The consolidation of the “handshake” politics between the ruling Jubilee Party and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) assumed a new dimension when the former used its numerical strength to see ODM deputy party leader Wycliffe Oparanya take Council of Governors (CoG) chair.
Mr Oparanya’s victory and appointment of governors Kiraitu Murungi (Meru) and Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni) as lead co-chairs of the CoG’s Constitutional Amendments Committee mandated to draft the CoG’s position for the first time established a focal point for the anticipated amendments of the supreme law.
The closing of ranks between the former bitter rivals essentially made Mr Oparanya and the CoG the face of the anticipated referendum, which has had no organisational structure.
It creates the first institutional pro-referendum front, given the ambivalence and prevarication of the top Jubilee leadership in the National Assembly and the Senate on the matter.
The Jubilee party won 25 gubernatorial seats in the 2017 General Election, with an additional two Jubilee-affiliated — Laikipia and Isiolo — independent candidates getting elected. This gives the party a numerical strength of 29, against ODM’s 18 at the powerful CoG lobby, without whose support Oparanya would not have won.
By backing Mr Oparanya over Kwale’s Salim Mvurya (former Jubilee favourite), the ruling party sent the strongest message that its new-found relations with fierce rival-turned-bosom-friend, ODM, was headed for bigger things.
The recent statement by Jubilee Secretary-General Raphael Tuju that the party will not field candidates in the forthcoming Embakasi and Ugenya by-elections “in the spirit of furthering constructive engagement and keeping an eye on the bigger picture” was the icing on the cake.
This is a strange move for a well oiled-party that enjoys a relatively strong presence, especially in Nairobi.
The two moves are the most explicit political moves signalling that President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga's hitherto rival political formations may be turning into a seamless working outfit.
The difficult part remains selling the deal to their core constituencies.
The deepening political “co-operation” has many parallels, with similar overtures between former ruling party Kanu and Mr Odinga’s defunct National Development Party (NDP) two decades ago. NDP dissolved and joined Kanu, with Mr Odinga as secretary-general.
The latest twin moves came ahead of a planned tour of the Mt Kenya region by the President and Mr Odinga, scheduled for the first week of February.
Mr Maina Kamanda, a nominated MP and vocal “handshake” defender, said on Sunday that the tour marks the beginning of a countrywide “handshake mashinani” campaign, which, he said, is long overdue “for the voters in the region to hear from the horses’ mouths the meaning of the handshake and clear any doubts on this co-operation”.
Elected leaders and their predecessors allied to President Kenyatta’s faction of the Jubilee Party have formed a Mt Kenya leaders’ forum that has come out strongly to counter criticism by those perceived to be loyal to DP William Ruto, who have loudly opposed what they view as Mr Odinga's destabilising entry into the traditional Jubilee turf.
The latest subtle signals by Jubilee, whose secretary-general Tuju accompanied the President’s younger brother, Mr Muhoho Kenyatta, to Bondo for the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Memorial Service last Sunday, have set tongues wagging about the future of the party, or whether a new formation is in the offing.
Mr Muhoho rarely attends political events, and his widely publicised appearance in Bondo led one observer to comment: “If the Deputy President had hoped to make an appeal or mediation for a change of heart in the direction things have taken in Jubilee, this (Bondo visit) just makes the task more difficult”
One of the key functionaries in what is taking shape as a Jubilee-ODM coalition to push for constitutional amendments, Mr Tony Gachoka, said of their evolving ‘cooperation’: “Parties are what they are because of the following their leaders command. It is the life of the party.
“People should wait for a referendum and the slogan the two choose to brand the campaign. That will be the face of the new Kenya. Many things will soon become more obvious when the President and the former PM make a three-day tour of Mt Kenya next month.”
An apparently flustered nominated Senator Mr Isaac Mwaura took to the social media to vent on Sunday:
“For Jubilee Party to survive, it must move from being some colours, a slogan and 1 or 2 occasions. Team Tanga Tanga and Team Kieleweke will lose terribly to competitor. The biggest losers will be MPs, 70 per cent of whom will not make it back. The big boys have a way of surviving in government or (in) opposition. Tuko Pamoja Na Nani?” he asked about the state of flux in Jubilee.