President Uhuru Kenyatta has emerged as a chess master by pulling calculated political manoeuvres that have turned out to be lethal against his estranged deputy William Ruto’s bid to occupy the top seat.
Despite assuming a low profile in the campaigns of Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Coalition presidential candidate Raila Odinga, Mr Kenyatta’s hand is seen in every grand scheme to sweep the veteran politician into power in the August 9 polls.
From crafting the first major coalition party, bringing on board key political players and retaining Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka while tapping the women vote by backing the nomination of Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua as Mr Odinga’s running mate, President Kenyatta has managed to remain a central player in his succession at the phase of his presidency where he is expected to be a lame duck.
Although he has not come out to join the campaign trail in drumming up support for Mr Odinga, the President is pulling strings behind the scenes to lift the former premier’s popularity.
He has deployed his campaign strategists to assist in crafting Azimio’s winning formula by having a record 16 regional campaign teams to bolster Mr Odinga’s presence across the country.
But to deflect the line by the rival Kenya Kwanza of Dr Ruto that Mr Odinga is a puppet or state project, the president has deliberately kept off the campaign trail and has been covert in some of his moves while couching others with significant political ramifications as just his normal duties.
Yesterday June 10, in a geopolitical breakthrough with local political significance in the Mt Kenya East region, reports emerged that president had negotiated a bilateral deal with Somalia that, once signed, will lift the ban on miraa exports from Kenya.
This is likely to be a blow to Dr Ruto’s team that has been promising to negotiate the lifting of the long-standing ban that has blocked sales to Kenya’s biggest miraa market.
Speaking in Meru on Thursday, Mr Rigathi Gachagua, Dr Ruto’s running mate, promised that their administration will engage countries like Somalia, among others, to find a market for miraa.
Agriculture Cabinet secretary Peter Munya yesterday announced that direct flights between the two countries would also resume from next Tuesday in a move that would enable the crop to be flown directly from Isiolo airport.
“We want to thank President Uhuru Kenyatta for the diplomatic negotiations he has been carrying out quietly. The ban had greatly affected the economy of Mt Kenya East and the farmers’ earnings,” he said.
Jubilee deputy secretary-general and the Cherang’any MP Joshua Kutuny says that the forays the former prime minister has made in Central Kenya are because of President Kenyatta’s initiatives.
“Whatever has happened in the Central region in selling Raila is Uhuru’s initiative, it is not because of any other political initiative,” said Mr Kutuny.
Mr Kenyatta, through his confidant and Kanu boss Gideon Moi, was behind Mr Musyoka’s recent return to Azimio after he left in protest for being sidestepped in picking of the running mate.
Mr Musyoka’s rejoining the coalition was a major win as it is likely to come with the voting bloc from the three Ukambani counties of Kitui, Makueni and Machakos, which some estimates put at about 1.6 million.
DP Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance had tried to exploit the tiff between Mr Odinga and Mr Kalonzo by telling the former to insist on the running mate slot. The scheme was to create a wedge and have them go separate ways to benefit Ruto's presidential bid.
Recently, Mr Gachagua said that by keeping off the hardcore political campaigns, the Head of state had protected himself from indignity as politicians in the rival camp would have taken on him directly.
“The presence of the President in the campaigns was giving Dr Ruto’s strategists a hard time trying to balance between respecting him and countering his presence. We can now breathe a sigh of relief even after Mr Odinga chose one of our daughters, Ms Karua, to be his shield. Even for her, we will devise a way to tackle Mr Odinga without fouling her... we will get a way that will not harm her as we target our common opponent,” said Mr Gachagua.
But, in yet another important move, Mr Kenyatta appears to have unleashed his key Cabinet ministers, principal secretaries as well as strategists to help Mr Odinga in his State House campaign journey.
This has seen the DP’s team cry foul, alleging attempts to compromise the credibility of the August 9 elections through the involvement of state officers in the campaigns.
Dr Ruto’s UDA has piled pressure on Director of Public Prosecution Noordin Haji and Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to take action against state officers for their involvement in active politics.
But Interior CS Fred Matiang’i, his ICT counterpart Joe Mucheru, Mr Munya (Agriculture), Eugene Wamalwa (Defence), James Macharia (Transport) and Keriako Tobiko (Environment) have continued to enjoy the blessings of the President as they drum up for Mr Odinga’s bid.
“You were our supervisor in the 2017 campaigns, why do you want us prosecuted for supporting Raila Odinga and Martha Karua in 2022? The inconsistency and his double-speak gives us shivers whether he is really ready to run the next government,” said CS Wamalwa.
Constitutional lawyer Bobby Mkangi – one of the framers of the 2010 constitution – argues that although Cabinet secretaries have been allowed to politically push for the ideologies and policies of the government they serve, coming out to be active in an election remains unconstitutional.
Mr Mkangi says that when drafting the constitution, they wanted a separation of powers to ensure that holders of various dockets breed public confidence.
He argues that based on the past experiences of 2007, 2013 and 2017, Cabinet secretaries who hold dockets which will be critical in an election like ICT and security should keep off politics.
“Cabinet secretaries are advisors and executors of the President's missions, to that extent, they are political creatures. Where the problem comes is when the same Cabinet secretaries are directly participating in processes which may build the perception of partiality and that is the second bit in that section of the leadership and integrity Act,” Mr Mkangi explained.
He went ahead: “When you look at elections and certain dockets and not all, the perfect position will be if they all were not involved in politics. If you zero in and look at certain portfolios, they are key to electoral management like security, ICT.
When you find the personalities executing those offices coming out and declaring their positions, dedicating their resources including themselves as human capital using public resources in campaigning, you find that there is illegality in that.”
Nonetheless, Mr Kenyatta’s impact has continued to be felt even in voting blocs. A recent opinion poll by Infotrak showed that the Northern region, which was President Kenyatta’s stronghold in the 2017 General Election, has become Mr Odinga’s base now.
With the intervention of President Kenyatta, majority of leaders in the region have pledged their support to Mr Odinga with only a few of the most influential regional leaders like Garissa Township MP Aden Duale and like Wajir deputy governor Ahmed Ali Mukhtar remaining in Dr Ruto’s camp.
Isiolo Woman rep Rehema Jaldesa, who was staunch ally of DP Ruto, recently defected to Azimio after meeting President Kenyatta at State House, same to Mandera Senator Mohamed Maalim Mohamud.
Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, a firebrand critic of DP Ruto, says that as those supporting President Kenyatta, they have his blessings and they believe in his political timing as they continue with grassroots mobilisation.
“We as Jubilee have re-activated our political wing and rebuilt what those who left had unsuccessfully tried to destroy. The ‘new’ Jubilee is once again attractive to many, and we are confident it will still be the largest party next term. We have also learnt to trust in President Kenyatta’s political timing; as he always tends to be accurate,” said Mr Wambugu.
Jubilee Director of Elections and Kieni MP Kanini Kega yesterday said they still expect President Kenyatta to hit the ground running to campaign for Mr Odinga while commissioning projects.
“President has many projects that he has not unveiled like the Expressway and many others across the country. In the process, he will be on the ground because he is still the President,” he said.
During the Madaraka Day celebrations, President Kenyatta evoked gender cards, something which has thrown Kenya Kwanza Alliance back to the drawing board to counter the move, including yesterday’s pact with women from across the country.