The ‘swearing in’ that we have been waiting for has come and gone – and the next episode of our political drama has started. But even as we look to the future, it is important to look back at the ‘swearing in’ and reflect what it portends for our politics. To my mind, there are three important issues to pick from the ‘swearing in’ that will tell us who the real winners were on Tuesday. First is the decision to let the event proceed undeterred. The second is the absence of Raila Odinga’s co-principals from the ceremony. The third is the remark by Musalia Mudavadi that NASA’s focus is on amending the constitution. Contemplation upon these issues, it seems to me that William Ruto and Raila Odinga were the major winners from Tuesday’s drama.
Raila’s swearing-in took place while President Kenyatta was out of the country and therefore his deputy was the man in-charge. The strategic mastery of Ruto - a man who has had the benefit of learning under the wings of Kenya’s key political figures of our lifetime Daniel Moi, Mwai Kibaki, Raila Odinga and now Uhuru Kenyatta – was brought to bear. Following the violent confrontations that have come to characterise NASA events, all indications were the government was gearing up for an epic battle.
Wiggle himself out
The police had been positioned at Uhuru Park before daybreak and the usual statement that they would not allow the event to proceed had been made. City Hall had announced closure of Uhuru Park for renovations while the ‘Nairobi Business Community’ had also booked the venue. The stage was set for confrontation as NASA insisted they wouldn’t go elsewhere. Pandemonium would hand them moral authority but as the police were withdrawn, it appeared they’d been outwitted. They were left holding a gun without ammunition. Welcome to Ruto’s brand of statecraft.
The second winner – though it may not seem like it - was Raila. The man had boxed himself into a corner but on Tuesday he took the only option he had to wiggle himself out of an impossible and undesirable situation. He has since said he is not mad – and I believe him. Much like Arsenal fans, Raila’s supporters have been accustomed to disappointment, yet remain loyal. This time round though, they were not going to let him off the hook. He’d promised it, he had to deliver. That is why attempts to postpone it had not shifted their focus. This was their catharsis; culmination of their pilgrimage to ‘Canaan’. Realising he was cornered, he decided to grit his teeth and get it over with. But in so doing, he showed supporters that he was brave and committed to the cause.
However, the real gem for Raila here lies in exposing his co-principals – one might perhaps say sub-principals – Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula. No matter what tales they tell, what people will remember is that they were not there. Even ‘show-of-unity’ press conferences will not hold. Their absence signalled that the chaps didn’t have skin in the game! They left Raila exposed when the show of unity mattered most; both to him and his supporters. And if it is true, as they have tried to explain that their absence was planned, which is doubtful, then we can only conclude that Raila conned them. He is now free; he doesn’t owe anyone any favours. Furthermore, after Tuesday his support base has been consolidated while theirs have disintegrated. Talk of killing two birds with one stone. Rarely do such outcomes emanate from happenstance.
And this is where Ruto and Raila’s stars begin to align as we look to 2022 when Kenyatta will exit the scene. Though it seemed the field would be crowded, from Tuesday it is clear who the main players are. If NASA’s push for a constitutional change succeeds and we return the position of Prime Minister, who’s to rule out an alliance between Jubilee and ODM in 2022? To quote Sun Tzu, the victorious strategists only seek battle after the victory has been won while those destined to defeat fight first and then look for victory. The winners here are clear.
- The writer is a PhD Candidate in African Studies at the University of Edinburgh. [email protected]