What you need to know:
- For Uhuru Kenyatta, Nasa coalition leaders and Kanu boss Gideon Moi, stopping DP Ruto from becoming the next president is of utmost importance.
- The alliance is only tenable if it hastens their individual chances of being the next tenant at the State House.
For each of the five political leaders assembled by President Uhuru Kenyatta to craft a coalition ahead of the 2022 elections, the alliance is only tenable if it increases their chances of being the next tenant at the State House.
The president’s handlers admit that is where the problem starts in their journey to block Deputy President William Ruto from taking over the reins of power.
Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga, 76, having been prime minister, believes he is the most senior in the group and should be allowed at least a five-year stint as the country’s chief executive.
For Kalonzo Musyoka, 67, the last vice president before the current constitution was promulgated in August 2010, it is now or never.
The fact that he has backed Mr Odinga (as running mate) in the last two presidential elections further complicates the equation for him. He is facing a restive base that wants him to go for the top job this time round.
“I will be the most stupid fellow on earth to support, for the third time, a presidential candidate without a measure of reciprocity,” Mr Musyoka said in a recent interview.
Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi, his Ford Kenya counterpart Moses Wetang’ula and Kanu chairman Gideon Moi – the triumvirate that makes up the One Kenya alliance (OKA) – all feel they are ripe to lead the country. And that an endorsement from the President, even though they will not admit it in public, will work miracles for their bids.
Observers say President Kenyatta must navigate the dilemma with caution as any slight sign that he favours one at the expense of the others, or without consent from the rest, would see the nascent alliance scattered, shuttering his succession plan.
Jubilee Party Secretary General Raphael Tuju, also a Cabinet secretary, said that in his experience over the years, the amount of pressure communities and close handlers put on regional kingpins makes negotiating merger or coalition deals a herculean task.
“Sometimes, the individual may be ready to cede ground for the greater good, but the risk of being branded a traitor or the expectations of the community makes him or her take a hardline stance. Our democracy is in the embryonic stage, I hope we evolve with time, for the better,” he said.
Mr Wetang’ula said that normally, things look rosy in such talks until the question of who should be the presidential torch-bearer comes up. He reckons it is the most difficult stage in coalition building.
“You have to summon all the skills of consensus building, give and take. You deny yourself for the next day in favour of a brother or sister. Your strength is equal to the amount of support you get from peers, supporters and friends. Everybody’s strength is an aggregate of what you pull together. That’s how we were able to push Mzee Mwai Kibaki through in 2002,” Mr Wetang’ula who was an integral player in the coalition negotiations of 2002, 2013 and 2017 told the Sunday Nation.
Mr Junet Mohamed, the Minority Whip in the National Assembly, said the tribal nature of the country’s politics means that regional leaders must sit down and agree on a line-up before they can capture power.
“The truth is you can’t go it alone and win. Whether they are post-election or pre-election pacts, this aspect of canvassing will remain a feature of our politics for quite some time. But I’m of the view that coalitions will work better when we revert to a parliamentary system as opposed to the presidential where power is concentrated in an individual, the president,” he explained.
President Kenyatta’s success in building a coalition for next year has been curtailed by the supremacy wars and clashing ambitions of the players.
On many occasions, he has met the politicians together, and then follows up with separate meetings to firm up the agreements. In other instances, he has relied on “elders” to make those involved see the urgency of teaming up ahead of the polls.
The Head of State has also been telling the leaders, albeit in private, that failure to work together will be tantamount to handing DP Ruto power on a silver platter.
The determination by the President stems from three reasons, a close handler told us. One, he has gotten to what they consider a point of no return in his strained relationship with his deputy, so he cannot afford to bungle his succession.
There are also concerns in his inner sanctum that in terms of guarantees, the Handshake alliance is more likely to continue with his legacy projects as well as protect his family’s vast business interests.
Dr Ruto’s dislike for Senator Moi, with whom the Kenyattas have a special relationship, is also said to have further complicated the equation for him.
Mistrust in Nasa coalition
At one point when he met party leaders at State House, he reportedly lambasted the Nasa leaders “for making his work difficult”.
“The President felt that he was making it easier for us to clinch power yet some of us were allowing egos and infighting to cloud our judgments and his vision. He was at pains to understand why we were fighting in Nasa yet we have worked together against him in the past,” a party leader who attended the meeting said.
President Kenyatta’s headache has been the mistrust in the moribund Nasa coalition, with the other parties accusing ODM of bullying them. But he appears to have devised an approach that is already working; dealing with the principals directly and assuring them that in the end, they will all be winners.
The fact that he is not running for office next year has accorded him a neutral pedestal to conduct “the shuttle diplomacy”.
While OKA accuses Mr Odinga of mishandling them, they say they have no problem joining a formation crafted by the President.
“The language we have seen from ODM is not the kind that fosters harmony. We have been called parasites and told that they owe us nothing” Mr Wetang’ula said.
Governor Charity Ngilu is among those who believe that the Wiper leader and Mr Odinga should work together in the next elections if they are to stop the DP’s march to State House.
“I believe they can still work together for the good of the nation,” Ms Ngilu, who accompanied the President on his Ukambani tour said on Thursday.
While they may have their differences, the Nasa leaders are united by their desire to block a Ruto presidency at all cost. They somewhat agree that his reign would neither be good for them nor the country, an assertion the DP dismisses as mere scaremongering.
At the burial of former Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo a fortnight ago, Mr Odinga hinted to the alliance saying: “We are assembling a heavy machine. They don’t know what is in store. There’s a tsunami coming. I’m urging you to trust me, we know where we are going.”
Mr Wetang’ula, also the Bungoma senator, revealed that Mr Musyoka met Mr Odinga on Thursday on their behalf as part of efforts to solve the impasse over sharing of funds from the exchequer sent to political parties.
Mr Odinga this week said his party does not owe any money to Nasa affiliates, arguing what they have been getting does not factor in the presidential vote, where Nasa would have come in.
The senator added that talks that would pave way for a super alliance were well on course.
“The intention of President Kenyatta has been to leave a united and peaceful country. One Kenya Alliance has had several meetings with him, this is work in progress and I am confident that it will work” he said.
Political science lecturer Tom Mboya noted that no matter how much a candidate is good in the board room negotiations, the feasibility of his or her ticket depends on two things: “Can they rally the masses to their course and do they have the resources to make this happen? If the answer to these is yes, the peers would have very little choice but to back such a candidate,” he said.
The fact that candidates fronted by a team are sometimes not in charge after winning the election, with handlers and power brokers determining whether they honour coalition terms or not, has bred immense mistrust.
A case in point is the post 2002 period when President Kibaki trashed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) he had with Mr Odinga, which would have seen him appointed prime minister.
For both OKA and ODM is who the biggest concern they have is who the torch-bearer will be and how to control such an individual when he or she becomes President.
There are many historical antecedences to coalition building in the country, with 2002 being one of the most significant.
In the run up to the polls that year, there had been strong lobbying for the National Alliance of Kenya (NAK) to pick a neutral candidate from outside the orbit of the Democratic Party (DP), Ford Kenya and National Party of Kenya (NPK) in what could have seen the fronting of a different candidate other than Mr Kibaki.
The name floated, according to notes by a Cabinet minister who served in the Kibaki government was then National Council of Churches of Kenya chief executive Rev Mutava Musyimi, the former Gachoka MP.
The other alternative, strongly backed by Ford People’s Simeon Nyachae, was to select the NAK candidate through a primary contest. But the physical presence of Mr Kibaki, backed by strong lobbying by Ms Ngilu of NPK and Mr Kijana Wamalwa (Ford Kenya), carried the day.
The late Nyachae stormed out of the arrangement and ran his own campaign, which saw him come a distant third after Mr Kibaki and President Kenyatta.
Jubilee Party vice-chairman David Murathe said that in the end, the separate groups are expected to culminate into one outfit they hope to ride on to victory.
“Expect Jubilee, ODM and One Kenya Alliance to be on the same side when the elections are called. The work the President and his political friends are putting in place will soon show. Our opponents are in for a rude shock,” Mr Murathe, a confidante of the President said.
Other key leaders such as governors Alfred Mutua (Machakos), Ms Ngilu (Kitui), Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni), Wickliffe Oparanya (Kakamega) and Hassan Joho (Mombasa)are part of the team.
DP Ruto is reaching out to the same players, promising them plum positions in his government.
Senator Wetang’ula’s name has consistently been bandied as being on the verge of working with the DP but he denies it. “That is stranger than fiction. If I make any political step, I make it public. I am not double-faced.”
The second in command is also said to have made overtures to Mr Mudavadi as a possible running mate,but the ANC boss says he has his eyes firmly trained on the presidency.
An inclusive Kenya
A leading strategist in Dr Ruto’s camp said they are eagerly awaiting the dissolution of Nasa to pave way for alliance building with its principals.
President Kenyatta’s efforts to bring what used to be the opposition together were jolted by the High Court ruling that “stopped reggae”, the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) led by him and Mr Odinga to amend the constitution.
The BBI was to, among other things, expand the Executive branch of government by re-introducing the positions of a prime minister and two deputies, which would make it easy to create the super alliance.
If the constitution will not be changed, observers say building the new outfit will run into problems on how to share out positions.
Kanu Secretary-General Nick Salat yesterday said that BBI or no BBI, talks on an all-inclusive alliance to be launched before the next elections were progressing on well.
“In the event we run out of time through the BBI, we will set aside our individual ambitions and form one formidable force. We all agree that the present arrangement has no room for all of us, that’s why we wanted BBI. But time is of essence. Unity is key for those of us who have decided that an inclusive Kenya is conducive for all of us. Efforts are being put in place to ensure we do not disintegrate,” he said.
If the push comes to fruition, it will add another chapter to the short shelf life of parties and alliances in the country.
In this context, they are referred to as special purpose vehicles, which are abandoned as soon as the short-term objectives are achieved.
In the run up to the 2017 General Election, President Kenyatta and Dr Ruto led 12 other parties into closing shop to join Jubilee. The idea was to come up with a national party, which they rode on to win both the presidency and majority seats in Parliament.
But no sooner had they won power than they were plunged into internal strife, largely accelerated by the political truce (Handshake) the President reached with Mr Odinga.