As President Uhuru Kenyatta’s latest leadership style stamps him as the person to watch in Jubilee ahead of the next election, a ‘supreme war council’ said to be calculating his moves has emerged.
It is behind the President’s aggressive takeover of the party and the surprise coup against Deputy President William Ruto insofar as the Senate leadership is concerned.
Some of these men and women – hardly seen in public – exercise a lot of soft power and their strategies would inform the expected formation of a government of national unity.
Part of their job is to generate, evaluate, approve and execute major action plans made by the Jubilee Party and President Kenyatta.
Uhuru’s younger brother, Muhoho Kenyatta, a rare public figure, is said to be the de facto leader of the council. Sources said he has to endorse most of the strategy decisions by the team and provides finances where necessary.
He was instrumental in the cobbling together of the 2013 political pact between Uhuru’s TNA and Ruto’s URP and later bankrolled the subsequent three presidential campaigns.
Muhoho, 55, seen as the head the Kenyatta business empire, is the man Ruto’s men privately blame for many of their miseries. Ironically, they have been unable to directly confront him.
Last week, Ruto’s camp complained that he engineered the Jubilee-Kanu post-election deal that paved the way for the sacking of Ruto’s allies in the Senate.
“So on Thursday, President Kenyatta, his brother Muhoho Kenyatta and Nancy Gitau met Senator Gideon Moi and signed a coalition agreement,” former State House director Denis Itumbi tweeted.
The reclusive Nancy Gitau has wielded a lot of power throughout President Kenyatta’s tenure. She is so powerful that her name is only whispered by politicians.
Gitau was the overall coordinator of Kenyatta’s presidential elections in 2013 and 2017. The political strategist was forced out of her official position in the Office of the President by the Deputy President, who accused her, alongside other senior government officials, of undermining his authority.
Having worked for President Mwai Kibaki as well, Gitau is also said to be the brain behind the Kieleweke grouping that’s opposed to Ruto and led by nominated MP Maina Kamanda.
Some of her friends describe her as calm but firm and “can easily walk the downtown streets of Nairobi unnoticed”.
Allies of the DP have always picked a fight with her, but she does not respond, instead choosing to focus on what she knows best. Her behind-the-scenes actions leave the Ruto camp more devastated.
It is reported that political scientist Mutahi Ngunyi is working with Gitau. He is well known for coining the famous (or infamous) phrase “tyranny of numbers”, at least with regard to Kenyan politics, in the run-up to the 2013 election. The phrase had previously been used elsewhere in a different context.
Ngunyi, who once had kind words for Ruto, was first spotted sitting behind Uhuru during last year’s Jamhuri Day celebrations in Mombasa. He is said to be behind public narratives being communicated in the media and what politicians allied to the President can use against those allied to Ruto.
The other person playing a pivotal role in Uhuru’s succession plan is Jubilee Party vice-chairman David Murathe.
He is seen as the military general of the war council and is not shy to tell it like it is. Others say he is the attack dog and speaks the mind of the President.
He had resigned last year in January as the JP vice-chair but recently made a comeback with an announcement that the President declined to accept his resignation letter.
In this team is also Jubilee chairman Nelson Dzuya, a former TNA politician from Kilifi.
Dzuya is a mandatory signatory to key Jubilee decisions, including the changes to the National Management Committee that the Ruto wing vehemently opposed.
“He believes Ruto blocked his appointment as Chief Administrative Secretary in favour of former MP Gideon Mung’aro and later as an ambassador to China,” a source familiar with Jubilee intrigues told the Star on condition of anonymity.
Then there is JP secretary general Raphael Tuju, the lead executor of the President’s wishes in the party.
The eloquent and ever-smiling Tuju has one trait that has seen him survive in governments – loyalty. His critics say he executes to the letter the President’s decisions, some of which they claim outrightly violate the Jubilee Party constitution.
At State House, Uhuru has a team of rock-solid advisers, some of whom occasionally attend the strategy meetings. Anyone who was close to the DP has been removed from State House.
In the State House team are Chief of Staff Nzioka Waita, his Deputy Njee Muturi and comptroller Kinuthia Mbugua.
Uhuru brought Waita to head the Presidential Delivery Unity, an organ within State House that is responsible for following up development projects undertaken by the government.
Sources within State House describe Waita, who is also the Chief of Staff, as “Mr Fix It” and a man who has the President’s ear.
When the cold wars rocked the UhuRuto marriage, allies of the DP pointed fingers at him, accusing him of misadvising the President.
Attorney General Paul Kihara is also key in some of Uhuru’s decisions, like the takeover of four functions of Nairobi county.
Political analyst Isaac Wabuge notes that indeed “Uhuru has upped his game, a clear indication that he has people pushing him”.
Wabuge says there is nothing extraordinary as the so-called “deep state” is keen to manage the transition to the next government and determine who becomes the next occupant of State House.
“The President is a product of the deep state and the very deep state wants to also have their own in power. This the tradition, the world over. Those people have an interest and they must plan succession politics,” he said on the phone.
University don Peter Kagwanja said what the country is witnessing is “a reflection of a deteriorating relationship between Uhuru and Ruto”.
“This is a straight war and the ground has to give in. Uhuru is playing government and the hate is palpable. How to resolve their differences is the big issue in the house,” Prof Kagwanja told the Star.
However, political analyst Macharia Munene opines that the latest bold political moves by the President seen to target Ruto “are his own” and not necessarily from his advisers.
“It is my belief that the President is acting on his own. Those around him are just adding or subtracting some ideas,” Prof Munene told the Star by phone.
At Jubilee headquarters in Pangani, Nairobi, are also several technocrats working closely with the President. This has left the secretariat sharply divided into pro-Uhuru and pro-Ruto camps.
Working with the Uhuru team are finance director and head of administration Wambui Gichuru, lawyer Tom Macharia, deputy head of legal affairs Frank Mwendani, and regional director Steve Mwanga.
Wambui, daughter of former Kenya Power managing director Samuel Gichuru, served as finance director for former President Mwai Kibaki’s PNU, through TNA and now Jubilee. She has all the connections with Mt Kenya tycoons.
Tom Macharia and Mwendani are the Jubilee Party’s legal brains. Mwendani is former executive director of the defunct Alliance Party of Kenya, popularly known as “Mbus” that was headed by Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi. He was the lead author of the Jubilee constitution.
Mwanga is the regional director in charge of Kiambu county. He is a close associate of Murathe and Tuju and sits in Jubilee’s powerful dispute resolution committee.
Mwanga, who hails from Siaya county, ran a big moneyed campaign for the Ugenya parliamentary seat in 2007 and almost vanquished now Siaya Senator James Orengo.
Ruto only has a handful of loyalists at the secretariat. They include director of legal affairs Mary Kigen-Sorobit, director of membership Nicholas Bore, head of logistics Godfrey Lemiso and regional director Abraham Limo.