It is useful to explore the effects of two major developments last week, the first being the signing of an agreement between key opposition figures to present a united front in the next General Election, which moves them a step closer to the realisation of what has been an unlikely united opposition super alliance. At the same time, after a dalliance with the Opposition, Kanu has decided to partner with Jubilee in the election.
The Opposition must still resolve key issues including reaching agreement on a presidential candidate and on many points of detail that have not been concluded. Even then, they can expect that the political establishment will seek to prey on whatever agreement is reached.
Since the re-introduction of multiparty politics in 1992, opposition unity has been a desirable but elusive target in the country’s presidential elections and, other than in 2002 when the main opposition parties came together to fell an indomitable Kanu from power, disunity has been a key factor in explaining opposition electoral failure.
On its part, Kanu’s decision is likely to trigger a significant reconfiguration of the internal politics in Jubilee, whose effects will not be confined in the party. Only late last year, the Jubilee coalition, largely a private pact between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, merged into the Jubilee Party, and also swallowed a number of small parties in the process. Kanu, already an ally of the Jubilee coalition, could also have joined the amalgamated party at that time. However, the former ruling party stayed out and has, in the intervening period, been warming up to the Opposition's Cord, and more recently to Nasa.
Kanu’s decision to work with Jubilee is not without potential complications. First, members of the small parties that joined the Jubilee Party may now feel that they sold short in disbanding their parties. If Kanu did not have to dissolve in order to work with Jubilee, why were they required to dissolve? These parties may view Kanu as the biblical prodigal son, rewarded for disloyalty to the family, where the toiling loyal son had been taken for granted. Merely because it held out, Kanu’s stock in Jubilee has appreciated phenomenally.
Second, the creation of the Jubilee Party was a reaction to the criticism that the former alliance was no more than a private enterprise between Kenyatta and Ruto, in which each held a moiety, leaving nothing for other political actors. Unlike the Jubilee coalition, which was seen as the private property of the two leaders, the Jubilee Party has public stakeholders. However, the agreement between Kenyatta and former President Daniel arap Moi is personal between the two, rather than on behalf of their two parties, and is reminiscent of the Kenyatta-Ruto pact before. The Kenyatta-Moi pact returns Jubilee where it has just come from, and undermines its public status.
Thirdly, Kanu’s own ambitions may bring problems. A substantial reason for the amalgamation of Jubilee was to secure Kenyatta’s support for Ruto’s presidential bid in 2022. In exchange for not presenting a presidential candidate this year and agreeing to support Kenyatta instead, Kanu will reportedly receive a share of the spoils if Jubilee is re-elected, including slots in the cabinet. However, Kanu will have a free hand to present candidates for all the available positions in the next election.
In Rift Valley, where Kanu leader Gideon Moi and Ruto fierce rivals, the electorate in the region is deeply divided between the two, and unless Kanu’s support for Kenyatta is specifically secured, the risk of a split in Jubilee’s support exists, and would significantly imperil the party’s re-election.
While the decision by Kanu to support Jubilee closes ranks and also increases Jubilee’s chances of retaining power, it also massively increases the young Moi’s political value. If Jubilee retains power having benefitted from Kanu’s support, the bargaining power of the former ruling party is likely to increase.
At the same time, Kanu’s rising fortunes will weaken Ruto’s hold over Rift Valley and, with it, whatever claims he has in Jubilee. If, as is possible, Kanu wins some seats at the expense of Ruto’s allies, this will further damage the Deputy President’s claim as the successor to Kenyatta.
Since Jubilee came to power in 2013, there has been a widely-held expectation that Kenyatta and Moi may come together in future. The insecurity that has characterised Ruto’s hold onto the position of Deputy President is partly the result of the view that if Kenyatta and Moi come together, this is likely to endanger Ruto’s political career. From this point of view, the new Kenyatta-Moi pact is a fulfilment of destiny: Kenya will always be ruled by a Kenyatta or a Moi, with any other possibility being merely tolerated rather than intended.
The establishment of a unified Jubilee Party last year was understood to have considerably strengthened Kenyatta’s chances of re-election. In those circumstances, it did not matter even if Kanu chose to stay out of the merged party. Maintaining a good relationship between each of Moi and Ruto, when the two are such bitter rivals, was always going to be a delicate balancing act for Kenyatta, one that he has discharged very well until now. The benefit of a strong re-election platform meant that Kenyatta could defer any difficult decisions on his future dealings with the two until after the election.
It is the fact that the Opposition has presented a credible threat to Kenyatta’s re-election chances which has pushed the President to act to secure his own re-election first, whatever consequences his actions may have for his relationship with Ruto. Courting Moi is a sign that Kenyatta does not trust Ruto to deliver Rift Valley on his own. The President has, thus, relegated his deputy to the same level as the feckless parties that dissolved into Jubilee. Whether or not he realises it now, Kenyatta is no longer capable of guaranteeing his support for Ruto in 2022. Suddenly, the 2017 election is as much a re-election for Jubilee as it is a referendum on whether Ruto can succeed Kenyatta in 2022.