President Uhuru Kenyatta’s move to unite pro-BBI leaders under one campaign platform presents him with a delicate balancing act in his 2022 succession politics as each of the party bosses is charting his own path to State House.
And as the team plans joint BBI (Building Bridges Initiative) countrywide rallies ahead of a planned June referendum, President Kenyatta’s every word will be examined for hidden meaning, his every move discussed for masked motive as the top politicians allied to him angle for his endorsement in next year’s elections.
An announcement by Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga that he will not endorse anyone in the 2022 presidential race and a growing push by the Uhuru-allied One Kenya Movement comprising of Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi, Moses Wetang’ula and Gideon Moi to chart their own 2022 alliance without Mr Odinga throws President Kenyatta into a political dilemma.
If unresolved, it might complicate the president’s game plan for next year’s poll for which his rebel deputy, William Ruto, has hit the campaign trail, unsettling his Jubilee government.
Choice of successor
President Kenyatta has renewed his bid to influence the choice of his successor by bringing under one roof a BBI Seven team comprising of himself, Mr Odinga, Mr Musyoka of Wiper, Mr Mudavadi of Amani National Congress (ANC), Ford Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula, Mr Moi of Kanu, and National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) boss Charity Ngilu.
The BBI Seven team also has in their corner Makueni governor Kivutha Kibwana, immediate former United Nations Conference on Trade and Development secretary-general Mukhisa Kituyi, Maendeleo Chap Chap boss Alfred Mutua, Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho and his Kakamega counterpart Wycliffe Oparanya — all having declared interest in the top seat. All are allied to President Kenyatta, further complicating an already difficult decision.
2022 presidential politics
“There is no doubt that President Kenyatta will determine, by a large measure, the presidential politics of 2022. I am not saying he will have the last word, but his hand will play a significant role,” University of Nairobi political commentator Herman Manyora said, signalling just how much premium is placed on President Kenyatta’s say, and hence, his dilemma.
And so, 16 months to the end of his second and final term, President Kenyatta, whose estranged deputy has gone on a full throttle offence in his 2022 campaign, is faced with a difficult choice, with a decision on whoever he wants to endorse threatening to backfire if the other groups allied to him bolt out and start different campaigns.
But Mr Manyora does not think that much has changed in the political scene to warrant a change of course from the Uhuru-Raila handshake of March 2018.
“President Kenyatta went to the Handshake with a game plan. Uhuru and Raila must have gone into this Handshake with a plan. I want to believe that nothing major has happened thus far to warrant change of course,” said Mr Manyora.
Mt Kenya backyard
Most critical to the head of State’s succession matrix is the place of his Mt Kenya backyard, which, if it does not produce a presidential candidate, will be the biggest swing vote in recent history, with Dr Ruto and Uhuru-allied forces angling for a share of the pie.
“Nothing stops Mt Kenya region from producing a presidential candidate in 2022. . . Mt Kenya accounts for almost 30 per cent of the votes in Kenya. Even if it does not produce a presidential candidate, it should be in a strong position to occupy the next most important position,” Mr Peter Kenneth said last Sunday, throwing another spanner in the works in the Uhuru succession.
The former Gatanga MP cited the fact that President Mwai Kibaki, who comes from the region, was succeeded by President Kenyatta, even with opposition from the rest of the country.
“We have the numbers — over eight million votes — and as it is the norm, it is the small rivers that join the big ones, not the other way round so we have to use our numbers to negotiate and give terms and if we cannot get the presidency, we can agree we get the other seat,” Mr Kenneth added.
Eight million votes
With an enviable eight million votes — spread out in Kiambu, Murang’a, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Nyandarua, Meru, Embu and Tharaka Nithi as well as sizeable support in Nairobi, Nakuru and Laikipia — Mt Kenya stands to have a big say in who takes over from President Kenyatta, if the high-stakes charm offensive especially by Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga is anything to go by.
“By the time President Kenyatta hits the ground running to sell the BBI message, this small talk of hustler and Ruto will be vanquished completely. Uhuru just needs to traverse through Mt Kenya for a day or two, and it will end all these small noises,” nominated MP Maina Kamanda told the Nation in a previous interview, assessing Mt Kenya’s political direction ahead of 2022.
Mr Kamanda insists that Mr Odinga is the best person to succeed President Kenyatta in 2022, citing his father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s move to relinquish the prime minister’s seat to Jomo Kenyatta at a time when the colonial masters wanted him (Jaramogi) to take the mantle.
He also cites Mr Odinga’s endorsement of then opposition candidate Mr Kibaki in 2002, and the March 2018 Handshake with President Kenyatta.
But Leaders allied to Dr Ruto believe he has reached far and wide in Mt Kenya, holding fundraisers for churches, women and youth groups while spreading his “Hustler Nation” message.
“Mt Kenya already identified Ruto as that man who carries their aspirations and offers them hope. They can see through Raila’s deceit as a self-seeker who has been and remains a power hungry politician with nothing to offer,” Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wah said of the DP’s chances if he is pitted against Mr Odinga or any other politician in the Uhuru camp.
Challenging the idea that all it will take is for President Kenyatta to name a successor who will automatically take over the region’s votes, Mr Ichung’wah insists the region deserves more and will ask for more.
“Raila has failed to understand that Mt Kenya residents are people who identify a genuine leader that they can trust and work with him or her. It is not a region that can either be divided or bequeathed to someone by an individual,” said Mr Ichung’wah.
The Kalonzo-Mudavadi-Wetang’ula-Moi One Kenya Movement, it seems, has pegged its chances on an anti-Raila sentiment both in their regions and in Mt Kenya, keen to always project their support for President Kenyatta, and paint the ODM leader as a spoiler whose time to support another person for the top job has come.
“Raila knows he duped colleagues into backing him in Nasa in 2017 under the false pretence that, win or lose, he wouldn't offer himself as a candidate…Kenyans should ask themselves what a man incapable of keeping a vow with friends is capable of if he wields absolute power,” Mr Mudavadi’s spokesperson Kibisu Kabatesi said in a statement last week.
But Mr Odinga has insisted that he will not back any of his National Super Alliance (Nasa) principals, citing what he says was betrayal in the January 30, 2018 swearing-in as the people’s president.
“We advise the three that if they want the presidency, Raila does not keep the ballots at his home. They must stop dancing around their village huts and travel the breadth of the country seeking that mandate,” ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna said on the endorsement debate.
On the side-lines, Dr Ruto, keen to project himself as the best person to take over from President Kenyatta, has challenged his opponents to shun talks of endorsement and face him at the ballot.
“Let everyone look for votes. Stop this nonsense of saying you will be handed votes. Handed by who? The people giving out votes are the people. Let all these people that want to be president go to the people with their track record. Let the people decide," Dr Ruto said in Malava, Kakamega County on Sunday.
Additional reporting by Martin Mwaura