Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta’s dramatic – if highly symbolic – visit to Prime Minister Raila Odinga at his Karen home last week has left the tongues of mere mortals wagging loosely.
Does the son of Jomo know something we don’t? My crystal ball tells me that he has something up his sleeve, and the visit is only the first act of a very long and tricky play.
When the progeny of the two most famous political dynasties in the country retreat for a “secret” detente, you would be foolish not to smell a rat.
The only challenge is to identify the schemer and the schemed. Who, between Mr Odinga and Mr Kenyatta, is the more cunning?
There is more than meets the eye here. But let me first dispense with an implausible theory.
The lame explanation is that Mr Kenyatta was paying Mr Odinga a long delayed visit since the surgery on the latter’s head.
Sounds cute, but doesn’t quite cut it. Otherwise, how do you explain the family entourage complete with “sacrificial” sheep?
Perhaps it was a “peace offering”. May be Mr Kenyatta came to take a measure of Mr Odinga, and size up his opponent.
The inescapable fact is that the visit took place at the most pivotal moment in the country’s history since 1964. Their fathers launched the First Republic together.
Could the sons launch the Second Republic together?
I have several tantalising hypotheses. Perhaps Mr Kenyatta has concluded that Mr Odinga is unbeatable in 2012. If so, Mr Kenyatta would be wise to seek to be Mr Odinga’s running mate, and become Vice-President under Mr Odinga.
This would flip the positions of their parents in 1964 when Jaramogi was Jomo’s deputy. Mr Kenyatta could go into “political oblivion” if he’s not Mr Odinga’s deputy because there is no other “commanding” position in the new constitution.
If this is right, Mr Kenyatta came on a “bended knee” to pledge loyalty to Mr Odinga. Mr Kenyatta must have come to say “Raila Tosha”. What thinkest thou?
Under this scenario, Mr Kenyatta may believe that the KKK alliance is doomed.
He may reckon that both Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and Higher Education minister William Ruto are damaged goods because of their positions on the referendum.
Even if the KKK alliance was viable, Mr Kenyatta may think that Mr Musyoka cannot beat Mr Odinga in 2012. That’s why he would throw in his lot with Mr Odinga rather than with Mr Musyoka.
It is possible that President Mwai Kibaki, who has been working very closely with Mr Odinga, has advised Mr Kenyatta to be Mr Odinga’s running mate. The intrigues don’t end here.
But Mr Odinga, the master strategist, could be the one who called the meeting.
Because of Kenya’s ethnic geopolitics, it’s highly unlikely that Mr Odinga will choose a “westerner” to be his running mate.
This may rule out Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi. In that case, Mr Odinga would look “east”.
The pickings will be very slim if he goes with traditional politicians. In this category, the plausible “easterners” are Mr Kenyatta, Gichugu MP Martha Karua, Water minister Charity Ngilu, Tourism minister Najib Balala, Mr Musyoka and Internal Security minister George Saitoti.
In a quandary
Mr Musyoka and Mr Balala are out because of bad blood between them and Mr Odinga. Ms Karua and minister Ngilu are intriguing, but not slam dunks.
Mr Odinga is in a quandary. But, if one was to ignore all other considerations, Mr Kenyatta would have a better shot at being picked Mr Odinga’s running mate than the other traditional politicians from the “east”.
But does Mr Kenyatta have the reform credentials to be a heartbeat away from the presidency?
If not, Mr Odinga is well advised to pick his running mate from the pool of non-politicians. He can tap a technocrat or professional who is a proven reformer.
A political alliance between Mr Odinga and Mr Kenyatta would be a merger of two political dynasties with bad history between them.
One side, Mr Odinga’s, has been anti-establishment. The other, Mr Kenyatta’s, has been pro-establishment.
Would the combination of the two be a witch’s brew that could paralyse the reform of the Second Republic under the new constitution?
There’s no doubt the Kenyattas represent the status quo – cautious and conservative. What would it say about Mr Odinga if he chose Mr Kenyatta as his running mate?
Is it fair to say that Mr Odinga would have been captured by the forces of counter-reform?
I don’t envy Mr Odinga’s position, but he better tread very – very – carefully. Kenyan elites have a way of “overcoming” and “outliving” reform and change.
I hope I am wrong, and that Mr Kenyatta’s visit with Mr Odinga was benign.
Makau Mutua is Dean and Suny Distinguished Professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School and Chair of the Kenya Human Rights Commission.