Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, the Wiper Democratic Movement party leader and self-declared kingpin of the Ukambani region, does not appear at first glance to be a calculating politician.
But looks can be deceiving, for Mr Musyoka has somehow managed to remain politically relevant through generations, and this year is no different.
That he is in pole position to be the kingmaker in the August elections is not in doubt, and he appears to know this all too well. He has said time and again that he is in the presidential race to the end, but opinion is divided as to whether he actually means it.
For many, Mr Musyoka is this year’s ultimate kingmaker; but to the Wiper leader, he is the king in making. The man of the moment. The fulcrum around which Kenya’s political masses ought to rotate. And he is kicking up such a ruckus while at it.
Eyed by both UDA leader William Ruto and ODM boss Raila Odinga, Mr Musyoka is today the embodiment of political currency. Dr Ruto would definitely benefit from a Wiper or One Kenya Alliance (OKA) backing, but the biggest beneficiary of such a move would be Mr Odinga.
In his fifth presidential run, the ODM leader needs the backing of his running mate in the last two elections, hopeful that this time with the support of some sections of Mt Kenya, he might just secure the elusive presidency.
Mr Odinga, who is cobbling the Azimio la Umoja coalition, cannot afford to lose the backing of Mr Musyoka, with whom he ran on a joint ticket in 2013 and 2017, and who delivered the Ukambani vote bloc.
This, perhaps, explains the latest reports of coalition talks with Mr Musyoka, reportedly aided by President Uhuru Kenyatta. Mr Musyoka and his aides keep refuting these allegations, but those in the know say there is concerted behind-the-scene pulling of strings to have the two enter a pre-election coalition agreement.
It is estimated that Mr Musyoka delivered as much as 1.8 million votes to Mr Odinga’s vote basket in 2013 and 2017. Kitui, Makueni and Machakos, which form Mr Musyoka’s political base, gave Mr Odinga 900,405 votes out of the 1,068,684 who had registered in 2013. This jumped to 968,437 in 2017.
But in both elections, Mr Odinga fell short of the 50 per cent plus one needed to win, which means without this vote bloc, he would still be in the same predicament even if he were to secure a fraction of the Mt Kenya vote.
With the region’s vote expected to increase to 2.1 million, the Ukambani votes are perhaps the single biggest bloc bankable by someone other than Mr Odinga and his main opponent in the race to succeed President Kenyatta, Dr Ruto. And there is also the Kamba community in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kwale and Taita-Taveta counties, which is also largely swayed by Mr Musyoka’s political position.
For Dr Ruto, flipping a region that snubbed Jubilee in the last two elections would be an added advantage, which explains why he has lately stepped up the vote hunt in Ukambani. And having secured the backing of Mr Musyoka’s former allies in OKA – Mr Musalia Mudavadi (ANC) and Moses Wetang’ula (Ford Kenya) – bagging the former vice-president would improve his fortunes.
But like an unwilling bride, the man from Tseikuru, the hilly land of Ukambani where the sun burns bright and the wind blows light, has remained indecisive on whether to join Mr Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja or go it alone, having ruled out a coalition with DP Ruto.
Perhaps keen to raise his bargaining power – if he doesn’t go it alone – Mr Musyoka is playing hardball even as pressure piles on him to reconcile with Mr Odinga.
Governors Charity Ngilu (Kitui), Alfred Mutua (Machakos) and Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni) have already declared their support for Mr Odinga in the forthcoming elections.
While he sees himself as a possible kingmaker if he joins Mr Odinga, Mr Musyoka believes his role is much more than just making the king.
“I see myself as the next king. Labelling me a kingmaker is speculative. We are going into this with a resolve, all in the best interest of our country,” Mr Musyoka told the Nation in an interview last month. And in June last year he was categorical that he would rather retire from politics than support Mr Odinga’s presidential bid.
“It would be unthinkable to support Mr Odinga for the third time. I would be the most stupid person to once again support his bid without a measure of reciprocity,” Mr Musyoka said.
“I don’t see any person convincing me to support him. I’d rather go back to Tseikuru than support him again. At the age of 67, this is my moment. I must run. If I don’t, when will I?
Joining Azimio train
Monday, just a day after meeting with Mr Odinga at a Mombasa hotel before holding rallies a few kilometres apart, he appeared to change his stand on this, saying he had no problem joining the Azimio train, citing his existing post-election coalition agreement with President Kenyatta.
“We shall have final talks soon. We in OKA shall have honest discussions. Everybody knows I supported Raila Odinga for 10 years. In 2017 I did the same and we won but this time we shall have an honest discussion,” said Mr Musyoka in Kwale.
“In the talks, I will face everybody, even if it is Mr Odinga, and I will ask Kanu chairman Gideon Moi to witness the talks since he is an honest man. That is why I trust him. Another person who should be in the talks is President Uhuru Kenyatta,” said Mr Musyoka, adding that it was former President Daniel Moi’s last wish that he works with the younger Moi.
Running out of time
But for the former vice-president, having been dumped by Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula, who have since joined the Kenya Kwanza Alliance led by Dr Ruto, he is running out of time. And energy.
While all signs indicate that OKA is headed to President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga’s Azimio, Mr Musyoka is still sceptical about joining the coalition. Makueni MP Dan Maanzo had earlier told the Nation the only way Mr Musyoka would work with the ODM leader is if Mr Odinga endorses the Wiper leader for President.
“He said that he will support Kalonzo whether he wins or not. Kalonzo has supported him twice. It is now time Raila also declares ‘Kalonzo Tosha’. That will be a sure bet to beat DP Ruto,” Mr Maanzo said.
However, in a statement seen as a softening of his stance, Mr Maanzo said should the two decide to work together again, then Mr Odinga needs to work with OKA as a coalition in order to strengthen his vote bloc in Eastern and Mt Kenya.
“In a presidential election, every vote counts. Raila is not going anywhere without OKA. Let them change tack and be persuasive. That is the only way people will agree but not using force,” Mr Maanzo said.
Kathiani MP Robert Mbui also said should they agree to work with Mr Odinga, they will go as equal partners and form a coalition.
Latest reports indicate that Mr Musyoka met Mr Odinga at Tamarind Hotel in Mombasa where the two discussed the possibility of working together again. However, Mr Musyoka’s allies have dismissed suggestions the two engaged in talks on a coalition.
Kitui Central MP Makali Mulu said the two leaders spent the night at the hotel and only met during breakfast and had talks as friends but there was nothing on Mr Musyoka joining Azimio.
He added that in the event Mr Musyoka decides to work with Mr Odinga, then OKA will only engage Azimio in structured talks once it has put its house in order.
“Informed by our previous experience, we are not going to engage in any meetings in a hotel. We must have structured and open talks and we have to engage as equal partners,” said Mr Mulu.
OKA flag bearer
The MP, who is accompanying Mr Musyoka in his Coast tour, said OKA is now focussed on naming its flag bearer and putting other structures in place.
“For now we don’t even have structures as OKA but at least we are registered, Azimio is not yet registered so how do we engage?” Mr Mulu posed.
Sources told the Nation that Mr Musyoka had a meeting with his troops at Tamarind up to 2am where the possibility of working with Mr Odinga was discussed.
Though Mr Musyoka has expressed willingness to work with Mr Odinga, he is reluctant to commit on paper, citing past betrayals and pressure from some of his allies who are opposed to any deal that suggests that their man should back the ODM chief’s bid.
“Why should we join them? This thing should not be seen as one way. They can also join us and we form a coalition,” said Mr Mulu.
Will Mr Musyoka drop his call to be let at the ball in spite of a more experienced player? For the 68-year-old soft-spoken ex-vice president, only time will tell.