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Politicians skate on thin ice as alliances shift

Sunday August 11 2019

Kenyatta-Odinga

President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) converses with ODM leader Raila Odinga (right) during the opening of Bidco Industrial Park in Kiambu on July 25, 2019. The Kenyatta-Odinga rapprochement has triggered realignments in the major parties. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

JUSTUS WANGA
By JUSTUS WANGA
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Two years after a general election that saw the presidential vote annulled by the courts, there has been no respite in local politics, with friends turning into foes and foes into allies.

Nobody would have thought that today, a person no less than Deputy President William Ruto would be complaining about ‘excesses of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations’ yet just the other day their admirers christened his close working relationship with his boss Uhuru Kenyatta as that of ‘dynamic duo’.

The two not long ago displayed their unity, even adorning marching shirts. “We will resist and reject any attempts to weave political narratives and propaganda into the projects in the name of fighting graft.

"Our opponents are using backdoor tactics to undermine government projects, especially the Big Four Agenda. I wish to remind them that we will forge ahead with our development agenda, which will be used by voters as a scorecard in the next general election,” DP Ruto recently lamented.

For a while, he pretended that all was well. But lately, however, he has been talking openly about his frustrations in government amid strong concerns from his lieutenants that Central Kenya, Mr Kenyatta’s backyard, is slowly but steadily turning its back on him despite giving an undertaking to back him for the country’s top job in the next polls.

The DP is not leaving anything to chance, he is busy criss-crossing the country to bolster his State House bid in 2022.

PEACE PACT

But as former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once observed that a week is a long time in politics, two years must then constitute a decade or perhaps more.

Tables have turned with most of those who made a career out of attacking Opposition chief Raila Odinga forced into submission.

Others have stuck with the DP while another group remains caught up between the two centres of power.

On Saturday, Mr Odinga acknowledged that the peace pact with the President on March 9 last year had redrawn the country’s political script but was quick to point out that it was all for the better.

“Generally, we are where few expected us to be. The general expectation was that it would be chaos, standoff and rage all the way to 2022; and that was going to give way to a divisive and possibly chaotic elections.

"There are even those who believe that if I had dug in, Uhuru’s government would have collapsed,” Mr Odinga told the Sunday Nation.

He said that digging in would have driven the country further to the precipice and caused more suffering to everyone and possibly even a claw back of some of the progress the country had made.

BALANCING ACT

Jubilee Party Secretary-General Raphael Tuju was on TV last week defending Mr Odinga against accusations that he was out to break up Jubilee. This is something he would not have dared to do two years ago.

In a rare moment of honesty from a politician that also captures the fact that for politicians it is never about the interest of the voter, Mr Tuju, in reference to the changes in the political architecture, said: “I hope no single Kenyan should risk his or her life for a politician.”

He defended his new dalliance with the opposition leader. “He is an interlocutor with the President, so I will engage with him. I have no reasons to criticise him now; he is working with the President. We are reading from the same hymn book,” he said.

The Kenyatta-Odinga rapprochement also triggered realignments in the major parties with ODM MPs becoming perhaps more pro-government than some of their Jubilee counterpart.

Vocal supporters of Mr Kenyatta in his first term like Deputy Senate Speaker Kithure Kindiki have had to assume a low profile, carefully studying the new order and being careful not to antagonise both the Head of State and his deputy.

He, like many MPs from Mount Kenya region, are also keen not to offend Mr Odinga, a tricky balancing act that may not be sustainable in the long run.

In politics, one must take a stand. There is no room for fence-sitters.

FACTIONS

And amid muted debate of possible censure motion against Mr Kenyatta as some JP members demanded a Parliamentary Group meeting two months ago, Minority Leader John Mbadi dared them to try it.

He said the party was under firm instructions from Mr Odinga to support the President in the House.

Such cooperation has triggered an implosion in the ruling party with three factions emerging.

There is Tanga Tanga, comprising politicians loyal to Mr Ruto, Kieleweke - which supports the President - and Team Wanjiku, led by Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko and Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, who do not want to associate with the first two groupings.

It has also sounded a death knell for Nasa, an alliance of opposition parties ODM, Wiper, Ford Kenya and ANC, which sponsored Mr Odinga’s presidential ticket in the last poll.

While Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka and ANC’s Musalia Mudavadi eventually came out in support, Mr Moses Wetang’ula of Ford Kenya remains lukewarm.

He has never forgiven Mr Odinga for a senate coup that saw Siaya Senator James Orengo replace him as the Minority Leader. He strongly believes that the former prime minister engineered it.

NO WATCHDOG

Former Machakos Senator Johnson Muthama, a key cog in Nasa, regretted that while the handshake has been good as Kenyans can now go about their businesses uninterrupted, there is no one left to speak for the common man.

“The other day I saw my leader Raila Odinga as the only voice questioning the extravagant trip by MPs to the United States. We need more of such voices.

"A lot of cases of theft of public money being handled by the DCI and DPP were brought to the public attention by Raila; what about the stealing going on now that we may not know. Who will tell us?” he posed.

On the changing political landscape, Prof Winnie Mitullah of the University of Nairobi said that both Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga had to make a few compromises to survive.

“You also realise that the kind of political arrangement we have is new. It is a challenge to scholars like myself to relook at political theories beyond what we have been accustomed to. You don’t know whether Raila is in government or not yet you can feel his power and influence,” she observed.

BUILDING BRIDGES

Mr Odinga maintains that the handshake has achieved a lot. “A significant section of the political class has been able to come to some agreement on the need to take a critical look at our country via BBI (Building Bridges Initiative).

"That was not going to happen under acrimonious circumstances. There is a visible crackdown on corruption. The handshake has been seen as a tremendous show of leadership by a number of Kenya’s friends and want it to last beyond 2022, in spirit,” he said.

So, fundamentally, has the landscape changed that today Cabinet secretaries go to Mr Odinga’s Capitol Hill offices to brief him on government projects.

Public Service, Gender and Youth Cabinet Secretary Margaret Kobia was there on Wednesday.

“[I] hosted CS Margaret Kobia who briefed me on the preparations being undertaken for the upcoming International Youth Day,” Mr Odinga posted on online.

The arrangement has not gone down well with the DP who feels that in the absence of the President he should be the one playing such a role.

Initially, his handlers used to complain about it but they seem to have accepted the new political reality.

CORRUPTION

Inundated by accusations that he had a secret 2022 pact with Mr Odinga, Mr Kenyatta charged, "Raila has never told me he wants to be President in 2022". This leaves his supporters more confused.

The Judiciary has not been spared. With a promise of being revisited after the Supreme Court voided the election of President Kenyatta on August 8, 2017, the institution has either suffered massive budget cuts or accused of derailing the government onslaught on corruption - a charge Chief Justice David Maraga has denied.

Convinced that the Judicial Service Commission, the supreme organ of the arm of government, was more opposition-leaning ahead of the last General Election, it is believed that some of the changes witnessed in the JSC were part of the ‘corrective measure’.

A number of new commissioners came on board just recently, with the Law Society of Kenya also replacing its male representative Tom Ojienda with Macharia Njeru.

On the other hand, Parliament has literally become an appendage of the executive.

AUTONOMY

There is no one in the House to ‘speak truth to power’ and the bills sponsored by the presidency go through without a struggle.

Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya says that while the handshake has pacified the country, there are many unintended effects as well.

“There is not effective opposition. Today you cannot tell who in Parliament is government or opposition. This is not good for the country. It is partly the reason agencies like DCI are having a field day,” he said.

But Mr Odinga does not believe that the opposition is dead. He holds that all the issues the opposition was fighting for are captured in the BBI.