The race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta is shaping up, with leading presidential aspirants strategising on how to win next year’s election.
Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga, who are widely viewed as frontrunners, have been crisscrossing the country for the past few weeks as they seek to consolidate their support ahead of the big fight.
But as the clock ticks towards 2022 other hopefuls are eyeing the top seat.
They include the principals of One Kenya Alliance (OKA) - Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi, Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka, Ford-Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula and Kanu’s Gideon Moi, though he viewed as leaning towards Mr Odinga.
The race has also attracted other aspirants that political pundits view as “political pawns” in the game, meant to shape up the contest in favour of the main contenders – Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga.
They include National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, businessman Jimmy Wanjigi, former United Nations official and minister Mukhisa Kituyi, governors Alfred Mutua (Machakos), Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni), Hassan Joho (Mombasa), Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega) and Okoth Obado (Migori).
The Oxford English dictionary defines ‘pawn’ as a person or group whose actions are controlled by more powerful people.
Interestingly, a majority of the presidential aspirants lean towards President Kenyatta, who is keen to craft a winning outfit for 2022 that would deal a blow to his estranged deputy Ruto.
The President has accused Dr Ruto of constant politicking instead of helping him shape his legacy as his second and last term ends next year.
Political analyst Herman Manyora believes the 2022 race has attracted mainly ‘political pawns’ working directly or indirectly for their masters in a bid to help the latter win so they can benefit from other positions.
“The pawns of Kenya’s politics are real. For instance, the coming up of Speaker Muturi may just be part of a wider scheme to deny Ruto the Mt Kenya East vote,” Mr Manyora argues.
His own man
But Mr Muturi has insisted he is his own man and that his resolve to run for the top seat was not influenced by anybody.
“Even Wanjigi’s candidature is suspect. It’s just part of a wider strategy to deny Ruto the region’s votes. Remember the Kibaki-Matiba contest in 1992?” Mr Manyora says.
“That was one of the pawns to neutralise Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. All the deep State needs to do is to destroy the Gema vote for them to take Ruto down.”
The likely scenario is that Mt Kenya will have many candidates, including but not limited to Mr Wanjigi and Mr Muturi, says political analyst Dismas Mokua.
“Mr Wanjigi may end up as Dr Ruto’s biggest nightmare in Mt Kenya. These candidates will share the Mt Kenya vote with other potential non-Mt Kenya candidates like Musalia Mudavadi, Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka if the three former Nasa principals don’t form an alliance and present one single candidate,” he argues.
Raila’s close allies
Analysts also believe Dr Mutua and Prof Kibwana are close allies of Mr Odinga that the latter could rally to his side if Mr Musyoka, with whom he has fallen out, refuses to back his bid.
Dr Mutua last week accompanied the ODM leader to events in Murang’a, where a majority of speakers pledged to support Mr Odinga’s bid for the top seat.
Mr Joho and Mr Oparanya, both Mr Odinga’s deputies in ODM, have also declared their interest in running for President but are widely viewed as Mr Odinga’s campaigners to help him consolidate the Coast and Western bastions.
Mr Oparanya and Dr Kituyi are seen as Mr Odinga’s alternatives in Western Kenya against Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula, respectively, who are behind OKA.
For Mr Obado, an ally of Dr Ruto, his recent move to start marketing the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the Nyanza region, Mr Odinga’s allies believe, is aimed at trying to clip the ODM leader’s wings on his turf.
Open up Nyanza
Mr Obado holds that the democratic space in Nyanza needs to be opened up so that other parties can thrive and allow locals to explore diverse political options.
But on Sunday, Mr Odinga went to his Nyanza backyard as he sought to decimate fringe parties in the region that might erode his support ahead of next year’s polls.
“We have walked a long journey of democracy, just like the Israelites on their way to Canaan with a clear vision of where we are going. Those who have no idea where they are heading have resorted to using other routes leading to nowhere,” he said in an indirect reference to Mr Obado’s moves.
At an event in Migori, Mr Oparanya pledged to support Mr Odinga’s quest for the presidency.
Sunday, Kandara MP Alice Wahome echoed other politicians when she claimed there is a scheme to slash DP Ruto’s votes in Mt Kenya through the sponsoring of candidates from the region to run for President.
“They are being used to divide votes in Mt Kenya especially but our presidential vote will be in one basket,” said Ms Wahome, an ardent supporter of Dr Ruto.
Prodded by bigwigs
A majority of the ‘political pawns’ in the 2022 race had been “prodded by the bigwigs with a view to dropping out and endorsing them at a later stage”, said Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata.
“Of course some are guided by ideals, ready to lose but wanting to enjoy the race and send a message,” he said.
To him, it was clear that the 2022 contest will be a Ruto-Odinga affair.
“It seems that’s the trajectory. It’s clear that’s how it will end.”
For Keiyo South MP Daniel Rono, save for Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga, other candidates are merely “mercenaries on hire”.
“They are being sponsored by the deep State to masquerade as candidates. They imagine they will divide votes but they will be shocked. People are not fools. Even members of their families will not vote for them,” he said.