The unresolved Uhuru succession puzzle within the ruling party coupled with a re-think over the “youthful” President’s political future and punctuated by his symbolic handshake with opposition leader Raila Odinga are among the key factors that have caused unease within Jubilee.
While allies of the President and his Deputy William Ruto have been pulling in different directions with regard to the 2022 presidential campaigns and the Head of State's legacy, the boardroom wars and back-stabbings only came to the fore a day after Christmas. This was after the party Vice-Chairman David Murathe’s proclamation that the DP should exit from elective politics alongside his boss.
Coming from a man who was personally identified by the President as his representative during Jubilee’s formation, the sentiments of the one-time Gatanga MP cannot be wished away.
Indeed, Mr Murathe’s standing has since caused a storm within the ruling party, with Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru now leading the push for fresh elections for party officials.
The emerging rifts notwithstanding, National Assembly’s Majority Leader Aden Duale maintains all is well within the ruling party: “Jubilee is united more than any other time. However, being a national democratic party that allows its members — both rank and file — to exercise their freedom of expression, most Kenyans who are not used to this kind of liberty may be forgiven for thinking we have a problem in the party.”
Mr Duale says Jubilee is the only party whose members can freely criticise the party’s leadership in Parliament and outside.
On leadership of Jubilee, Mr Duale says that when the party meets next, it will come up with a road map for its elections. However, nobody in the party knows exactly when such a meeting will take place — an indication of Jubilee’s deep-seated administrative challenges.
Prof Peter Kagwanja, a commentator on political affairs, posits that Jubilee is no longer at ease over two main intertwined uncertainties dividing its elite right down the middle. The realisation that the President is officially exiting power, observes Prof Kagwanja, has put to question the role of Mt Kenya region in national leadership after 2022.
Presently, no clear successor to President Kenyatta in the region has emerged, a factor that is increasingly causing discomfort and a feeling of political vulnerability.
According to Prof Kagwanja, it is this fear of political vulnerability that has persuaded the President’s backers to be open to alternative manoeuvres including the referendum push that will give the region’s political leadership some relevance.
The flip side of this is the DP and his supporters' sense of entitlement to the throne come 2022.
These two hardline positions, argues Prof Kagwanja, are utterly responsible for the growing rifts and unease in Jubilee. To most of Dr Ruto's backers, the source of the friction in Jubilee is one — the Kenyatta-Odinga handshake. To them, the handshake is a threat to the succession arrangement aimed at toppling Dr Ruto as the automatic presidential candidate on Jubilee’s ticket.
“We are no longer at ease simply because of the handshake. You can imagine I am a Jubilee elected senator, yet I do not know what the handshake is beyond what we see and hear on television. Until such a time when our party leaders explain to us in detail what this thing is about, we shall always be apprehensive,” Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot told the Sunday Nation.
Prof Kagwanja concurs that the Kenyatta-Odinga handshake has “levelled the electoral playing field, turning 2022 into a perfect toss-up depriving the party of an undisputed crown-prince” in the person of Dr Ruto.
In the light of the now entrenched practice of pre-election coalitions cobbled literally months to past general elections, Prof Kagwanja and Mr Cheruiyot are of the view that Jubilee’s own future, as currently constituted, is uncertain.
It is precisely for these concerns that Ms Waiguru last Saturday called for Jubilee elections, “so that Jubilee can get leaders who can speak on behalf of the party”. The move, she argued, would also help Jubilee “to forestall internal divisions”.
The statement was received with praise and criticism in equal measure — a confirmation of the degree of disagreements in the ruling coalition. And even as the push for elections of party officials gains momentum in some quarters, it's trapped in a scenario where officials, who are holding posts in interim capacity, enjoy protection of tenure.
Responding to calls for elections, Mr Murathe referred Waiguru to the party’s constitution Article 33 (5) on the transition clause: “(Secretary General, Raphael) Tuju retires in 2020. The operative word is "shall",” he tweeted. He, however, expressed willingness to surrender his seat to Ms Waiguru. The import of this particular development is that even efforts of restructuring the Jubilee party leadership are not going to be a walk in the park.
But there are deeper factors responsible for the unease within Jubilee. The seeming uncertain future of President Kenyatta’s legacy and leadership post-2022 complicated by perpetual campaigns is of major concern to his political constituency.
While the first 10 years of Jubilee in power (2013-2022) have followed a perfect executive power-sharing model based on the pre-2013 Jubilee Coalition agreement, no similar power-sharing promise has emerged to secure Kenyatta's legacy in a possible “Ruto presidency” and the role of Mt Kenya region in national leadership.
“Instead some are fretting the return of Kanu-era patron-client relations with the elite of one dominant ethnic group calling the shots. It is this fear that is giving legs to the clamour for an inclusive order, the calls for referendum and, more vociferously, for the double retirement of Uhuru and Ruto,” observes Prof Kagwanja. With this standing, the future of Jubilee power after 2022 clearly looks increasingly uncertain.