By BEN AGINA
Having been a heartbeat away from State House for 13 years, Prof George Saitoti knew he would be a major factor in how the next General Election would turn out.
On December 2, last year, long after other State House hopefuls made their intentions known, the Party of National Unity (PNU) chairm anannounced he would run for office. Unlikely to win, according to conventional wisdom and most opinion polls, he was seen as a unifying figure for a party in disarray.
The immediate support he got from current and former Members of Parliament suggests he would have been decisive in how the poll played out in Nairobi and nearby counties, which have enough votes to determine who wins the presidential race. His tragic death just six months later upsets both the Grand Coalition and the race to succeed President Kibaki.
On Saturday, at his burial, two presidential hopefuls told Kenyans they felt a duty to honour an agreement they had made with the long-time Kajiado North MP.
“Uhuru (Kenyatta) and I owe Prof Saitoti some debt,” Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka said at the burial in Kitengela.
“It is the protocol the three of us signed (on how to approach the General Election) … Saitoti was prepared to give all to this nation … If we could live the letter and spirit of that protocol, this country is going to emerge stronger.”
Uhuru, a key part of Kibaki’s succession arrangement, had earlier said he was ready to put aside his ambition to take the country where Saitoti would have wanted it to be.
Just last week, the former VP made an impassioned speech on the need for a peaceful election, thoughts Kibaki and others recalled yesterday. Saitoti, Kalonzo and Uhuru signed a protocol in November 2010, binding them to face off in a joint presidential nomination race through the PNU alliance.
The deal was meant to avoid the acrimony that attends races with candidates backed largely by their ethniccommunities.
Before Saitoti’s death, there were doubts over whether this would come to be.
Known as one who “chose his words carefully”, Saitoti never got to respond to unconfirmed reports he had a secret deal with Prime Minister Raila Odinga to be a potential running mate in a ticket against Uhuru, the PM’s strongest rival.