President Uhuru Kenyatta’s campaign strategy is being handled by a lean team of four trusted individuals, leaving friend and foe asking questions about his game-plan with just five months to the General Election.
The core team, which is working closely with a British consultancy group, is a far cry from the 2013 well-oiled campaign behemoth for the Jubilee Alliance Party on whose back Mr Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto had ridden to power that year.
The four are former State House political adviser Nancy Gitau, Jubilee Alliance Party vice-chairman David Murathe, President Mwai Kibaki’s aide Alfred Getonga and the ruling party secretariat head Raphael Tuju.
With the exception of Mr Tuju, the other three have been close to the President and his family for years. They are said to be working with the President’s personal assistant, Mr Jomo Gecaga. Our sources, who spoke in confidence, indicated that Solicitor-General Njee Muturi is also playing a role in the campaigns, though he is careful not to come out openly as he is a civil servant.
Notably, the team does not yet have representatives of Deputy President William Ruto, a fact that several of his allies acknowledged. But Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen downplayed this. “The re-election of the President has so many teams, and every Jubilee supporter is a campaigner in their own way. The fact that there is a team working from one office does not mean it is the only team. It shouldn’t concern anyone that one team does not have this or that person because the other teams are complementing each other in their own way. This campaign is multi-faced ... it’s a movement. In a movement, people organise themselves in different ways, all working towards the same purpose — this one being re-election of the President,” he said.
The campaign team has also tapped Embu Speaker Kariuki Mate, who played a key role in the recent mass voter registration. He, however, said he has not been appointed formally.
“I have not been notified of any appointment to the presidential campaign team, but I would be excited to serve if I am appointed,” he said.
Mr Murathe denied the existence of a formal Presidential campaign team.
“We have just finished voter registration and are moving to party membership recruitment drive; where is the campaigning? The campaign team will be announced by the President and the Deputy President. It will not be a secret. You are making it look like it’s a hush-hush team; that’s not true. The party led by (Mr) Tuju is leading preparations for the elections,” he said.
In 2013, Mr Kenyatta did not formally announce his campaign team. Details of his well-oiled juggernaut emerged after the General Election.
Also involved is the British consultancy company SCL, led by an Indian-British citizen Sabhita Raju. The company has footprints in various countries, including the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe, giving strategic political advice based on data. It was also part of the 2013 elections. On its website, it features a photo of then candidate Kenyatta addressing a huge crowd.
“In advance of the 2013 presidential election, SCL designed and implemented the largest political research project ever conducted in East Africa, sampling and interviewing 47,000 respondents. This comprehensive Target Audience Analysis allowed SCL to draft an effective campaign strategy based on the electorate’s real needs (jobs) and fears (tribal violence). SCL subsequently advised the client (one of Kenya’s two principal parties) on communications, branding and policy,” reads the citation in its website.
Ms Raju declined to answer our questions. “I am not at liberty to answer any question or give any comment. It’s a company policy. We do not talk about any of the projects we may, or may not, work on; or about what we do. I can only refer you to our press office in London, if you like,” she said.
Unlike in 2013 when he had recruited a broad team, five months to the next elections even those who are seen as public faces of the campaign have been reduced to getting instructions from the small group. Last year, Jubilee picked various politicians from each county to lead its grassroots campaign but this idea was dropped following stiff opposition.
The Presidential campaign team has identified veteran journalist Alex Chamwada as its media relations official, deputised by public relations expert Carol Kinuthia.
Mr Murathe, who is Jubilee Party vice- chairman, is a powerful voice in the overall direction of the campaign. He was one of the early defenders of Mr Kenyatta, then a political greenhorn, ahead of the unsuccessful 2002 presidential run.
Jubilee Party officials Caleb Kositany (deputy secretary-general) and Veronica Maina (secretary-general) are also playing key roles at the party headquarters in readiness for nominations in April.
Those who are no longer at the centre of action include former TNA Party chairman and Nominated Senator Johnson Sakaja, who is aspiring to be Nairobi Governor, former head of field operations John Makumi, and the 2013 campaign manager Erastus Wamugo.
Mr Onyango Oloo, who was TNA secretary-general, decamped to ODM recently after his position became untenable in the new order.
Others who played key roles in 2013 are Presidential adviser Jasper Mbiuki, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, Kiambu County Youth Executive Machel Waikenda, former Energy Cabinet Secretary Davies Chirchir and one-time chief of staff at the Deputy President’s office Marianne Keitany.
Mr Patrick Ngatia, who worked closely with Mr Makumi at mobilising the grassroots, is now pursuing the Nyeri Town parliamentary seat. Mr Stephen Njiru, who died recently, was poised to play Mr Mbiuki’s role as legal affairs adviser. His position is yet to be filled.
The directors of PSCU, who are now civil servants and were instrumental in 2013, have also been edged out. They include Munyori Buku, Dennis Itumbi, James Kinyua, David Nzioka and Thomas Kwaka. They are now tasked with running Team Uhuru, a semi-independent unit overseen by Mr Gecaga.
But Mr Sakaja said there was no cause for alarm. “I have heard those concerns — where are the Sakajas and everyone who was there in 2013? But we are here, because ultimately Mr Kenyatta’s win is more important to me than mine. We are still playing a role behind the scenes,” he said.