What you need to know:
- William Ruto’s camp wants Uhuru Kenyatta to reconsider his dalliance with ODM’s Raila Odinga and retrace his steps back.
- Sources say some people want heads to roll, others say they will offer President Kenyatta a number of options to calm his base.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s allies will be retreating this week to review their performance in the Kiambaa by-election, where they lost to the nascent UDA party linked to Deputy President William Ruto.
It is expected that they will recommend remedial measures to save Jubilee Party from demise and wrest Mt Kenya from Dr Ruto’s grip.
The politicians will meet at the party’s Pangani headquarters on Wednesday just five days after the humiliating defeat on Friday by the Ruto camp. Should they fail to bring to sheen back to Jubilee — and by extenstion State House — they will inadvertently be putting their party leader, Mr Kenyatta, in an uncomfortable position, just a year to the end of his term.
Senior party members are baying for blood. They say the secretariat has let the President down. And they want him to set some heads rolling before it is too late. They warn that the core support base of the party is unhappy with the manner and direction in which Jubilee is being run. The President, they say, must act.
“Jubilee Party’s core supporters are unhappy and urgent action is needed to forestall further downwards slide,” Kirinyaga Governor Ann Waiguru, a Jubilee stalwart, said.
At Pangani, that message is expected to ring loud and clear on Wednesday as ruffled politicians on the receiving end of the Dr Ruto bulldozer pressure the President to reassure their support base that he is still in charge of their political future.
The secretariat, on the other hand, is fighting back. Yesterday vice-chairman David Murathe told the Sunday Nation that “those who bungled the Kiambaa by-election will have to account for the money they were given for campaigns”, and that he will not allow the detractors “to bully” secretary general Raphael Tuju, “who even spent his own money to bring the trophy home”.
There were indications last evening that Mr Murathe had met with the President in State House, but we could not verify them independently.
But what options does Mr Kenyatta, a retiring president, have? Or what motivations can he muster?
Overhauling the secretariat
The Sunday Nation this week talked to a trusted lieutenant of the head of state who has been by his side for at least 20 years now. He shared some of the scenarios they are toying with.
The first is the possible overhauling of the secretariat as the general belief is that some of the officials have exposed the President to ridicule, either knowingly or inadvertently, and a new set of party officials would breathe in some freshness and endear the party to its traditional base.
The secretariat is led by Mr Tuju, and has been accused on several occasions of accused of ineptitude. The Kiambaa debacle, where the party lost despite massive deployment of state machinery, did not make matters better for the secretariat.
The loss wasn’t the first in recent days, for in May Jubilee lost in the Juja constituency by-election to the little known People’s Empowerment Party (PEP), which is linked to Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria.
But two situational reports by the National Intelligence Service, which the Sunday Nation understands were submitted to presidency days to the election, noted that Jubilee might lose the Kiambaa seat for reasons beyond the party secretariat. That, then, casts doubt on whether Mr Kenyatta would give Mr Tuju and Mr Murathe marching orders based on the loss.
Agitation around the rising cost of living and the sidelining of DP Ruto appeared to have been the reasons for the loss, even though Mr Kenyatta and his handlers are upbeat that they can recover and convince the Mountain to come back to them.
A faction within Jubilee is nonetheless pushing the President to inject fresh blood into the party, not just for the optics but also to address the disaffection with the current leadership and make him appear to be a listening leader.
Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata, who is among the last Central Kenya politicians to abandon the President, blames “his advisers and those he has entrusted to run his political machinery” for the turn of fortunes.
“The threat of dividing Mt Kenya is real but we can mend the rift if the President accepts the reality, comes to us and gets our views on political succession and the economy, as these are the two things that have led to the rebellion,” he said.
Mr Kang’ata wants Mr Kenyatta to first accept that Dr Ruto has successfully charmed Central, that the people are uncomfortable with the manner in which he is managing the economy, and that deployment of State instruments of power to impose decisions on them is counterproductive.
“They should reconsider the proposed merger between Jubilee and ODM and discard any support for ODM leader Raila Odinga’s stab at the presidency,” Mr Kang’ata said.
Last week Mr Tuju said the merger talks between Jubilee and ODM had been sanctioned by the President himself, and that it is only Mr Kenyatta who can call them off. Jubilee is, however, divided on the prospect of a coalition with Raila.
Their criticism of the process revolves around the feeling, whether true or not, that central Kenya leaders, including Mr Kenyatta, have spent so much time and energy in the past preaching to the region why a Raila Odinga presidency would be bad for them, and that the damage this has caused on the image of the ODM leader cannot be undone overnight. To put it more brutally, Mr Odinga is ‘unsellable’ in the Mountain, they say.
Depending on what transpires at Pangani next Wednesday, therefore, Mr Kenyatta will be faced with the dilemma of backtracking on the pre-election merger talks and risk losing the Odinga hand, or staying the course and agitating his restless support base further.
The other choice for Mr Kenyatta is the eating of humble pie and reaching out to the DP for a political truce. It sounds rather easy when put that way, but a vast majority of the President’s advisers are opposed to it as it would be an admission that he is somewhat a wounded tiger retreating to lick his wounds.
They hold that the President is the centre of power and must project himself as such. He can’t appear to be broken. Or beaten. Or desperate. He must not be seen to be showing signs of weakness, and the boss cannot kneel in front of his subordinate, the DP.
Those against this route argue that it would not only imply negotiating at the DP’s terms, but would also see most of them face the consequences of ‘misleading the President’. They believe that route would involve compromises that would ultimately see the President’s men paying the price of the truce.
Dr Godwin Siundu, a political analyst, argues that the safest way for President Kenyatta out of this dilemma is straight out of the Kibaki bag of political tricks. Mr Kenyatta’s predecessor Mwai Kibaki never attempted to guide his succession, at least publicly.
But Mr Kenyatta is on record as saying that his choice of his preferred successor would shock the nation. "They think because Uhuru is going home in 2022 he will not have a word on what will happen,” he said in November 2018. “I am telling them when the right time comes, I will have something to say.”
Dr Siundu holds that the suspicion that Mr Kenyatta is keen to endorse a candidate from the Nasa coalition has made it urgent for the DP and his allies in Central to poison the ground against him.
“He could borrow a leaf from Mzee Kibaki and avoid the succession debate, even though we know the former president had a preferred successor in private. That way, he will keep both One Kenya Alliance and what used to be Nasa, as well as the DP, guessing. That can accord him some peace in his sunset days in the office,” said Dr Siundu.
Mr Kenyatta, it is understood, has been careful not to openly campaign for Jubilee candidates for fear of reducing himself to the level of tiffing with his deputy, who is already charting his own future after the end of the current administration. In all the by-elections, the closest Mr Kenyatta has come to campaigning for them is by having a photo taken with the preferred candidate at State House.
The third option for the President is to keep kicking out the dissidents, and the hardliners in his court hold that this is the road to the proverbial Canaan. A number of Jubilee leaders have been subjected to disciplinary action on account of going against the grain, and Mr Murathe believes party discipline is not negotiable.
Finally, there is a minority group around the President who feel he needs to quickly retrace his steps and reach out to all key allies of the DP from Central. They say in so doing, the politicians might likewise mellow and, like errant sons and daughters, come back home. Were they to abandon the DP, Dr Ruto would be left without key grassroots mobilisers just months to the elections, denying him the time to reorganise his house.
Former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth, who is a close ally of the President said “we are at that crossroads where we must demolish the walls of separation and come together to chart our way forward as a united team”.
He is of the view that the differences playing out in the by-elections are only serving to pass across one message — that united, the Mountain stands a better chance of making use of its numerical strength to be in the next government.
Analysts are in agreement that the position Mr Kenyatta finds himself in is not new for a president doing his second and final term in office. In fact, they say, he should be grateful that he has, courtesy of the handshake with Mr Odinga, wielded immense power in the dying days in office.