Calls to Kenyan leaders to put aside 2022 politics and concentrate on development are futile.
The battle for President Uhuru Kenyatta’s succession is on, and three line-ups are taking shape.
On the defensive is Team Tanga Tanga, led by Deputy President William Ruto. This is the group in the ruling Jubilee Party that all along assumed that he would be the party’s automatic flag-bearer and President Kenyatta’s successor, based on a 2013 gentleman’s agreement.
Taking the battle to the Team Tanga Tanga squad is Team Kieleweke. This is a formation comprising Jubilee members opposed to the DP, the mainstream Opposition, and others.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga is the de facto leader of Team Kieleweke, but only as the face of the anti-Ruto coalition as a formula is worked out on how to share the spoils.
Playing from the sidelines is the still elusive Western alliance fronted by Mr Musalia Mudavadi and Mr Moses Wetang'ula, currently selling themselves as the official opposition, given that Mr Odinga, the leader of main opposition ODM party, has one foot in the government.
Significantly, the Western alliance is cheering on the side of Kieleweke, and would be only too happy to see the Tanga Tanga squad chased out of town. So, basically the derby is between Tanga Tanga and Kieleweke.
In a political contest, four factors count: The numbers, resources, strategy, and sales pitch. Control of the State machinery also counts for much, sometimes for everything.
Talking numbers, what does Tanga Tanga put on the table? Here a distinction should be made between the numbers one can marshal in Parliament, and the numbers in a popular vote, say in a referendum or election proper.
The DP can count on all MPs in the former United Republican Party (URP) wing of the Jubilee Party, except for one or two rebels.
Also in his bag are up to a dozen MPs “bought” — as his rivals put it — from the TNA side of Jubilee. They are Kimani Ichungwa (Kikuyu), Moses Kuria (Gatundu), Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu), Alice Wahome (Kandara), Mary Waithira (Maragua) and Sabina Chege (Murang’a Woman Rep). Also in the category of the “bought” is ODM’s Aisha Jumwa (Malindi MP).
Outside Parliament, he can count on the solid support of governors Ferdinand Waititu (Kiambu), Ann Waiguru (Kirinyaga) and Mwangi wa Iria (Murang’a). Then there are the MPs Jubilee snatched from the Opposition in Western, who were voted in on the New Ford Kenya Party tickets.
In total, the DP can count on roughly, up to a 100 individuals in both Parliament and the Senate.
While that is a reliable shield against any plot against him that would require a two-thirds majority vote, say a no-confidence vote, it is not enough for him to push an agenda of his own in Parliament. The overwhelming joint Kieleweke vote would make such a move a non-starter.
What of the popular vote? Can the DP mobilise enough votes outside a united Jubilee and beat Kieleweke at the presidential ballot? No.
To use the analogy of metals, the vote Mr Ruto commands is like an iron, which not as strong on its own as it is when combined with another metal.
Thus Mr Ruto was a formidable ally when he threw his lot with Mr Odinga in ODM in 2007, and made for the winning team when he put his ballot in the same basket with Uhuru’s TNA in 2013 and 2017.
But he lost in the 2010 referendum when he went solo. Likewise, he couldn’t help Mr Kenyatta hack it in the 2002 election because the Mount Kenya vote wasn’t in the basket.
Which brings us to the question: Can Mr Ruto run away with the Mount Kenya vote without President Uhuru Kenyatta’s blessings? Not likely. When making his forays into Mount Kenya, the DP has been very careful to portray himself as the President’s “spanner boy”, fighting off ill-motivated “intruders”.
Only in his Rift Valley backyard has he let loose his “boys” to make a frontal attack on the President. The DP, a streetwise politician, knows that he would be the loser if he took his boss head-on in Mount Kenya.
Next to having the numbers is cash. Votes are useless unless you have the resources to mobilise and put them in the ballot box.
And the DP is, without a doubt, a man of vast known and unknown resources. And he doesn’t hide it. He carries money in rucksacks.
The line sold by the Tanga Tanga squad that the 2022 presidential contest is between hustlers and dynasties is a lie. The contest is between new money (Ruto’s) and old money (Kenyatta’s, Odinga’s, and Moi’s).
Otherwise, if there was anybody worth the tag “hustler” in the presidential race, it would be Mr Odinga, who has been in prison for nine years over a failed bid to seize power.
A hint that the DP has set aside a mountain of cash in his bid for State House came in the form of a tweet by straight-shooting lawyer Ahmednassir Abdullahi early this year.
He forewarned Mr Ruto’s opponents to brace themselves for a bruising fight as the latter has “a war chest” like has never been seen before.
The controversial lawyer knows something, having been the DPs’ lawyer in matters commercial. He is the one who first denied that Mr Ruto had anything to do with Weston Hotel, only for the DP to come out on his own and acknowledge ownership.
It remains to be seen how much the owners of old money will be willing to let go should they feel that Mr Ruto’s new money is giving him an edge and posing a threat to their game plan.
In terms of strategy, the DP is admired for his bravery in taking on anybody, and has lots of stamina — he can attend five different functions on the same day! He also casts his net wide and has allies in almost every corner of the country.
But his courage is also seen as part of his undoing in that he simultaneously opens many battlefronts.
For his part, President Kenyatta seems to be reading from the script written by his father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, when cutting his first deputy, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, down to size.
Mzee Kenyatta came to power on a Kanu ticket, a party that drew its strength from Mount Kenya and Luo Nyanza regions, and was pitted against Kadu, a coalition of less populated communities.
When he saw a falling out with Jaramogi coming, Mzee Kenyatta moved first to forge a coalition with Kadu, which was dissolved to join Kanu, but more so to strengthen his wing in Kanu such, that when Jaramogi finally quit, he was in the minority.
Secondly, despite provocation, Mzee Kenyatta avoided direct confrontation with his deputy, instead giving him as much rope as possible to hang himself. In addition, he overruled his confidants, who wanted Mr Odinga kicked out of Kanu, but wanted him frustrated from within until he quit on his own.