It has been an eventful week, with the Court of Appeal nullifying the election of Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua. Earlier, there was a court decision against the mass suspension of procurement officers in the ministries, with the Judiciary yet again ruling for narrow individual rights rather than the broader public good.
Mutua has appealed to the Supreme Court and, for the time being, he will continue holding on to his seat. The Court of Appeal ruling has thrown Ukambani politics into a fresh tailspin. The governor’s rivalry with Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka has, for a long time, polarised Machakos County.
Mutua upped the ante by declaring interest to run for president. The court ruling has gratified Kalonzo’s supporters, and interestingly also, others outside Ukambani who are determined to check Mutua’s grandstanding at the national stage.
For now, Mutua’s importance is not because he wants to be president; it is the firm position he has taken in the ongoing high-level war against corruption. He has rattled sacred cows with his demand for lifestyle and financial audits of top people — all the way to the Deputy President.
Some days back, he had made a big show of hosting Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, another presidential wannabe, and announcing they were “working together”.
It was the clearest signal of the alignment he had taken in the ongoing power struggle within Jubilee over the 2022 succession. Gideon, like Mutua, is not formally in Jubilee, but he is caught up in a vicious conflict in the Rift Valley with DP William Ruto.
I won’t go as far as to say the Judiciary has been roped into this succession battle – yet. However, Mutua’s supporters are insinuating this is the case.
Some have even murmured that the “handshake” has some role in the governor’s setback, which seems rather far-fetched.
CAN OF WORMS
If the endgame is a gubernatorial by-election in Machakos, a can of worms will be re-opened. A defeat will expose Mutua as a mere paper tiger as his detractors say, but if it is a win, it will further push Kalonzo into the sidelines.
Ukambani has some remarkable governors, but its team at the national level is below par. With the “handshake”, it was left confused and embittered.
The assumption was that Raila Odinga would remain steadfast and restate support for Kalonzo as Nasa’s presidential candidate for 2022.
Raila no longer talks about this deal, being engrossed entirely with the “handshake” and what he aims to achieve with it.
The governor who is really setting the pace in Ukambani is Kivutha Kibwana of Makueni.
His application of devolution has been thoughtful and far-sighted. In particular, his model of people participation in formulating development projects has caught attention far and wide, with dozens of governors set to converge in his county for “bench-marking.”
It is a pity he doesn’t seem to have any higher ambitions, preferring to continue tethering himself to Kalonzo even as they remain stuck at the crossroads since the “handshake” happened. Recent suggestions by some Wiper MPs that Kalonzo try and fill the vacuum in Nasa left by Raila were inexplicably downplayed by him.
All the same, too many people have cast doubts whether he is up to the task.
It would make sense for Kivutha to team up with the other two Ukambani governors — Mutua and Kitui’s Charity Ngilu — and agree on a common course now that Kalonzo’s pact with Raila seems to have come unstuck. Ngilu can be unpredictable, but she is a useful fighter to have on your side.
Kivutha’s recent proposal to Kalonzo to work with Jubilee the way Raila has done could turn out to be a dead end.
Ukambani leaders should be under no illusions: Jubilee has bigger sharks who are better prepared for the 2022 showdown, and who won’t cede ground to Kalonzo, or Mutua, no matter what. Mutua has opted to throw his hat into the ring, hoping that the main frontrunners will implode along the way, perhaps in the course of the anti-corruption war, which he supports politically. If he were to lose the governorship, he would be in big problems himself.