Political bigwigs are trying to outdo each other to find favour with President Uhuru Kenyatta, putting the head of state in a dilemma on how to balance his 2022 succession politics.
Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, who had publicly pledged to be Uhuru’s “errand boy”, on Tuesday announced he would sever links with Nasa and officially sign a post-election deal with Jubilee.
Kalonzo now join at least six leaders who are hopeful Uhuru would endorse them for the country’s top job and bequeath to them the ‘tyranny of numbers’, as well as government machinery.
Uhuru’s Mt Kenya backyard remains the country’s most populous region and would represent a deadly arsenal in the 2022 presidential contest.
However, political analysts warn Kenya would witness claims of political betrayal if Uhuru tries to manage his succession as he has promised, as he would only pick one person.
“It is obvious that the President would keep all aspirants in their comfort zones until the last minute,” predicted political analyst Felix Odhiambo.
“Tears would definitely follow with claims of betrayals ahead of 2022.”
Opposition chief Raila Odinga, Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, Kanu chairman Gideon Moi, Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i are among leaders seen to be banking on Uhuru’s backing.
Deputy President William Ruto, who had a 20-year succession plan with Uhuru, is already grumbling that he has been betrayed following a falling-out with the President.
Just over the weekend, Musalia disowned any political deal with Ruto and emphasised what he termed his “personal relationship with the President”.
“The party leader has often emphasised the personal relationship he has with the President as the basis of his (Mudavadi’s) support for his (the President’s) government. That position has never changed and he is not about to sever that direct link for third- party intercession,” Mudavadi’s communication team said in a statement to newsrooms.
Mudavadi, who is marketing himself as the de facto opposition leader, said he will play the role of a “loyal opposition” – supporting and criticising the government where and when necessary.
On Wednesday, the Raila wing was quick to dismiss claims that they are banking on Uhuru’s backing in 2022.
“We have not gone into this arrangement [the handshake] to be endorsed by anyone. Our relationship does not mean that we have shelved our dreams. Being endorsed is the weakest point anybody can hope for. We are a national party with a clear vision that we are pursuing,” ODM Treasurer Timothy Bosire told the Star.
During a visit to Kisumu in 2018, Siaya Senator James Orengo openly asked for Uhuru’s support in 2022.
Raila has given Uhuru massive political support and a peaceful environment to realise his legacy. He has also helped the President annihilate Ruto, pushing the former Eldoret North MP to the periphery of state power.
Gideon, whose father, former President Daniel Moi, nurtured Kenyatta politically, has had his Kanu sign a post-2017 coalition agreement with the Jubilee Party and hopes for a favour in return.
On Wednesday, former Cabinet minister Franklin Bett told the Star the President is on the horns of a dilemma over his favourite successor as the clock ticks down to 2022.
Bett, a State House comptroller during the Nyayo era, said the President is in a political quagmire over an heir who will “protect his interests”.
“The President is in a massive state of dilemma. The President is looking for a successor who will not go for his neck once he retires in case some things were not done right,” Bett declared.
“You would be pretending to imagine that a retiring president has no interests. A retiring president wants someone who will respect his legacy and ensure his projects are completed.”
However, Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, a close ally of the President, said there’s no dilemma at all as “he understands his transition”.
“The President is focused on finishing strong. Whoever will take over from him will depend on how well he performs by 2022. His attention is focused on doing his work,” Wambugu said.
The President has previously told his Jubilee MPs that he would not mind handing over power to a successor who would continue with his legacy. He has rolled out ambitious programmes under the Big Four agenda – manufacturing, food security, affordable housing and universal health care – as part of his legacy projects.
However, the multibillion-shilling projects have been hampered by inadequate funding due to the country’s massive debts.
The coronavirus pandemic is expected to take its toll on the projects as well in what could further hurt the Big Four.
With some of the projects unlikely to be completed within the remaining 18 months of his term, the President could work out a succession that guarantees their completion after 2022.
The Star understands the President’s bureaucrats are said to be behind the push to have Jubilee sign coalition pacts with more players to quietly manage the succession battle.
The plan seeks to obscure the Uhuru succession race and not make his favourite apparent ahead of the 2022 polls.
In the tightly knit plan, Uhuru’s succession advisers want the negotiating table expanded to include more politicians. The aim is to avoid one strong potential heir from micromanaging the President or holding him hostage.
“Uhuru doesn’t want to look manipulatable. He wants to play political gymnastics so he doesn’t come out as one who can be easily manipulated. The scheme is to have more players and make his succession more complicated,” said a politician in Uhuru’s camp who is familiar with the plan.
The game plan would be to keep all the potential heirs guessing on who among them would be anointed even as the bureaucrats work out a quiet succession process that would safeguard Uhuru’s interests.
As part of the elaborate scheme, Wiper is meant to seal a coalition agreement with Jubilee in about two months in what officials say would enhance Kalonzo’s chances of succeeding Uhuru.
“Our coalition agreement will focus on the 2022 General Election,” National Assembly Deputy Minority leader Robert Mbui said. He is the Kathiani MP.
However, the coalition pact would see Wiper lose at least two influential Minority positions in Parliament – Mbui and Senate Minority Whip Mutula Kilonzo Jnr of Makueni.
“Once Wiper signs a coalition agreement with Jubilee, we have no problem tendering our resignations from the Minority side and crossing over to the Majority,” Mbui said.
The Kathiani lawmaker maintained Wiper will sign the deal after they are able to get approval by the national delegates.
“We want to see how we can manoeuvre and have the National Delegates Convention make a decision on the NEC’s proposal. That will be done soon and it won’t take long,” he said.
Already, the President is working closely with Raila in what has generated confidence in the opposition chief’s camp that he could be groomed to take the baton in 2022.
With Raila’s handshake pact, the President was able to initiate far-reaching changes to the Jubilee Party and Parliament in what cut Ruto down to size and decimated his presidential dreams.
Uhuru and Raila have now taken charge of Parliament and the Building Bridges Initiative report is expected to be handled by various committees for implementation.
The move would then culminate in a referendum to alter the country’s system of government by introducing a prime minister and two deputies picked from the majority party in Parliament.
On Wednesday, ODM chairman John Mbadi told the Star the party would enter into a pre-2022 coalition pact with Jubilee and other like-minded parties after the reform process.
Mbadi, a key Raila ally, revealed that ODM will not enter into a post-2017 coalition agreement with Jubilee but will continue to support the President to realise his legacy, fight corruption and unite Kenyans.
“We will continue working like that through the reform agenda under the BBI and then build the momentum for a pre-2022 coalition not just with Jubilee but also other like-minded parties,” Mbadi said.