It may well have been a case of the Kiswahili adage, “mwenye nguvu mpishe (pave way for the strong), but there is no denying the move by former governors Isaac Ruto and Peter Munya to back President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election bid has bolstered Jubilee Party’s campaign and robbed Raila Odinga’s Nasa of valuable allies.
Mr Ruto and Munya are not your ordinary ex-governors. They are political party leaders who separately served in the powerful position of Chairman of the Council of Governors and were Mr Kenyatta’s harshest critics.
Jubilee’s excitement is therefore understandable considering they plucked the two from the rival Nasa camp after Mr Kenyatta’s win in the August poll was nullified.
Mr Ruto was one of the co-principals of Nasa, while Munya was a post-poll member whose political dalliance with Mr Odinga and Mr Kalonzo Musyoka barely lasted one week.
The two, who hail from Jubilee-leaning counties of Bomet and Meru, were both subjected to poll defeats – a sobering reality that could have persuaded them to retreat to Mr Kenyatta’s corner.
This reality notwithstanding, Mr Ruto and Munya are a big political catch for the Jubilee team, not necessarily for what they bring to the Kenyatta-William Ruto campaign table but rather for what they are bound to deny the Raila-Kalonzo pair.
According to the vice-chairman of Jubilee Party, David Murathe, the return of the duo has helped the Kenyatta campaign to substantially fence off the Meru and Kalenjin voting blocs in favour of the President.
Noting that prevention of “voter leakage” is key to Jubilee’s campaign strategy, the one-time Gatanga legislator opines that Nasa rivals must now go back to the drawing board to identify new point men and avenues to set foot in their strongholds of Bomet and Meru counties.
Mr Odinga has attributed the withdrawal of Ruto and Munya from supporting his presidential candidature to “blackmail and intense pressure” from the Executive. However, the Nasa presidential candidate maintains his support, particularly in Meru county, remains intact.
In an interview with a local TV station this week, the former Prime Minister explained that when his team went to the polls in August, they did so largely with the support of their own contacts on the ground. The import of Mr Odinga’s sentiments is that nothing is lost so far.
Nonetheless, Dr Edward Kisiang’ani, a commentator on political affairs, observes that the Ruto-Munya exit from Nasa has given the Kenyatta campaign a vital psychological boost:
“It is true the return of the two political bigwigs partly seals off these regions for Jubilee and locks out Nasa. This gives some psychological confidence to Jubilee, only that it is highly unlikely that the return of Ruto and Munya will translate into more votes in their strongholds.”
The argument of the History and Political Science lecturer at Kenyatta University is based on the observation that Mr Ruto, for instance, did not realise “enough votes” for the Nasa presidential candidate and in fact lost in his own re-election bid as governor of Bomet.
“The exit of Mr Ruto is of little significance to Nasa. He was largely absent during their public events and it remains debatable the extent to which he contributed to Raila-Kalonzo’s presidential votes realised in Rift Valley,” opines Dr Kisiang’ani.
With regard to Munya, Dr Kisiang’ani claims the shift to Mr Kenyatta “means absolutely nothing.”
He points out that the Party of National Unity (PNU) leader never actually campaigned for Mr Odinga since his party was affiliated to Mr Kenyatta’s Jubilee.
“Owing to the poll loss, Mr Munya merely just used Nasa as a ploy to get attention from President Kenyatta. Otherwise, his shift to the Kenyatta camp also changes nothing in terms of Nasa’s presidential votes,” says Dr Kisiang’ani.
While Nasa might not necessarily suffer any loss, “from what might be already in their basket”, Igembe North MP, Maoka Maore points out the Odinga-Kalonzo candidature was destined to gain even more votes had the former Meru governor not reversed his decision.
The move by Mr Munya to support Mr Kenyatta’s presidential bid has, according to Mr Maore, helped a great deal in reversing Nasa’s possible gains in the Meru region.
Contrary to opinion elsewhere that Mr Munya’s political clout had quickly eroded, Mr Maore views the former governor as very calculative and one “who was going to capitalise on local divisive politics to deliver” substantial votes to Nasa opponents.
Defections are not a new political phenomenon as they have largely been instigated over the years by governments of the day to weaken the Opposition in Parliament.
However, the fresh presidential elections ordered by the Supreme Court is a unique moment never witnessed in Kenya, and one which could trigger a spate defections.
Indeed, for a moment, the defections of Nasa co-principals, Ruto and Munya, in quick succession caused jitters and excitement in the political circles.
Two days later another co-principal, Musalia Mudavadi, was reported to have resigned from the opposition outfit. It turned out, though, that communication on the latter was a fake – Mudavadi’s signature was a forgery and the letter was vague and economical on a host of facts, including where the Amani National Congress (ANC) leader had “defected” to.
Whether or not this was a Jubilee ploy designed to deal Nasa a psychological blow, the plot on Mr Mudavadi was obviously overstretched. Nasa is a brainchild of the one-time Vice President and it is unlikely that he can desert his own baby.
Mr Mudavadi himself reacted by suggesting that this was a ploy by desperate opponents trying all tricks in the book.
But with confirmation of the defections of Mr Ruto and Munya, who are considered by some as among the most independent-minded politicians, Jubilee is emboldened to make even more political raids in the opponent’s territory.
According to Mr Murathe, the party is keen on winning over more players from the Nasa side and “things are already looking good because the Jubilee of 2017 is more national in outlook as compared to the 2013 one that was criticised by many as being representative of only two tribes”.
Defection, as political weapon, has been employed in Kenya’s history with mixed outcomes.
The first mass defections were witnessed at independence when the Kadu of the late Ronald Ngala and retired President Moi, crossed the floor of Parliament to join Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s Kanu party.
Today, the sons of these two founding fathers – Uhuru and Raila – are at the mix of the defection game.
Then Jomo and Jaramogi were on one side and they sweet-talked Kadu colleagues, except Secretary General Martin Shikuku who declined to defect – to join the independence party for the sake of forging interests of a united nation.
The difference is that today Uhuru and Raila are pulling from different ends.
The impact of the defection plot, argues Dr Kisiang’ani, will depend not necessarily on the clout of the targeted politicians but the campaign issues that are popular to the electorate.