Watching opposition chiefs preside over the official launch of the National Integrated Identity Management System on Tuesday and eloquently articulate the government’s policy on the so-called Huduma Namba was an impressive and baffling experience for many Kenyans.
In a well-coordinated public show, the National Super Alliance (Nasa) leaders, Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang'ula, were asked to join President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto in the launching exercise in the five counties of Mombasa, Murang’a, Kajiado, Machakos and Kakamega.
The involvement of the opposition leaders, coupled with Mr Ruto’s failure to preside over the event in Kakamega, immediately gave the exercise a political angle.
Mr Ruto, however, dismissed reports that he had boycotted the event, stating that he hosted in his office a Cuban delegation led by Vice-President of the Councils of State Ines María Chapman Waugh.
RUTO SNUBS LAUNCH
However, judging from past experience, Mr Ruto is an indefatigable politician who has a history of attending over eight functions in a day across the country.
Of course the engagement with the Cuban delegation did not take the whole day, and when he was assigned to preside over the Kakamega event, the State was fully aware of the presence of the Cuban delegation in the country.
Pundits have suggested Mr Ruto may have opted out to protest the involvement of the opposition figures in the national assignment.
The Sunday Nation has since established that President Kenyatta held a meeting with the opposition leaders where the launch was discussed with an agreement reached on who should proceed to which location.
However, our source could neither divulge the venue of the meeting nor confirm the presence of Mr Ruto at the meeting.
However, reached for comment, Mr Mudavadi denied having entered into a “working relationship” with the Jubilee Party.
“What exists is a courtesy, a strong reciprocation of good manners from the government. The President had the good sense to invite us individually to grace two national, not party … events, and it is only decent to accept such an invitation,” he said in reference to the Huduma Namba launch and the State of the Nation address.
“I have always emphasised that being political competitors shouldn’t be stretched into enmity. If I were president today, I would work for a friendly relationship with the opposition,” he says.
But pointing out that coincidences are rare in politics, Pokot South MP David Pkosing believes the apparent reunion of Nasa leaders is a well-thought out political calculation.
“For Wetang'ula, Kalonzo and Mudavadi to start following Raila after initially parting ways with him, it is almost certain that the former premier could be exiting the political scene. Like the proverbial hyena that stealthily follows a man hoping to benefit if his hand drops, they are similarly following Raila hoping to reap from his exit,” he says.
Alternatively, argues Pkosing, the Nasa brigade is coalescing around the President with the hope that he will endorse one of them for president in the 2022 polls.
“This is a serious miscalculation because the politics of endorsement have a history of failure in this country. Besides, it is unlikely that the President will endorse a presidential candidate other than one within his Jubilee Party”
Either way, Mr Pkosing cautions the Nasa leaders that they are up to a very solid political challenge in the person of DP Ruto.
“One can ignore Ruto only at their own peril. He is unstoppable and not even the ploy of painting him as corrupt, which amounts to trying to criminalise his generosity, will change anything.”
However, Mr Mudavadi points out that Kenyans need to insulate the national good from negative politics.
With regard to the Huduma Namba, the ANC leader says it will help in having accurate and reliable data for planning purposes.
But Mr Wetang'ula is more cautious. Noting the country does not have a data protection law, the Ford-Kenya leader is concerned that the data on individuals being assembled by government could land in the wrong hands, including international spy and security agencies.
The Bungoma senator wants appropriate legislation adopted to safeguard the data from access by unauthorised entities.
While relations between Mr Odinga and the other two Nasa principals, Mr Musyoka and Mr Mudavadi, have remained fairly cordial even after the former prime minister opted to cement ties with President Kenyatta, relations between him and Mr Wetangula have remained frosty.
The unease between the two leaders has largely been attributed to Mr Wetangula’s ouster as Senate minority leader in March last year.
That the Bungoma senator, who blamed his ouster on Mr Odinga, has momentarily teamed up with the Orange party leader, is a curious development.
In fact, when Mr Odinga initially consulted with the Nasa co-principals following his symbolic handshake with the President, the Kalonzo-Mudavadi-Wetang'ula trio were reportedly unhappy and opposed to the development.
The Ford-Kenya leader attributes the latest encounters with Mr Odinga and other opposition chiefs to the “dynamism of our politics”.
He nonetheless maintains the country “cannot be governed by handshakes, rather by policies and well-set-out mechanisms that are agreeable to all”.
“We know individuals in this country whose followers have surrendered their thinking to them. This is a sad state of affairs, and we must all work towards strengthening institutions of governance to ensure all Kenyans participate individually in democratic processes,” says Mr Wetang'ula.
Even with the minor differences among political players in the opposition, Mr Mudavadi, who founded Nasa, remains optimistic that expedient ways are being explored in search of unity of purpose among opposition leaders.
“If I have a better idea, isn’t it good politics to influence its adoption by the government of the day for the good of Kenyans, rather than wait until God knows when I will be President to implement it? By that time it might be out of fashion!”
The other plausible reason for an Odinga-Wetangula political union is the need to tame Mr Ruto’s dash to the presidency.
The Ford-Kenya leader explains that his opposition to Ruto’s candidature is not out of malice but out of the reality that he is a political opponent in the 2022 presidential race.
And he reveals that his deputy party leader, Dr Boni Khalwale, is now undergoing a disciplinary process within the party ranks for advancing Mr Ruto’s political interests.
The Sunday Nation has separately established that Ford-Kenya Kakamega County branch officials have formally lodged a complaint to the national office over Dr Khalwale’s political conduct.
Prof Macharia Munene, a commentator on political affairs, maintains that the latest engagements between Mr Kenyatta and the opposition chiefs were “well choreographed”.
“This was a good opportunity for them to support a national project, and I bet they needed no coercion to be involved." Kalonzo, for instance, has already declared himself 'mtu wa mkono ya Rais' (the Presidents errand boy).
Prof Munene however regards the action by the opposition chiefs to play ball as an admission by Odinga, Kalonzo, Mudavadi and Wetang'ula that “the game is over” for them for the remainder of Mr Kenyatta’s term in office.
However, Prof Peter Kagwanja views the unity forged by the opposition and government as a direct outcome of the handshake.
“It shows that the rapprochement between the President and opposition chiefs is working. After all, unity is increasingly becoming President Kenyatta's real legacy. But the handshake has its discontents.
"It has levelled the playing field for 2022 in a manner that is creating unease and even active resistance within the Rift Valley wing of the ruling Jubilee”.