On October 26 last year, Kenyans went into a volatile repeat presidential election boycotted by the main opposition candidate Raila Odinga.
Even though President Uhuru Kenyatta of Jubilee was re-elected in the dead-rubber contest, what followed was a season of political madness.
Today, the landscape is significantly different, even confusing — especially after the March 9 ‘handshake’ between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga — with various re-alignments in the ruling party and opposition. So, what next for the top politicians ahead of the 2022 elections?
With his re-election last year mired in controversy, the start of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s second term faced legitimacy questions.
However, today the President enjoys relatively favourable ratings — mostly due to the handshake with opposition leader Raila Odinga that has calmed tensions.
As the vice chairman of the President’s Jubilee party David Murathe puts it, the handshake has enabled Mr Kenyatta to deliver on his development agenda and mould his legacy. He has similarly been emboldened to take graft head on.
Political scientist Dr Richard Bosire thinks that if the Building Bridges Initiative (handshake) pushes for a referendum to amend the Constitution, the possibility remains open that Mr Kenyatta could be retained in a powerful position — perhaps prime minister.
The President has, however, categorically indicated he will retire at the end of his second term.
“His legacy and the realisation of the Big Four Agenda cannot possibly be achieved within the remaining four years, so the temptation of Uhuru (Mr Kenyatta) and his backers to stay on is huge. Luckily age is on his side,” says the University of Nairobi lecturer.
The Deputy President is ideally the king-in-waiting and his major headache now is how to zealously and jealously guard “his seat” while at the same time ensuring the political status quo is not upset. This explains why Mr Ruto and his supporters are the most vocal against the push for a referendum and uncomfortable with the cosy relationship between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.
“Ruto must be the most troubled politician in the country today. He must have thought he could get the presidency on a silver platter but a few things have changed,” says Dr Bosire. He singles out the handshake and the President’s resolve to fight corruption that some perceive to be largely targeting Mr Ruto’s allies.
The “corruption perception” is an image problem the self-proclaimed “hustler” must deal with and he has previously dismissed those who think the “son of a peasant” cannot be rich.
But noting he has a never-say-die fighting spirit, former Cabinet minister Prof Amukowa Anangwe says Mr Ruto’s march to State House is not an easy one to halt. The political science lecturer at University of Dodoma, Tanzania, who worked closely with Mr Ruto in the ruling Kanu party in the 1990s, credits the DP for political astuteness and determination.
Ford Kenya’s deputy party leader Boni Khalwale recalls an incident when “we wake up one morning only for Raila (Mr Odinga) to tell us he had pulled out of the presidential race (on October 26).” From then on, the former Kakamega senator says things went from bad to worse for the opposition Nasa.
After a charged political environment marked with violent protests and his mock swearing-in as the ‘people’s president’, Mr Odinga surprised everyone by sealing a truce with President Kenyatta. His hard-core supporters called it betrayal, alluding to financial favours and privileges as his motivation, but others viewed it as statesmanship.
It also upset a faction of the ruling Jubilee party loyal to Deputy President William Ruto.
Mr Odinga’s latest push for a constitutional referendum has also raised suspicion, with some seeing it as meant to create the position of prime minister for him and put hurdles in Mr Ruto’s road to 2022.
But that was before last weekend’s announcement that the opposition leader had been appointed the African Union’s High Representative for Infrastructure Development — renewing debate on his political future.
After his acrimonious exit in March as Senate minority leader and following his memorable vow that his political divorce with Mr Odinga would be noisy and messy, the Bungoma County senator appears focused on attacking Mr Odinga.
Prof Anangwe advises the Ford Kenya leader on the need to recover quickly from the Senate ouster debacle, chart his political future more intelligently “and avoid making blunders out of blind rage”. The ex-Cabinet minister believes most of Mr Wetangula’s current decisions are persuaded by his revenge mission on Mr Odinga, including the move to support Mr Ruto’s presidential bid.
“Wetang’ula has already declared he wants somebody to marry him (form a political alliance). He is like a desperate lady rushing to grab a man and he has gone quickly to Ruto’s corner,” says Dr Bosire. This is not entirely an imprudent move according to the analyst.
The Deputy President, says Dr Bosire, is similarly desperate to take anybody — particularly from Mr Odinga’s corner — on board. The danger, warns the expert, is that Mr Wetang’ula may be relegated if he brings nothing substantive to the table.
He is sometimes painted as indecisive, but pundits believe the former vice president is calculating and realistic. Prof Amukowa Anangwe says, for instance, that his decision to join Mr Odinga in working with President Kenyatta is plain realisation that Nasa has no future, “and propitious decisions have to be made while others are still procrastinating about whether or not to work with Uhuru/Raila”.
Mr Musyoka’s move is also an act of self-preservation and repositioning himself for any spoils that may accrue for loyalty and being decisive in a timely manner.
It also puts him in good stead, if the handshake gives rise to a viable new coalition in future.
Some observers may interpret unflatteringly Mr Musyoka’s move to be in character with his proverbial political opportunism and expediency (or kupita katikati, as it were). But the reality is also that the former VP is a seasoned politician who has indicated his resolve to go for the presidency in 2022.
And the supporters of the Wiper Party leader say it’s about time.
“Now is the time for leaders who harbour presidential ambitions to hunt across the length and breadth of Kenya’s diverse political jungle. Some will come home with squirrels and hares or deers and warthogs. Wiper is armed for the elephant. Watch this space,” says Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua.
With Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka opting to work with President Kenyatta and Mr Moses Wetang’ula gravitating towards the Deputy President, Mr Mudavadi appears to be reinventing himself as the “real face” of Kenya’s Opposition.
“Ask me what’s there to be gained in teaming up with Uhuru (Mr Kenyatta). Nothing!” he told the Sunday Nation. “But why is there the assumption that I am opposed to Uhuru? Why must it be either or? I think I am being most helpful to the ruling party by providing the alternative voice. Otherwise when did it become fashionable to become identical twins after the fact? It’s unnatural!”
Arguing the constitution never anticipated there will come a time when the opposition would flee into government, the ANC party leader vows to stay on as the sole voice of the people. Mr Mudavadi considers Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka as political competitors, who he cannot be subordinate to.
His growing appeal as “the only man left standing” in the opposition notwithstanding, Mr Mudavadi faces an even bigger challenge in his western Kenya backyard.
“The Luhya no longer want to play a second fiddle to other communities, and many are inclined to back one of their own in 2022 presidential race, whether he wins or not.”
Either way, Mr Mudavadi needs to build alliances with other players.
“Mudavadi has made several and very bad political mistakes in the past and luckily for him Kenyans have been very forgiving. He has a final chance to prove his political steadfastness and another blunder this time around will mark the beginning of his end,” predicts Dr Bosire.
Possible alternative voices in 2022 contest
The Baringo senator and son of retired President Daniel arap Moi can count on the family’s vast wealth and national political networks to mount a serious campaign.
The senator, who lacks the rhetorical power of Deputy President William Ruto with whom he occasionally gets in a political fist-fight for the Rift Valley, is however seen in some quarters as unconfrontational and a perfect compromise candidate.
His recent meeting with Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho with whom he is said to be crafting a ticket, excited the political scene.
The second-term Mombasa governor, who has in the past fired up the restive coastal constituency with his firebrand politics, has recently toned down his tough talk and even closed ranks with the President with whom they exchanged harsh words.
The wealthy politician, who has not hidden his ambition for the presidency, has caused ripples by announcing he would team up with Baringo Senator Gideon Moi.
The two have a common enemy in Deputy President William Ruto.
In his second term as Kakamega governor, Mr Oparanya, a former Planning Minister, has trained his eyes on the top job. The Orange Democratic Movement co-deputy, who is not known for confrontational politics, has recently wormed his way to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s good books.
At the recent Mashujaa Day celebrations in Kakamega, the President gave him special mention and put him in charge of a task force to address the sugar crisis.
The State also pledged to inject Sh10 billion to Kakamega Referral Hospital. All this has prompted some pundits to aver that he could be a compromise candidate supported by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Odinga were the latter not to run.
Being an elected leader in the populous western Kenya also gives him an edge over his competitors.
After a disappointing run for presidency in 2013, and an even more humiliating defeat in the race for Nairobi governor five years later, the former Planning assistant minister’s fate seemed all but sealed.
But given his networks and feeling in Central Kenya that he could be a good heir to President Kenyatta, the former Gatanga MP could bounce back in the run-up 2022.
He runs his campaigns on the youth platform, appealing to Twitter and Facebook enthusiasts to push his message.
Even though he has denied that he is a contender for the presidency in 2022, a possible candidacy of the Makueni governor is gaining currency.
An online campaign to have the county boss run for the presidency has gained traction, with his supporters vowing to force him to try and succeed Mr Kenyatta.
Besides his impressive past record in the fight for reforms, Prof Kibwana has in recent months excited the country with his down-to earth and consultative leadership which has seen many thinking of him as an alternative leader to the politics-as-usual authority.
The 46-year-old lawyer and activist launched his political career on the national stage when he ran for the presidency in the August 8, 2017 General Election.
He also participated in the repeat presidential poll to the chagrin of the mainstream opposition that wanted a total boycott to delegitimise a win by President Kenyatta.
Dr Aukot is collecting signatures to push for a popular referendum to change the Constitution and bring about a cheaper, leaner government.
To make a serious stab at the presidency, however, he will have to overcome the charge by pundits that he is an elitist candidate without the grass roots touch that delivers votes.