War on graft, Jubilee’s internal conflicts, put Uhuru under pressure
What you need to know:
It has been common in Kenya’s history for leaders in their last terms to face rebellion
The President seems increasingly isolated as politicians from his Central backyard withdraw their support in favour of DP Ruto.
- Also standing in the way of Mr Kenyatta’s legacy are the many unfulfilled promises, especially in the fight against graft.
As Kenyans took to social media over the weekend to speculate over the whereabouts of a “missing” President Uhuru Kenyatta, State House spokesperson Kanze Dena said all was well and that the Head of State has been in the office and working.
"It's not right to say he has never been in public,” Ms Dena said in response to the comments.
Besides his absence from the public since he returned from China two weeks ago, the President has a full in-tray of unfulfilled promises 18 months into his presidency.
Politically, President Kenyatta looks isolated from the very politicians, mainly from Mt Kenya, who formed the bedrock of his electoral machine.
Keiyo South MP Daniel Rono says President Kenyatta’s powers have been curtailed tremendously by the handshake between him and opposition leader Raila Odinga.
“It seems Uhuru donated some of his powers to Raila. The presidency has been weakened but they are trying to fulfil their pledges,” said Mr Rono
Besides a floundering war on corruption, President Kenyatta is racing against time to fulfil his Big Four Agenda blueprint. He has less than 50 months remaining to do so and secure his legacy before the August 2022 general elections.
Big Four action plan details how the government plans to improve food security, affordable housing, universal healthcare and manufacturing and requires the goodwill of the House and Members of Parliament. President Kenyatta must, therefore, play his cards right.
With clear divisions emerging within the Jubilee Party, President Kenyatta has been lucky to have the Opposition MPs behind him following the March 9, 2018 “handshake” that ended the political acrimony between the two while, paradoxically, dividing Jubilee.
Although he has said he supports the handshake, Deputy President William Ruto has consistently been critical of Mr Odinga and also defied President Kenyatta’s call for a halt to political campaigns for the sake of development and unity.
While Mr Ruto’s team would hardly admit that his activities —church fund-drives , meet-the-people tours and hosting of delegations at his official residence — amount to political campaigning, they have all its hallmarks.
Another headache for the President is the loss of support from Mt Kenya leaders and their constituents to Mr Ruto, who has focused on building loyalty and followers in the region. The DP has been priming himself to take over from President Kenyatta in 2022 and has been relying on most of the elected leaders in the populous region to back his presidency. State House insiders say that the last thing Mr Kenyatta wants is to be a lame-duck President.
With only nominated MP Maina Kamanda and Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu on his side, the political register for President Kenyatta in Mt Kenya region is full of individuals who lost in the last general elections and who blame Mr Ruto for their loss.
Mr Kenyatta had made dramatic strides on the war on corruption until his State of the Nation address, which appeared to have slowed the progress, shortly after several of his cabinet secretaries had recorded statements.
While it was thought that Mr Kenyatta would use the goodwill to reshuffle and put order in the government, his failure to make hard decisions came as a surprise.
The President is currently torn between a disappointed electorate that wants him to actualise the war on corruption and in-fighting within his Jubilee Party. The pro-Ruto faction, dubbed Tanga-Tanga, views the government’s anti-corruption drive as an assault on the DP and his allies.
Soy MP Caleb Kositany says the President can salvage the situation by convening an urgent Jubilee parliamentary group meeting to iron out issues in the party.
“We don't know what happened after the handshake. We had very humble Uhuru but today we have a very temperamental President,” said Mr Kositany.
The argument has been that, if not careful, Mr Kenyatta may lose his political gravitas just as former president Mwai Kibaki and his Party of National Unity (PNU) became a shell before the end of his rule.
This reality has been worsened by the fact that leaders from his Central Kenya backyard have registered new political outfits or revived and refurbished old ones.
Mr Kamanda, who is a key member of the Jubilee faction that is allied to the President, Kieleweke, says a number of leaders from Mt Kenya region had been “bought” to fight the Head of State.
“Even former President (Daniel) Moi was respected up to the end even after his candidate lost the 2002 elections. Nyeri people and most of Central Kenya also stuck with Kibaki. It is shocking that Kiambu people are now the ones leading the revolt against Uhuru,” Mr Kamanda said.
From the President’s Kiambu backyard, governor Ferdinard Waititu has been leading the pro-Ruto campaigns together with Gatundu South MP, Moses Kuria.
President Kenyatta’s war on graft has also been under attack by pro-Ruto supporters who have publicly ridiculed both the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and Director of Public Prosecutions.
Although the President can count of the backing in Parliament of Mr Odinga’s supporters, the rebellion within jubilee is proving to be a nightmare.
But political rebellion against the presidency, particularly for leaders serving their last term, is not uncommon in Kenya.
When President Moi served his last term beginning 1998, he too suffered the lame duck effect, almost throughout his term. Rift Valley MPs rebelled against his position habitually.
Also standing in the way of Mr Kenyatta’s legacy are the many unfulfilled promises, especially in the fight against graft.
In 2018, the President promised a lifestyle audit for all public servants starting with himself and Mr Ruto.
But with no laws in place to govern such a lifestyle audit, the matter died a natural death, just as Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka had predicted.
In asking Parliament to pass legislations that govern lifestyle audits as a means of fighting graft, Mr Musyoka had said: “Unless that law is in place, we are paying mere lip service to Kenyans. The wheels of justice have been slow but, as Kenyans, we want to see convictions (of the guilty individuals).”
With so much on his tray, President Kenyatta is certainly a man under pressure.