What next from Uhuru-Raila bag of political tricks?

Sunday March 11 2018

Nasa presidential ticket

Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka. He wants the Nasa presidential ticket in the 2022 elections. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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The surprise meeting between President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga was billed as consensus on the need to resolve Kenya’s immediate political impasse in the wake of a disputed presidential election.

What happens next will be keenly watched in so far as it impacts on political re-alignments and the presidential succession race leading to 2022.

If it is true that all their key lieutenants — notably Deputy President William Ruto from President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party, as well as Mr Odinga’s co-principals in the National Super Alliance (Mr Kalonzo Musyoka, Mr Moses Wetang'ula and Mr Musalia Mudavadi) — were in the dark about the meeting, then the president and his long-term rival have sown a great deal of confusion in their respective camps.

Mr Ruto, who is President Kenyatta’s heir apparent, was quick to post a gracious congratulatory message on social media as soon as the two leaders jointly addressed the press.

But key figures in his political constellation were scrambling to make sense of the surprise development.

Their biggest concern was that beyond heralding a ceasefire on the post-election impasse, it might signal realignments that could adversely affect Mr Ruto’s prospects in the 2022 presidential race.

The Uhuru-Ruto political deal that captured State House in 2013 and 2017 explicitly provided for Mr Kenyatta to serve two terms and then hand over to his DP.

On the other side, Mr Musyoka of Wiper party, Mr Wetang'ula of Ford Kenya and Mr Mudavadi of Amani National Congress released a statement stating that they were kept in the dark on Mr Odinga’s engagements with President Kenyatta.

Already, Nasa has been pulling apart after the three skipped Mr Odinga’s mock swearing-in as the “Peoples President” last month.

The co-principals have also been complaining that Mr Odinga’s ODM Party has been taking them for granted and making unilateral decisions.

If they were seen to have betrayed Mr Odinga on the swearing-in, then he has extracted sweet revenge on them.

Also germane is that Nasa has its own succession tiffs.

The agreement that handed Mr Odinga the coalition’s ticket for the second time, with Mr Musyoka again as running-mate, explicitly provided that, win or lose, Mr Odinga would not run again.

The presumption was that it would be Mr Musyoka’s turn come 2022, but Mr Mudavadi is also eyeing the ticket.

After five years in the wilderness following his ill-fated dalliance with Jubilee at the 2013 elections, Mr Mudavadi returned to the main opposition grouping ahead of the 2017 polls to lay the groundwork for 2022.


Mr Musyoka and Mr Mudavadi have not been very keen on Nasa’s continued agitation for fresh elections, suggesting that it might be time to lick their wounds and focus on preparations for 2022.

With that have come suggestions from their supporters that it is time Mr Odinga started to wind up after many unsuccessful stabs at the presidency.

One problem, however, is that Mr Musyoka and Mr Mudavadi have been having their own tug-of-war over the Nasa ticket.

Mr Wetang'ula has also been insisting that he is in the race, though he was relegated to the background after Mr Mudavadi came to the fold.

All previous succession agreements become redundant if the Kenyatta-Odinga peace amounts to new political alliances.

That is what is occupying presidential aspirants in both Jubilee and Nasa, with observer wondering what else might be pulled out of the Kenyatta-Odinga bag of tricks.

Of course, it might all amount to nothing in terms of succession politics.

Mr Kenyatta is serving out his last term, and would have little to gain from a new alliance, which might jeopardise his partnership with Mr Ruto.

The UhuRuto alliance, as it is popularly known, is not just about two leaders, but a peace pact between two communities — Kikuyu and Kalenjin.

The two communities have been at the centre of bloody political-ethnic conflicts in the Rift Valley since the early 1990s.

Survival of the pact is incumbent on Mr Kenyatta working to ensure that massive Kikuyu voting blocs back Mr Ruto’s 2022 presidential campaign.

There have also been elements of blackmail, with dark ramblings that Kikuyu settled in the Rift Valley, who have always borne the brunt of political violence and forced displacement, would suffer dire consequences if the UhuRuto alliance is reneged.

Mr Kenyatta seems determined to meet his side of the bargain.

To leave a solid legacy at a time when the economy is tanking and some of his flagship projects are faltering, it makes sense for President Kenya to strike a peace deal with Mr Odinga.0

Survival of the pact is incumbent on Mr Kenyatta reciprocating and working to ensure that massive Kikuyu voting bloc lines up to a man behind Mr Ruto’s 2022 presidential campaign.

But there have also been elements of blackmail, with dark rumblings from some of Mr Ruto’s supporters to the effect that Kikuyu settled in the Rift Valley, who have always borne the brunt political violence and forced displacement, would suffer dire consequences if they reneged on the political deal.

Despite indications that some Kikuyu are still not comfortable with Mr Ruto and would rather field their own candidate, or if they must placate the Kalenjin strike a deal to support Mr Gideon Moi of Kanu, Mr Kenyatta remains determined to meet is side of the bargain.


He wants to be a man of his word and will not leave Mr Ruto in the lurch.

On his final term however, Mr Kenyatta faces a dilemma: He badly wants to build solid legacy, and time is running out.

The economy is tanking, some of his flagship development projects have not promised as delivered, and Kenya remains a deeply divided country characterised by violent politics and dangerous ethnic fissures.

President Kenyatta in his contentious final term is thus distracted by political conflicts that do not give him time to focus on the economy and his development agenda.

It also does not help that succession politics in Jubilee, as Mr Ruto amasses his campaign war chest and lines up allies, diverts attention from the job at hand. 

It therefore makes sense for President Kenya to strike a peace deal with Mr Odinga, so that he can have more time to devote to the serious task of doing whatever must be done to secure a legacy in leading economic transformation and leaving behind a country more united, stable and prosperous than he found it.

This might not necessarily amount to a deliberate shifting of political alliances, but no doubt will have an impact on the scenario leading to 2022.


Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga might have thrown the cat amongst their respective political pigeons.

In that regard it is notable that their representatives to the secretariat being set up to drive the process forward are not the usual suspects of frontline political loyalists, but technocrats more attuned to quietly working behind the scenes.

In Mr Martin Kimani, President Kenyatta has tapped a respected but little-known security expert, who as director of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre has played a key role in design and implementation of a strategy that aims to counter Al-Shabbab through de-radicalisation programmes rather than just brute force.

Lawyer Paul Mwangi has over the last decade also played important roles in Mr Odinga’s office, providing quiet advice on political strategy and legal and constitutional issues, while avoiding the drama and theatrics that often comes from the politicians, activists, lawyers and campaign workers who love to take the front line.

It is Mr Kimani and Mr Mwangi, alongside the others to be brought on board, who will in the coming days, weeks and months, provide a clearer roadmap of wherever the Uhuru-Raila accord will lead to.

Chances are that the next step will be convention of a national conference to deliberate on what will be defined as short-term issues, the immediate political crisis; middle term issues such as electoral reform and the governance system; and long-term issues around historical injustices, skewed development, equity, exclusion and marginalisation.