Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka Saturday insisted he will be vying for the presidency in August, stubbornly outpacing his One Kenya Alliance (OKA) colleagues and complicating the mathematics for frontrunners Raila Odinga of Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and Deputy President William Ruto.
Mr Musyoka chose his Yatta home to make the declaration in front of a colourful assembly of politicians from Ukambani, his political base.
The announcement came just hours after he, alongside his colleagues in OKA, emerged from a meeting in Naivasha without a mutual agreement on who would be the alliance’s flagbearer.
Mr Musalia Mudavadi of Amani National Congress (ANC) has also indicated interest in being the OKA flagbearer.
It was not clear how Mr Musyoka’s solo bid would rearrange the arithmetic in the coalition.
It is, however, in the Raila and Ruto camps that Mr Musyoka’s announcement is likely to cause the biggest concern.
His party controls the politics of Ukambani, save for a few pockets of resistance in Kitui, Makueni and Machakos. He unveiled The Yatta Declaration Saturday, a nine-paragraph affirmation that indicates the Wiper leader “has the blessings of the entire Lower Eastern region to view for the country’s presidency”.
A Musyoka stab at the presidency would deny Mr Odinga and Mr Ruto considerable numbers of votes and has the potential of forcing a runoff.
A runoff could also force the politics of coalition-building, and hence give Mr Musyoka considerable clout at the negotiating table.
Tellingly, Saturday’s declaration announced that Mr Musyoka has the full mandate of those in attendance “to initiate and champion the cause of coalition-building with other like-minded leaders and parties, including but not limited to the OKA and MT Kenya Unity forum”.
OKA is caught up in a vicious internal power play and ego war that could make or break it in the coming weeks, with eyes on any move by Mr Musyoka and his ANC counterpart.
The Nation understands there is disagreement in the alliance over the recommendations of a technical committee that had been charged with helping decide who its presidential candidate and running mate would be.
It is claimed the team skewed the report in favour of the Wiper Party leader.
Despite the public display of unity, there are deep-rooted suspicions that could see a parting of ways for the outfit that promises to produce the third horse to face off with Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga.
Before the Naivasha retreat this weekend, there were concerns in Mr Mudavadi’s camp that there was a push to “prematurely” name Mr Musyoka the candidate.
The ANC leader did not attend the meeting.
“There’s a storm coming; who can you trust?” he tweeted.
Overtures by Dr Ruto to Mr Mudavadi and Ford-Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula that they should consider joining forces with him to dislodge Mr Odinga from the State House race have not helped matters within the alliance.
Lugari MP Ayub Savula stated recently that “there is a silent agreement in ANC that you cannot attack Ruto”.
On Saturday, Mr Musyoka appeared to ignore the OKA infighting as he sought to energise his Ukambani political base with the declaration that he won’t back off this year’s presidential race.
He rallied his community to back his second stab at the presidency, telling them that he has no political debts to pay and reiterating he will not sacrifice his ambitions once again in favour of other candidates.
“This is not a two-horse race as some people want Kenyans to believe. We are in this contest up to the end and we are determined to win the presidential race and offer better leadership,” he told a cheering crowd consisting of his Wiper Party faithful.
Ready for bruising battle
Mr Musyoka added that he is fully prepared for a bruising battle for the country’s top leadership, including clinching the OKA ticket, and that his re-energised second presidential bid would shock his opponents.
He dismissed Mr Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto as “antagonistic and toxic”, saying their campaigns are polarising the country and entrenching political hatred and divisions.
“I’m running to offer this country a better alternative in the management of our public affairs. I’ve heard suggestions that I should team up with some people but I assure my supporters that I am going all the way to the ballot,” he said.
Mr Musyoka, a former vice-president and long-serving Foreign Affairs Minister, seeks to position himself as the compromise candidate who can unite Kenyans, especially those who disillusioned by what he described as a culture of endless corruption and political deceit.
He said if elected the next president, he would use his immense diplomatic experience to ensure the country remains united after the August General Election.
In an apparent reference to efforts by President Uhuru Kenyatta for the OKA principals to team up with Mr Odinga, Mr Musyoka said his record of having supported retired president Mwai Kibaki during the Grand Coalition Government and Mr Odinga in his 2013 and 2017 presidential bids makes him free of any political obligation to back another candidate this time.
Mr Musyoka was, however, quick to point that he is pursuing his presidential ambitions under the OKA formation, and that he is seeking the support of his partners in strategic political calculations to win the 2022 State House race.
Within OKA, another level of mistrust is the close ties between the Kenyattas and the Mois.
That President Kenyatta is seen as rooting for Mr Odinga to succeed him makes it hard for some in OKA to believe that Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, the Kanu chairman, is in the alliance with all his heart.
While he denies it, there have been claims that he keeps the President updated on OKA deliberations to aid in making strategic decisions.
On the other hand, Mr Musyoka has also had to constantly deny suggestions that he has a pact with Mr Odinga, and that it is only a matter of time before he makes it public.
Equally, the perception that in staying put as the third force the quartet is only raising the stakes to attract the attention of either Dr Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) or Mr Odinga’s Azimio La Umoja has only served to take the wind out of OKA’s sails.
Observers point out that some of the inhibiting factors for OKA are not of their own making.
The argument is that, traditionally, the politics of the country is fashioned along two dialectical centres, and that with Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga having shaped the duel as a two-horse race, there was nearly little or nothing OKA was going to do to change to appeal to the national psyche.
“There is no space for the middle candidate,” governance expert Tom Mboya said.
“At the same time, Kenyans are not hungry enough to reject what they have been presented with as the leading candidates in the marketplace.”
To others, not being so distinct from ODM or UDA ideologically, given they trace their early political beginnings in Kanu, also means that “they may not have something out of the ordinary to offer”.
The critics say the same of Mr Odinga and Dr Ruto, both of whom have served as Kanu secretaries general in the past. The principals, however, say they have the best maps to lead the country to economic prosperity.
Businessman Jimi Wanjigi, who attended the Yatta meeting, described Mr Musyoka as a son of a peasant and the only candidate who understands the aspirations of the poor.
Mr Wanjigi said he is considering shelving his presidential ambitions in favour of Mr Musyoka if he doesn’t clinch the ODM presidential ticket.
Mr Musyoka said his humble background should be an inspiration to Kenyans “that you do not have to be rich or belong to a prominent family to achieve your full potential”.
“There are those who seek power for selfish gain; others want authority to expand their business empires. Kenyans should ask the hard questions on who is best qualified to lead before casting their vote,” he said.
This was the first indication yet that Mr Musyoka means business, and that he will do everything possible to outfox his OKA colleagues.
Insisting that there is plenty of time to put their house in order, Mr Mudavadi’s spokesman Kibisu Kabatesi said the principals would agree among themselves who becomes the presidential torchbearer in due course.
“The matter has been left to the principals and the method will be consensus, it is not the province of the technical committee. The committee has only laid the groundwork for how to arrive at that candidate,” Mr Kabatesi told the Nation.
He added that given that OKA is still not registered as a coalition, naming the candidate has to wait until the Registrar of Political Parties has given the requisite approvals.
“The timelines for the formation of coalitions are subject to the proposed changes to the Political Parties Act, which is before the Senate. Everyone is waiting for it. Remember it could even end up in a court dispute in the event it gets the nod of Parliament and the President assents to it,” he said.