President Kibaki has been thrust into a dilemma over Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidential campaign.
While President Kibaki has declared that he will not endorse any of the presidential hopefuls, the elite group around him have barely disguised the fact that they favour Mr Kenyatta to succeed him.
However, Mr Kenyatta’s candidature has been complicated by the case he is facing at the International Criminal Court.
There is a risk that a Kibaki endorsement of Mr Kenyatta would raise eyebrows in international circles even as may in Central Province have made it clear that the son of Kenya’s first President is their candidate.
Mr Kenyatta came to the President’s rescue ahead of the 2007 poll when his stay at the State House was threatened.
With the ICC trials, set to begin next April––a few days after the next elections––the Sunday Nation has established that some members of President Kibaki’s inner circle are becoming increasingly persuaded that the Uhuru candidature is untenable.
Their thinking is that if Mr Kenyatta wins State House, Kenya will be stuck with a President indicted by the ICC, a situation that might put the country in an awkward position with the likes of the United States, Britain and several powerful European countries. (Read: Mudavadi and Uhuru battle for Kibaki vote)
“There is legitimate concern that we might find ourselves in a Sudan-type situation and be disowned by the other civilised communities,” said a Cabinet minister from President Kibaki’s side of the coalition. The other accused in the case is Eldoret North MP William Ruto.
The two are charged with crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the 2007/8 violence alongside former Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura and radio journalist Joshua arap Sang.
It is noteworthy that Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto reacted with anger following the recent visit to Kenya by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Mr Ruto accused Mrs Clinton of plotting to lock him and Mr Kenyatta out of the race. (Read: Why Uhuru and Ruto are uneasy with Clinton visit)
“The US Secretary of State has told the government that Mr Kenyatta and I are not supposed to run. She has also hinted that America will impose sanctions on us if we participate in the polls and win. This is dictatorship,” he said.
This possibility, according to the minister who requested anonymity for fear of antagonising Mr Kenyatta, is the driving force pushing for Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi as a fallback candidate. The Sabatia MP is campaigning for the presidency under the United Democratic Forum (UDF).
Those said to be supportive of Mr Mudavadi’s candidature include President Kibaki’s private secretary Nick Wanjohi, one of the forces behind the UDF, an influential businesswoman from Nyeri with the President’s ear, assistant minister Ndiritu Muriithi, a Kibaki nephew and a member of the First Family.
Mr Muriithi has been criss-crossing the country campaigning for Mr Mudavadi.
However, the minister said that Uhuru is totally opposed to any suggestion that he forfeits his presidential ambition in favour of Mr Mudavadi, a position which was confirmed by TNA secretary-general Onyango Oloo.
This has led to some sort of standoff between him and President Kibaki’s allies backing the UDF candidate.
Mr Kenyatta will be on the ballot “come hell or high water”.
“TNA will be presenting Mr Kenyatta to the people and Kenyans will decide. We will not move left or right. You can take that to the bank,” said Mr Oloo.
He said the people around President Kibaki backing Mr Mudavadi were pushing their own interests. The Uhuru camp is increasingly uncomfortable with the Mudavadi campaign and what they see as the Head of State’s shadow behind the effort, a move that is creating a rift between the TNA leader and some of Mr Kibaki’s men.
“We have a duty to take the reigns of power. We are not going to be party to any boardroom deals. Unless Mr Mudavadi enters a coalition with us, we’ll fight against him like any other opponent. It is either he is with us or against us,” said Mr Oloo.
“ICC has said it has no interest in the Kenyan elections. Nothing in our laws bars Mr Kenyatta from contesting the presidency. He is presumed innocent until proved guilty.”
Another member of Team Uhuru, Mr Moses Kuria, said that Mr Kenyatta was not a Kikuyu candidate and accused Mr Mudavadi of using “scare tactics” to force members of the ethnic group to back him. “He is saying that we are in trouble. That other communities will gang up against us,” said Mr Kuria.
The Uhuru campaign makes three arguments that could leave the President in deeper dilemma.
First, they argue that nothing bars The National Alliance presidential hopeful from the ballot.
Secondly, according to the minister, having declined to run for State House in 2007 in favour of President Kibaki, Team Uhuru believes that the Head of State has a moral obligation to support Mr Kenyatta in the next election.
It would have certainly been difficult for President Kibaki to win had Mr Kenyatta run, a move that would have split their Central Kenya vote probably to the advantage of then Orange Democratic Movement candidate Raila Odinga.
“He thinks President Kibaki owes him a favour in reciprocation. They are placing the President in a situation where he can be accused of betraying Mr Kenyatta if he doesn’t support him. It is a tricky demand to face if you are in the President’s corner,” said the PNU minister.
Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka’s supporters also feel that President Kibaki owes them support. Having reinforced President Kibaki’s presidency following the 2007 polls, Mr Musyoka’s backers argue that the President and the Kikuyu should return the favour in March next year.
Mr Odinga’s camp is also staking a claim on support from President Kibaki and the Kikuyu. At a presidential function attended by the PM in Kisumu early this year, Lands minister James Orengo challenged the president to declare “Raila Tosha” to reciprocate what the PM did in 2002.
In the 2002 General Election, Mr Odinga endorsed President Kibaki for the top seat -- a move seen as playing the biggest role in routing Kanu from power.
Then there is the emotive matter of the ICC. Mr Kenyatta is on record as saying that since he did not contest the presidency in 2007, it is President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the key rivals, who should take responsibility for the post-election violence that is the subject of the ICC case.
The insinuation here is that by being named in connection with the violence, Mr Kenyatta, who has declared his innocence, had taken a bullet meant for President Kibaki whose re-election he defended.
What’s more, Mr Mudavadi was among key leaders in the Orange Movement who rallied the country to mass action which is partly blamed for the chaos that claimed over 1,300 lives and saw hundreds of thousands uprooted from their homes.
The coming poll is shaping up mainly as a contest amongst the Big Five: Mr Odinga, Vice-President Musyoka, Mr Kenyatta, Mr Mudavadi and Mr Ruto.
However, a group of activists have moved to court seeking a declaration that the five be barred from running for the presidency due to alleged questions regarding their integrity. The matter has not been determined.
Mr Ruto’s and Mr Kenyatta’s critics accuse them of crusading to get to power as an act of self-preservation. They claim their primary motive is to use power to frustrate the ICC case and entrench impunity.
And even if he were to strike a deal with Mr Mudavadi, a number of political commentators the Sunday Nation spoke to agreed that the President would have to seek “accommodation” for Mr Kenyatta, given his family’s history, stake in Kenya and the ICC case.
But Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni, who is one of Mr Mudavadi’s top campaigners, holds that it is only the Sabatia MP who will defeat Mr Odinga in the first round and prevent a situation in which other communities will gang up against a Mt Kenya candidate in a possible run-off.
“A run-off election will be a repeat of the 41-against-one rhetoric that shaped the disastrous 2007 elections,” he argues.
In an interview with the Sunday Nation yesterday, Mr Kioni argued that Kenya was not ready for either an Odinga or Uhuru presidency.
“The two are polarising, hold strong positions and have near cult following which divides the country and does not allow for dialogue. Mudavadi is the best placed to unite our polarised country because he is acceptable to all.”
Mr Kioni cautions that the Constitution does not allow a tribal bloc to propel one of their own to the presidency.