During his recent Coastal tour, President Uhuru Kenyatta made a show of how he would not be intimidated by local governors Hassan Joho (Mombasa) and Amason Kingi (Kilifi).
For those familiar with his gregarious, back-slapping ways, the sudden anger sounded contrived.
It is not the first time these governors have been rude to him. His belated resort to play hardball has everything to do with electoral timing.
In this election year, Uhuru faces the daunting task of energising his core political base to something like the levels he achieved in 2013.
He may not quite grasp it, but the coming election will not be won by continuously reeling out figures on the new railway, or how the GDP is doing great, or the infrastructure work is going well, or how rural electrification has gone on marvellously.
Besides, the President does not have the luxury to be on the campaign trail continuously, which the Opposition has.
Like most political leaders, Uhuru has a deep-seated craving to be loved by everyone. His inclination is to embrace his opponents in the hope he will convert them to his point of view. Things rarely ever work out that way.
Daniel arap Moi tried this can’t-we-all-be-buddies approach in his early years before reality set in. Believe it or not, none other than Joho was an early target of Uhuru’s hopeful entreaties, before the relationship went irretrievably south.
In their occasional joint public appearances, Uhuru invariably refers to Raila Odinga as “my brother” — and vice-versa. Behind closed doors, of course, what each says of the other is something else.
In a way, Uhuru is a victim of how he is perceived. The Opposition — most particularly ODM — seems not to have ever internalised the legitimacy of his presidency.
It is inconceivable his father or Moi would have entertained the kind of political skirmishes and unseemly exchanges we saw at the Coast.
Yet time and changed circumstances mean Uhuru can never resort to ruling by fiat. I suppose the President understands that and long ago came to terms with it.
To a large extent, Uhuru’s fate lies in how Nasa plays out. If there is one thing that remains negatively embedded in the President’s political psyche, it is the way the entire Opposition galvanised against him when Moi named him Kanu’s presidential candidate in 2002.
Wembe ni ule ule, he used to warn Mwai Kibaki when the latter faced a similar misfortune during the failed 2005 referendum.
The President’s handlers are closely watching whether Nasa turns out like the triumphant National Rainbow Coalition (Narc), or goes the way of the doomed Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Ford).
Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, who considers Nasa to be his baby, is very optimistic everything will turn out well.
At the same time there are signs of turbulence after the Leader of the Minority in the National Assembly, Francis Nyenze, demanded that a 2013 MoU between Wiper and ODM be honoured.
These days, politics has become so polarised that few people give a hoot about opinion polls.
This dismissive attitude is reflected across the political divide. I am among those who believe there is something to be made out of them.
If Uhuru has studied the latest round of polls, he should have noticed that Jubilee’s numbers have not markedly improved from where they were in 2013.
This should tell him that his electoral support base has not expanded much in four years.
The development projects he has pushed for play very well with the base, but in the Opposition areas they generate little excitement.
PROJECTS IN COAST
The Opposition will bash him incessantly on corruption, insecurity, and lack of inclusivity in government appointments.
Too bad for him that he is not running on a clean slate like he did in 2013.
Launches for gubernatorial campaigns have tended to be glitzy affairs where who-is-who in a county is invited.
My former high school prefect and friend, outgoing Nyeri senator and gubernatorial aspirant Mutahi Kagwe, opted for something decidedly different.
He chose representatives of hawkers, shoe-shiners, market women and boda boda riders to grace his launch.
Though I am not Nyerian, I had been invited for the ceremony and had every intention to attend until my temperamental car put paid to my plans by wrecking its radiator.