Allies of former President Uhuru Kenyatta are deserting him in droves, signalling his diminished political clout and exposing him on his decision to continue dabbling in politics.
After 30 MPs from his Jubilee Party met President William Ruto and announced plans to sever ties with the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition, criticism of the party leader, Mr Kenyatta, is getting bolder.
Nominated MP Sabina Chege is the latest to fire a salvo. On Sunday, she issued an ultimatum to Mr Kenyatta to address members on the way forward for the former ruling party, especially over Azimio leader Raila Odinga’s opposition protests, which they have denounced.
“As we waited for his leadership, we saw him aboard a truck in Kisumu (after ex-Education minister George Magoha’s burial) declaring that his party leader was ODM’s Raila Odinga,” Ms Chege said on Inooro TV, wondering whether Jubilee had been pawned to ODM .
The former Murang’a Woman Rep, who was among the leading lights in Mr Odinga’s presidential campaigns that were backed by the then President, reminded Mr Kenyatta that “many of your allies lost the vote not because they were bad but because they stuck with you”.
Kenya Kwanza Alliance
“Personally, I had been approached with an offer by the Kenya Kwanza Alliance to be Nairobi gubernatorial seat running mate but I turned it down for your sake,” Ms Chege said.
The latest developments will test Mr Kenyatta’s political shrewdness, especially while out of power, although a look back at the past 26 years shows he has been a political gambler with interesting results.
The path he has chosen in the early days of his retirement is one that none of his two predecessors—Mr Mwai Kibaki and Mr Daniel Moi—embraced, as both retreated after handing over power, although Mr Moi would occasionally host politicians who sought him out.
Mr Kenyatta has lost and won before, and even in his retirement, he continues to gamble by showing active political passions that might deny him retirement benefits. Pundits say that Mr Kenyatta might be thinking about playing kingmaker in the 2027 General Election.
“Most of the gambles he (Mr Kenyatta) has engaged in turned out to be awry throws. Despite his many losses, he can surprise his fans by winning big, or frustrate them by losing yet again,” says Mt Kenya political analyst Prof Ngugi Njoroge.
Mr Kenyatta's political gambles started in 1997 when he contested the Gatundu South parliamentary seat and lost. Despite then President Moi rescuing him by nominating him to Parliament, he was to gambled a second time by contesting the presidency in 2002 and lost.
But he surprised friends and foes when he joined ranks with “those who wished Mt Kenya political defeats” to oppose the 2005 referendum that was being supported by his backyard and its kingpin, Mr Kibaki. Mr Kenyatta won that gamble, which left him in bad books with his Mt Kenya kinsmen who protested in Gatundu town and burnt his effigy.
He was at it again in 2007 when he gambled by declaring he would contest the presidency against Mr Kibaki. But he quit the race before it started and backed Kibaki who went on to win, and the country erupted with violence. The gamble had gone awry again – after the fighting stopped, Mr Kenyatta was charged at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on allegations of murder, rape and mass displacements. The charges were later dropped.
He came out a winner in the fifth gamble when he contested the 2013 presidency and won, winning again the sixth gamble in 2017 as he secured a second term.
But starting 2018, Mr Kenyatta’s luck seems to have run out after the famous handshake with his long-time rival Mr Odinga.
“The bad spin for his Mt Kenya control came with the handshake with Raila Odinga. It was his seventh bet. It made his authority in Mt Kenya suffer a huge dent, but he opted to soldier on,” says former administrator Joseph Kaguthi.
Mr Kaguthi says that the eighth gamble, which saw Mr Kenyatta kick off a plan to block his deputy, is what opened up rebellion in Mt Kenya to a point where even area children on social media showed him unimaginable contempt.
That did not deter Mr Kenyatta from trying his ninth gamble, which saw him combine forces with Mr Odinga to craft the Building Bridges Initiative, which sought to expand the Executive to cure the winner-take-it-all blamed for conflict after every election. The scheme fell in the Judiciary after the Supreme Court torpedoed it, but Mr Kenyatta went for his tenth gamble by endorsing Mr Odinga to be his preferred presidential candidate.
That appeared to be the proverbial straw that broke Mr Kenyatta’s back as long-term allies turned his biggest foes. A region that had been at his beck and call for more than 10 years became so hostile he avoided it.
Mr Bedan Mwangi has gambled for 20 years in Nairobi casinos and he says for every Sh10 he won, he lost Sh100.
About Mr Kenyatta’s political gambles, he says “not many times did he come out as one who knew how to command the arithmetic behind his games”.
That is how Mr Kenyatta walked confidently into his 10th gamble in the August 9, 2022 General Election. He lost two crucial things—government and Mt Kenya kingship.
By association, he lost the eleventh bet that was the Supreme Court petition against Dr Ruto’s win and proceeded to lose his 12th gamble where he had consistently declared that he would not “hand over power to a thief”.
Mt Kenya kingpin
“It left very little to imagination as to whom he was referring to,” says Mr Kaguthi. He adds: “Now that is water under the bridge and we are here with Dr Ruto as the rightfully elected president and Mr Rigathi Gachagua the Mt Kenya region kingpin.”
Now that Mr Kenyatta has shown readiness to gamble for the 13th time by opting to be politically active in retirement, pundits are keenly waiting to see what comes of it.
National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wa on Sunday said on Inooro TV that “our retired President is not gambling like a realist and is living too long in the fantasy land”. He said that Mr Kenyatta is yet to come to terms with the fact that he has been losing ground too fast “both in Mt Kenya and in his Jubilee Party”.
Mr Ichung’wa observed that even those allies that had staked their necks for Mr Kenyatta are now fleeing into Dr Ruto’s fold.
“His allies are even executing a coup in Jubilee and kicking out people like David Murathe and Jeremiah Kioni from its leadership and that is an obvious message to Mr Kenyatta that he no longer calls the shots in the country or in Jubilee,” he said.
Mr Kaguthi cryptically says: “There is something called mindfulness that seeks whole allegiance to realities at play devoid of daydreaming.”
He said that Mr Kenyatta has had a good run but “this 13th gamble does not look well informed since it does not reflect long-term thoughtfulness”.
“A retired President is a very crucial part of national and global history and all moves that can taint it is not good play. Successful gamblers are a lot like investors whose guiding motive should be profits. The statesmanship stature of a retired President is the profit reflected in realising he is done with his bit and should keep off confrontational power plays,” said Mr Kaguthi.