Gideon Moi. Senator. Head of independence party Kanu. Son of a former president. What else can he be? How big are his dreams, and do they have the right fuel for propulsion? These were the questions in the minds of many Kenyans this week as the political jostling around President Uhuru Kenyatta’s succession hit a crescendo.
The pushing and shoving, the Sunday Nation learnt, involved intense negotiations among power brokers and succession planners about the role Mr Moi, who wants to be Kenya’s next president, should play in the political matchmaking ahead of the General Elections next year, and how his stature could aid the constitutional change movement of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
The Baringo Senator has lately emerged as a regular in the corridors of power and a heavyweight in the Uhuru succession matrix, even though his critics doubt his electability as president as, they argue, his political support base lacks in the diversity and raw charm boasted by his opponents.
As part of the effort to elevate his profile, Senator Moi on Friday met with the Chinese ambassador in Nairobi Zhou Pingjian and discussed ways of deepening exports to the world’s most populous country.
“We talked about tourism, ICT sector and trade. One of the aspects we talked about is how we can penetrate the China market which is the largest in the world. We hope to strengthen this in the coming days,” Mr Moi was quoted as saying.
Still, the question “which way Moi?” is understood to have featured in talks between President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga on Saturday and on Tuesday, when the Senator visited Mr Odinga at his Karen home. The Tuesday meeting was also attended by the President’s younger brother Muhoho, who is said to, behind the scenes, wield immense power and influence in government
Mr Odinga is said to have expressed concerns about Mr Moi’s close association with his former Nasa co-principals Musalia Mudavadi (ANC), Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper) and Moses Wetang’ula (Ford-Kenya), who have lately gone hammer-and-tongs at him for failing to endorse one of them for the presidency. Mr Odinga feels the trio is out to blackmail him since the coalition he built with them did not take power in 2017. Had it, he says, he would have honoured the gentleman’s agreement among them to back one of them for the top job.
Sources said Mr Odinga indicated to Mr Moi that he would be happy if the Senator cut ties with the Mudavadi-Musyoka-Wetang’ula axis. It is not clear whether Mr Moi heeded the call, or plans to, but when he emerged from the meeting he said he was “deeply impressed by Raila Odinga’s quick and steady recovery” from Covid-19, which he said was “a clear indication of his resilience even in the face of adversity”.
But the enduring message from the meeting was hidden in the muteness of a photograph circulated from Karen. The three men, all of them sons of families that have dominated the country’s political scene since pre-independence, appeared to send the message that anything is possible in politics, and that Mr Moi could be cosying up to Mr Odinga.
If that was the case, then Mr Moi seems to have the right backers behind him, pushing him and pulling a string here and another there. Among those backing him, the Sunday Nation was told this week, is a senior member of the Kenyatta family who sees the Senator as a safe bet in Kenya’s volatile politics. His candidature, it is believed, could also sway a chunk of Deputy President William Ruto’s Rift Valley camp, which, although in government, feels betrayed and has been wallowing in the cold of unofficial opposition.
The practicality of a Moi presidency might be in doubt, but the end game, at least in the Rift, isn’t. Mr Moi has the potential to split the Rift Valley vote and slow down Dr Ruto, who at the moment holds sway in the region.
Tiaty MP William Kamket (Kanu) agrees: “Kalenjins are not used to being in the opposition and it is clear Dr Ruto is headed there. I doubt my people will follow him to oblivion. As such, expect mass defections to Mr Moi’s camp next year,” he says.
But it is Mr Kamket’s other justification for Mr Moi’s stub at the presidency that starts to point this analysis in the right direction. Mr Moi, says Mr Kamket, is an investor who blends naturally and quietly with the owners of capital, and those billionaire families normally have a huge say in determining the country’s top leadership.
“One might argue that he inherited the wealth, but how many have inherited and turned out as successful as he has? Majority end up squandering the wealth. Gideon is an entrepreneur par excellence. Equally, there is nothing he does not know about government and governance. He is ripe for the presidency,” Mr Kamket says, dismissing the argument that Mr Moi is not his own man yet.
Many observers, including Sunday Nation columnist Makau Mutua, have argued that Mr Moi has not yet grown out of the shadows of his father and former president Daniel arap Moi. Many others think he has. They include Kanu secretary-general Nick Salat, who says that, by virtue of the party’s constitution, Mr Moi is the automatic presidential candidate in the next polls and preparations are in top gear to make this a reality.
He adds that since it is hard for a single party to successfully mount a presidential campaign, Kanu is reaching out for support with a view to succeeding President Kenyatta.
“Take this to the bank: the next tenant in State House will be a product of a coalition, and we want to be an integral part of this journey,” says Mr Salat.
So, was the visit to Mr Odinga part of that coalition building? Or was it just three long-time friends catching up?
Mr Salat navigates around those questions without stating any absolutes, only saying that the BBI, which seeks to expand the Executive arm of government by re-introducing a prime minister position, will, if passed, create enough spoils for partners in coalitions. He, however, admits that Kanu — and Mr Moi himself — are keen to enlist President Kenyatta’s and Mr Odinga’s support in their journey to State House.
Last month Mr Moi hinted that he was not averse to a broad alliance, which he said would alter the political landscape ahead of the next polls. He also warned residents of the vote-rich Rift Valley not to be left out.
“You are wise and you know where we are headed since the signs of the time are clear. The formation we’ve been working on has already taken shape so make sure you are in it at whatever cost,” Mr Moi said in Kabartonjo, Baringo County.
It is admittedly still early to pin down political alignments or fix to a wall the emerging formations and movements, but the political analysts we talked to said Mr Moi has featured in high-level discussions as a compromise presidential candidate in next year’s elections. But those in the President’s camp who have looked at this as an option reckon that they will need Mr Odinga’s unflinching support to make it happen. But the former prime minister could also gun for the same seat, even though he’s yet to make a public declaration. Should he, the Moi card could become hard to deal.
Before the government banned political activities to contain the spread of Covid-19, Mr Moi was said to be getting state backing in his political rallies, with County Commissioners instructed to handle public mobilisation. This writer could not independently verify these claims, even though he was told that Mr Moi’s backers in or around the government wanted to shore up his public image by mobilising crowds to his rallies.
Mr Moi has been in politics long enough, but he is accused of being dour and uninspiring behind the microphone. He lacks the political charisma of Ruto, or the razzmatazz of Odinga, or the emotion of Uhuru. Often, he is criticised as being too removed from the realities and struggles of the commoner, or too aloof and inaccessible. Like a mythical prince, he appears to be an unwitting, semi-conscious, disconnected dancer in a rather violent political dance floor dominated by the men and women he seeks to impress.
Last week he attempted to make those all-important social connections when he shared photos of himself donning akalas, the car-tyre-soled shoes that are normally the preserve of the downtrodden.
Mr Moi, who was first elected to Parliament in 2002, boasts 19 years of active politics and says he is ripe for the top job. He failed to recapture his MP’s seat in the 2007 elections, only to bounce back in the 2013 Baringo Senate run. But, to give it to him, he has made huge political strides compared to 19 years ago, not only in improving his prowess in the local Turgen dialect, but also shoring up his national standing and learning a bit of Kiswahili.
It is, however, his close ties with the First Family that many find illuminating, if not uncomfortable. The Kenyattas and Mois are Kenya’s biggest political families, followed by the Odingas. So close have the two families that have given the country three presidents been that an ailing Daniel Moi is said to have asked President Uhuru Kenyatta to ensure his son and political heir Gideon plays an integral part in the country’s political leadership.
The same is said of Jomo Kenyatta, the founding head of state and the President’s father, with whom Daniel Moi worked. Mr Moi inherited the Jomo State House, and then in fronted Jomo’s son Uhuru as his preferred successor in the 2002 elections. That did not work immediately as Mwai Kibaki trounced him at the polls, but the younger Kenyatta had the last laugh years later as he took over after Kibaki.
But, unlike Mr Kenyatta, who was swiftly embraced by his Central Kenya backyard post-Kibaki, Senator Moi only has a few Kanu officials behind him. Dr Ruto has gathered almost all key Rift Valley leaders in his corner, leaving the Moi political empire gravely exposed.
Another challenge Senator Moi faces is the ‘dynasty’ tag. The ruling elite has been accused of conspiracy to keep power within its ranks, with Dr Ruto adopting the campaign mantra that one does not have to come from a prominent family to lead the country. For this, Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga have accused the Deputy President of seeking to instigate class wars. There have been attempts to legislate against that Ruto narrative.
However, in Mr Kenyatta’s 2013 victory, Mr Moi has found hope — or assurance, depending on whom you ask — that a son of a former president like him can be elected to the same position. Supporters of Dr Ruto, among them Elgeyo-Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, argue that, that notion advances their ‘dynasty’ narrative, and that sons or daughters of peasants can also be presidents, but Mr Moi remains unflinched, insisting he is Gideon first before he is a Moi.
“We’ll not be voting your father, it is you who wants the big seat so stop hanging on your father’s coattails,” Mr Murkomen has previously castigated him, adding that “God uses ordinary people like Dr Ruto to accomplish extraordinary things”.
Those pushing the Gideon Moi ticket say there is no harm in him losing at the ballot next year as long as he dusts himself up and prepares for the next elections. President Kenyatta, after all, went through the same learning curve in 2002. A Moi presidency may not be guaranteed next year, but, like a heavy cloud, it will always loom large over the collective head of the country.