Smoke and mirrors in Kibra poll and future of Handshake

Wednesday March 18 2020

Smoke and mirrors? Make-believe? Window dressing? These expressions are roughly synonymous. Their meaning? When what you think you are seeing turns out to be an illusion. Or is intended to create subtle confusion and deception.


Here is President Uhuru Kenyatta granting a photo-opportunity to McDonald Mariga on the steps of State House while putting a Jubilee cap on the footballer and effectively endorsing him as the party’s candidate for the Kibra by-election. The photo-op generates ecstatic reactions from Tanga Tanga’s online brigades.

Already, word has circulated that a group of Tanga Tanga MPs who accompanied Mariga had sought to present the candidate to the President earlier in the day but were turned back at State House’s gates. Information has it that it took the personal intervention of DP William Ruto to have Uhuru relent and meet the group.

Barely twenty-four hours later, the leader of Kieleweke, Nominated Jubilee MP Maina Kamanda, turns up at Raila Odinga’s private office at Upper Hill in Nairobi where the two huddle together in private for nearly two hours. Afterwards, they emerge to face the media whereby Kamanda explains he has come in his “personal capacity” to endorse ODM’s Kibra candidate Imran Okoth, who Kamanda describes as the ‘Handshake candidate’. There are “so many other [Jubilee] MPs” ready to line up to support Okoth, Kamanda assures the press. When Kamanda departs, confidential reports that he went to touch base with a senior civil servant who Tanga Tanga loathe with a passion only adds to the frenzy.


Was Kamanda meeting Baba strictly as a solo move by a renegade Kieleweke MP? That was the misinformed narrative. The key question is, would Kamanda, an Uhuru ultra-loyalist, play this gambit without a clear nod from State House? We’ll soon have the opportunity to hear from the horse’s own mouth.

Reportedly, Kamanda is lined up as the star guest at a talk-show next Wednesday. 

The messaging from both Jubilee and ODM is that the Kibra contest will in no way endanger the ‘Handshake’ between Uhuru and Raila. Thinking about it, actually, it would be quite odd for Uhuru to want a by-election to wreck it.

I would expect Raila to also have the same opinion. I am afraid the excited Tanga Tanga warriors who sense an opportunity to overturn this ‘Handshake’ are at the same level of comprehension, in this instance, as Embakasi East MP Babu Owino, who in his case went on social media to angrily vent his spleen against Uhuru’s endorsement of Mariga.


He complained that it imperilled the ‘Handshake.’ As campaigns go, expect plenty of heated rhetoric as the Kibra contest catches fire. However, chances of any venom being allowed by the principals to poison their ‘Handshake’ tango are slim.

Two things happened the instant the news broke of Uhuru’s encounter with Mariga. There was uproar in Kieleweke ranks, where Uhuru was felt to have betrayed them. Within ODM, there was complete shock.

The danger of the ‘Handshake’ getting fatally destabilised looked quite real. Raila’s concern, I am told, was not that Uhuru had thrown him under the bus. His worry was how his followers, especially in Kibra, would react. From the other side, a top-level decision was made to immediately send Kamanda, being the face of Kieleweke, to meet Raila and show solidarity with the media.


Why Uhuru risked all that turmoil remains to be explained. He could simply have refused to meet Mariga and pose as being above the fray. But issues in the Jubilee party are not as they seem. Some in Kieleweke are not sure the President is in control of the party anymore. Initially, Uhuru’s pointman at the party headquarters, Secretary-General Raphael Tuju, had stated categorically that Jubilee would not be fielding a candidate for the Kibra by-election. Then things changed inexplicably when a list of aspirants materialised and was forwarded to the IEBC. Then interviews were conducted and Mariga was picked. Ominously for Uhuru’s loyalists, the uncertain situation at Jubilee headquarters remains as it is even as party elections are due in March next year.

Let me avoid speculation on what Uhuru is likely to do next. He can be dodgy and unpredictable, like the Mariga affair has demonstrated. Still, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I will believe Uhuru’s heart is in the Kibra race when he comes out in the open to campaign for Mariga in the constituency. I want to see if his operatives will move resources and money into that campaign in a way that voters can see.  Or if this largesse will be directed, covertly through proxy, to candidate Okoth instead. In other words, let’s wait and see if Uhuru will show his real hand beyond Wednesday’s photo-op.

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