwanza Alliance. 

More leaders have followed suit, including governors Amason Kingi of Kilifi and Alfred Mutua of Machakos. Wiper boss Kalonzo Musyoka, too, has called it quits and is ostensibly bent on a run for the presidency. Well, you can never bet on him and it is better to add a rider that he seemed to say he had left Azimio by the time of writing.

In Azimio, it had been said times without number that Jubilee would be the foremost bride and would pick the running mate. But that did not materialise and the honour fell on Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua. Jubilee, a roaring ruling party in 2017, had finished in a gasp. 

With the wars orchestrated against the party after the Handshake, the party could only have ended in one hole, dead. A closer look at Jubilee makes it appear more laughable than a scarecrow.

Mr Buku works in the William Ruto presidential campaign


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