Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga

President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) with ODM leader Raila Odinga during the launch of the Building Bridges Initiative report in Nairobi on November 27, 2019.


President Uhuru Kenyatta’s hand in his succession 

What you need to know:

  • President Uhuru Kenyatta's actions are conspicuously hinting at who his preferred successor is.
  • This is a big departure from his predecessor Mwai Kibaki, who remained uninvolved in his succession.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, who had hitherto been silent about his succession ahead of the August General Election, is now playing chess master from State House.

With less than seven months to the elections, the Head of State has embarked on activities in earnest, giving a hint on who he would like to succeed him.

Although he has not pronounced who Kenyans should vote for, his actions are conspicuously hinting at who the President’s preferred candidate is.

From Cabinet secretaries accompanying Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga on his campaign tours, to meetings with lawmakers who are leaning towards him, President Kenyatta is gradually putting himself at the centre of his succession.

This is a big departure from his predecessor Mwai Kibaki, who remained uninvolved in his succession, but mirrors the political life of his mentor, President Daniel arap Moi, whose attempt to anoint Mr Kenyatta his successor in 2002 flopped. 

While meeting Luhya leaders at State House, Nairobi, on Tuesday, the Head of State reportedly asked leaders to back Mr Odinga’s bid, one he said he would market soon. 

Two weeks ago, the President met the Odinga-led Azimio la Umoja-leaning MPs at State House, and called for unity while defending his backing of the ODM boss. 

“The President said the two communities that have ruled this country appear to be far ahead of the rest of Kenyans and it is time we open up the leadership to other communities, which we totally agree with,” said Democratic Action Party Kenya (DAP-K) Secretary General Eseli Simiyu of the Tuesday meeting. 

During the meeting with Azimio MPs, President Kenyatta said he would soon hit the ground in what his lieutenants believe will be giving the country direction on his succession.

State project

“He committed himself that he would be at the centre of the political future and he did also mention that yes, he had requested leaders and Kenyans to give him time to work on his development agenda and now that it is an electioneering year, he is also going to play politics,” said Jubilee Deputy Secretary General Joshua Kutuny, who is also the Cherang’any MP.

Recently, Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia and Water Principal Secretary Joseph Wairagu represented the government when Mr Odinga was meeting leaders from Murang’a in Gatanga constituency. 

The move by the Head of State to try and control his succession seems to have jolted the rivals of the ODM boss, who have since labeled him a state project.

While addressing a political rally in Eldama Ravine, Baringo County, yesterday, Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi, who has joined forces with the DP, said: “We will not accept a government project in our politics. Azimio is a stalled project.”

Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, an ardent defender of the DP, yesterday asked Mr Kenyatta to keep off his succession and allow Kenyans to elect whoever they want in August.

“We do request President Kenyatta to emulate retired President Mwai Kibaki and retire peacefully. Leave the people of Kenya to freely elect their next President. He should be grateful for the 10 years we gave him. We cannot transfer our loyalty to him to a third party,” Mr Gachagua said.

This comes even as it emerges that the President is planning a thanksgiving tour across the country where it is expected he will tell Kenyans who he wants to succeed him.

“President Kenyatta will explain why he fell out with his deputy and the direction he wants the region and the country to take,” Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu said in an interview.

Though he has never said it explicitly, the President seems to be leaning towards the ODM leader.

Uhuru's endorsement

Mr Odinga has been on record saying that he does not need President Kenyatta’s endorsement but only his vote while noting that he will concede defeat if he loses fairly.

“I do not want the President's endorsement, I only want his vote, he does not have to endorse me and I am not a project. I do not want to be seen as a project. I want to run as Raila Odinga the way I have run and if the President offers his vote, I will be extremely grateful,” said the ODM chief recently.

Prof Ken Oluoch, the head of the Political Science Department at Moi University, said that anyone who wants to succeed President Kenyatta must work hard not to be endorsed by him, arguing that in our democracy, it is prudent if the presidential aspirants build their bases without any support from those in power.

“The tag ‘Project’ is not good for any of the potential presidential candidates. In an emerging democracy such as this, each presidential candidate would rather be seen as depending on his own popularity and manifesto as a means of attracting votes,” Prof Oluoch argued.

University of Nairobi lecturer X N Iraki argued that the project tag can be good or bad, depending on how the outgoing president has performed.

If voters feel that the head of state let them down by not delivering their desires, the candidate he supports will be voted out.

Citing Mr Odinga’s ‘Kibaki Tosha’ call in 2002, Prof Iraki said the sponsor in that case had a positive image in the eyes of the people, and his endorsement worked in favour of Mr Kibaki. 

“It can be negative as Uhuru Kenyatta found out in 2002. The project might be seen as weak and an extension of the sponsor’s influence because voters are now more enlightened,” he opined.

However, the President is said to be keen on leaving the country in the hands of someone who will unite the country and continue with his projects.