Kalonzo Musyoka’s tough choices

Kalonzo Musyoka

Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka during an interview in Nairobi on November 4, 2021.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Mr Musyoka presents a compassionate exterior, a man of empathy. I believe he’s especially pained when he’s accused of corruption.
  • I have trouble with Mr. Musyoka’s history in the Kanu-Moi regime and his meagre development record for Mwingi.

I don’t envy my friend, Wiper leader Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka. He’s pinned between a rock and a hard place. To put it ominously, the man from Tseikuru is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. One false move and the leviathan would devour him. And yet he must make a move, sooner than later.

To deploy an overused term, he can’t be a watermelon, or sit in the middle on the proverbial fence. There’s no “kati” [middle] for him to “pass through” or “split” his opponents, unlike 2007. 2022 is clear-cut, in black and white. Mr Musyoka needs to seriously and wisely weigh the tough choices before him. He’s doomed if he squeezes the wrong trigger. 

If Mr Musyoka can’t be a splitist, what’s he to do? Let me first give the man his due. Mr Musyoka is a decent human being. Those who commune with the gods admire his Christian piety. I don’t doubt his religiosity, although I have many questions about religion. But that’s conversation for another day.

Mr Musyoka presents a compassionate exterior, a man of empathy. I believe he’s especially pained when he’s accused of corruption. That’s because – and I think it’s true – he’s one of the least corrupt, or cleanest, senior politicians in Kenya. I use the term corruption here broadly to capture its moral and material dimensions. That’s why the man is “broke” compared to some of his peers. 

Messianic complex

Mr Musyoka is a family man, which I greatly respect, because the family is the basic unit of society. I know this of him first hand. He has a burning ambition to be President of the Republic of Kenya, but he will never subordinate his family to political greed. His messianic complex to rule Kenya isn’t unique.

Many of his competitors have a similar psychosis. I will not give him a whopping for his unbridled ambition. Mr Musyoka is also a thoughtful man. There’s an intellectual mien to him. He wouldn’t be impulsive were he to take over the country’s leadership. Nor would he be vindictive. We needn’t fear that he will murder and detain opponents and critics. 

I have trouble with Mr. Musyoka’s history in the Kanu-Moi regime and his meagre development record for Mwingi when he was the state’s blue-eyed boy. He has never fully explained why he didn’t bring “pork home” to Ukambani, for that was what other “favoured” Kanu scions did. Nor did I like his justifications for Kanu excesses and egregious human rights violations.

But in 2002, much to my surprise, he defied Mr Moi, the dictator, and went with Raila Odinga’s Liberal Democratic Party and then the National Rainbow Coalition. This was a moment of atonement and redemption for him. In sum, I would say he’s tried to put the Kanu past behind him, although its residue sometimes comes through.

Be that as it may, Mr Musyoka is one of the most credible mainstream candidates for the presidency. He holds seniority over some presidential aspirants, including UDA’s William Ruto, Amani’s Musalia Mudavadi, Ford Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula, Narc Kenya’s Martha Karua, and Kanu’s Gideon Moi.

Fallen off radar

He doesn’t, however, have any seniority over Mr Odinga, a presumptive presidential contender. I don’t think Mr. Musyoka would contest this plain fact. The truth is that he himself believes in this pecking order. That’s why he’s the supremo – not the first among equals – in the One Kenya Alliance. No one in OKA can shake a stick at him. Which begs the question – will Mr Mudavadi’s rebellion against Mr Musyoka in OKA doom the yo-yoing outfit?

Let’s not call a spade a spoon. Mr Musyoka’s obstacle to being the fifth President of the Republic of Kenya isn’t Mr Ruto. It’s going to be Mr Odinga, the man they call Agwambo, should he decide to run in 2022. That’s because even though Mr Ruto is running hard, he won’t be first to touch the tape. Don’t ask me why, but he won’t. You can take that to the nearest bank. This means Mr Musyoka needs to come to an “understanding” with Mr Odinga. His temptation is to use OKA as a bargaining chip. That’s a road I wouldn’t travel if I were him. It’s going to be every man for himself in OKA.

I end where I started. Mr Musyoka’s choices are very narrow. I wouldn’t equate them to a camel going through the eye of a needle. But they are very minuscule. Politics is about numbers and strategy. That’s what Mr Musyoka must think about. What numbers can he readily marshal? What strategies does he have to get him there?

From the look of things – although it’s early days – he’s virtually fallen off the radar screen. Can he gin up magic to climb Mt Olympus? Or does he live to fight another day? If so, what are his real options? Whatever he does, he must conclude his thinking by December this year.

Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School. He’s chair of KHRC. @makaumutua.