Jamhuri Day

President Uhuru Kenyatta gives his remarks at Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi during Jamhuri Day celebrations on December 12, 2021.

| PSCU

President Uhuru Kenyatta offers silent support for Raila Odinga bid

What you need to know:

  • While President Kenyatta has not yet openly endorsed Mr Odinga, he has dropped many hints.
  • At official State functions, protocol dictates that the deputy president makes his brief speech before welcoming the Head of State.

Does President Uhuru Kenyatta simply have a soft spot for ODM Leader Raila Odinga, or is the former prime minister his preferred successor in next year’s presidential contest?

The Head of State has not openly declared his support for Mr Odinga in the upcoming presidential contest, but his repeated breach of protocol allowing the ODM leader to speak after Deputy President William Ruto at official public functions has sent strong signals on his inclination in the heated race.  

On Sunday, the President was at it once again, breaking protocol after his speech to allow Mr Odinga address the gathering at the 57th Jamhuri Day celebrations marked at the refurbished Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi.

“We have been in communication for close to 14 months with Hon Raila Odinga when I started this project of Uhuru Gardens. We have been here with him as he offered me advise and we thank him for what he has helped us achieve. It seems these people want you to address them, come and greet them,” the President said as he welcomed the ODM leader to make his speech.

At official State functions, protocol dictates that the deputy president makes his brief speech before welcoming the Head of State, who then makes his address that traditionally marks the end of the celebrations.

Sunday's breach of protocol followed a recent one at Wang’uru stadium in Kirinyaga County during the October 20 Mashujaa Day celebrations, where the President invited Mr Odinga to address the gathering after the DP Ruto had already made his speech.

The ODM leader also got a similar treatment at the June 1 Madaraka Day celebrations in Kisumu, cementing the perceived preferential treatment at State functions over his main rival in next year’s presidential polls.

The President has also, at different official functions, referred to Mr Odinga as a Statesman while recalling their March 9, 2018 handshake which, he notes, cooled down tensions in the country that emanated from the disputed 2017 elections.

DP Ruto and his political allies have already declared the ODM leader a State project, citing the preferential treatment he has enjoyed from President Kenyatta’s administration since the handshake rapprochement four years ago.

Next year’s General Election is touted as a battle between Mr Odinga’s Azimio La Umoja movement and DP Ruto’s Bottom Up economic policy.

Deep State project

The country’s second in command fell out with his boss ostensibly due to his early campaigns for the 2022 polls.

Former National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale yesterday downplayed President Kenyatta’s breach of protocol, claiming “it was only done out of mercy for the former Prime Minister.”

He was however quick to add that if the ODM leader is a State project, then he will face a hard time in next year’s polls.

“Whether Raila Amollo Odinga is a project of Uhuru Kenyatta or deep state or anybody else, Kenya is a democratic State and it’s only the people of Kenya who will go in the next election to vote,” said Mr Duale.

“The history of projects is well known here; a classical example is President Kenyatta himself (in 2002). He is a victim of being a State project and I don’t think Raila Odinga will peg his winning the 2022 elections on being a government project,” he added.

Political analyst Dr Alutalala Mukhwana termed the president’s move yesterday as part of a wider strategy to help give Mr Odinga political leverage without necessarily pronouncing that he supports him as that “would append State project tag on him.”

“National functions of today’s (yesterday’s) stature follow strictly with government protocols where the deputy president invites the president and the president addresses the nation and after that the function comes to an end.”

“At the tail end of the president’s address he tactfully said that the people wanted Raila Odinga to address them but it was plainly the president’s way of bringing in the Rt Hon prime minister to address a nation on Jamhuri day and it basically places the former Prime Minister above the DP in terms of protocol,” Dr Mukhwana said.

He went on: “In terms of the political optics and posturing, that sends a very strong message to Raila’s supporters that he has the much talked about deep state support and all the trappings of power that come with it.”

The President has on many occasions made several attempts to reunite the ODM leader with his former National Super Alliance (Nasa) principals – Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper Democratic Movement), Musalia Mudavadi (Amani National Congress) and Moses Wetang’ula (Ford Kenya) whom together with Kanu Chairman Gideon Moi and Cyrus Jirongo (United Democratic Party) have formed the One Kenya Alliance (OKA).

Mt Kenya endorsement

This, political analysts say, is a wider scheme to assemble a formidable machine to face off with DP Ruto, with Mr Odinga as the likely flag bearer.

Already, a caucus of business tycoons from the Mt Kenya region under the Mt Kenya Foundation (MKF) have endorsed Mr Odinga, arguing he was their best bet to ensure continuity of President Kenyatta’s legacy.

During the State of the Nation address to Parliament on November 30, Mr Odinga was the only person who the President recognized in his speech that lasted for 2 hours and 8 minutes.

At Parliament, the president mentioned Mr Odinga not once, but three times, the only Kenyan who received the privilege. 

It was not dissimilar yesterday when he paid glowing tribute to Mr Odinga because recalling their 2018 handshake in the official speech and following it up in the off the cuff remarks and finally inviting him to address the gathering.

The President expressed gratitude for what he said was invaluable advice the former PM had accorded him on the construction of the Uhuru Gardens Museum that is likely to become the masterpiece of Kenya’s forgotten history.

After thanking the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) and its head Mr Joseph Kibochi for implementation of the project, the President once again showered praises in Mr Odinga’s direction.

“I will be failing in my duties if I don’t recognise and thank one of us here,” The President said in remarks made in Kiswahili.

Sunday's turn of events come just a day after the President dispatched seven members of his cabinet, CASs and PSs to Mr Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja Convention, in which the former PM declared he will be in the 2022 presidential race.

The CSs who attended were led by Agriculture CS Peter Munya who, while addressing the gathering on their behalf, paid homage to Mr Odinga as a reformer pointing out that his 2018 handshake with the President had eliminated gossip in the executive branch of the government, allowing the CSs to execute their work without fear.

Handshake deal

“Mr Odinga will bring reforms and unite the country. His time has come. It is his moment. We can all see it is his moment,” he said.

Apart from Mr Munya, other CSs who attended the function included Ukur Yatani (National Treasury), Joe Mucheru (ICT), Keriako Tobiko (Environment), Eugene Wamalwa (defence), John Munyes (Petroleum), Raphael Tuju (Jubilee Secretary General) and Sicily Kariuki (Water).

That first sign that the President was rooting for his former critic to succeed him emerged last September when the two inspected development projects during a tour of Kibera informal settlements together.

It was here that the President said he wanted someone who would continue with his development plans after his exit.

While praising Mr Odinga for accepting to enter into a handshake with him in March 2018, the President declared that the peaceful environment that has ensued helped him implement his legacy projects.

“When we came together, didn't we experience peace? So where is the problem? Isn’t that what we want? Don’t we want that work to continue? It is up to you,” the President said.

“Will you make wise choices? Let us see how you will do it,” he added. 

Soon after, the President delivered another hint while addressing residents of Nyeri after inspecting the construction of Thiba Dam.

The previous day Mr Odinga had passed through Nyeri on the way to Embu for his Azimio campaigns. The President took the opportunity to remind area residents of Mr Odinga’s visit.

“Yesterday you had a visitor passing here,” the President said, and asked the crowd whether they had seen and heard Mr Odinga’s message.

“It is you people who will decide,” he concluded.

Ruto's early campaigns

After presiding over the pass out parade of Kenya Prisons Officers at their training school in Ruiru, the President dug in his support for Mr Odinga, while assailing his deputy.

“Don’t accept the good work I have done in the last nine years and that which Mwai Kibaki did before me be wiped away by thieves and the corrupt ones,” he said, remarks that triggered retaliation from DP Ruto’s allies who challenged him to reveal the corrupt individuals he was referring to.

While commissioning Nakuru City, a day after the State of Nation address in Parliament, the President, in remarks taken as a dig at DP Ruto over his early campaigns, appeared to suggested that Mr Odinga was the man to beat in the next presidential poll.

He didn’t mention names, though. But his use of riddles in reference of the presidential race being a marathon and a sprint left little doubt on what he was referring to.

In an apparent snide at his deputy and a show of support for Mr Odinga as his successor, the President asked the youth not to rush in making their decision on who they will vote for in the coming polls.

“Don’t make serious decisions in haste because high speed will have you fall. Leadership is not a game. It is not a sprint but a marathon. You will sprint and run and collapse while the an old person will come and overtake you,” said the President. 

Yesterday, Mr Odinga while making his Jamhuri Day address after the president granted him the opportunity, appeared to use the occasion to attack DP Ruto who owns the Weston Hotel, which he claimed was illegally hived off from the Uhuru Gardens. 

“Next to the Weston Hotel, which was part of this ground, in Lang’ata primary school, there are torture chambers preserved by the Museums of Kenya for people to know where we have come from... I want to congratulate you in front of many Kenyans here for the work that you have done that will only be recognised many years after you have left office.”

“This land had been grabbed by those land grabbers who do not see any open space and stop grabbing them. You managed to retrieve it back for the benefit of our people and it’s going to remain truly Uhuru gardens where we are going to bury our heroes and remember them for posterity,” Mr Odinga said while referring to President Kenyatta.

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