The three biggest names in Kenyan politics will remain key voices in defining and determining President Uhuru Kenyatta’s successor. But as the trio lines their ducks in a row, all three face individual challenges that will play a role in determining their post 2022 political fortunes.
Political analysts and leading voices agree that President Uhuru Kenyatta, opposition leader Raila Odinga as well as Deputy President William Ruto will either deliberately or inadvertently play a role in picking Kenyatta’s successor. But, analysts warn, this march into 2022 will have casualties.
At 56, President Kenyatta has his legacy to worry about. How would the man, who at the infancy of his presidency was looked upon by many Kenyans as a sure bet to a better country but under whose watch Kenya has suffered some of the worst economic plunder ever, want to be remembered.
His second and final term is all about legacy. A legacy he believes will come true through his Big 4 agenda.
“The President seems to be clear in his quest for a legacy. A considerable part of his energy is now dedicated to national unity and the war against corruption, all of which are aimed at making the big 4 agenda a success,” political scientist Prof Macharia Munene says.
But even as the President embarks on his legacy journey, there is always the small still, tempting voice of hanging on to power for much longer. People close to him have gone on record saying that nothing stops their man from staying in power if there were to be a constitutional change.
“This should not be done,” constitutional lawyer Charles Kanjama says. “Changing the structure of government is a big deal and should not be done for transient purposes.”
Kanjama adds that the Constitution has been designed for a presidential system. Amending it would change the fundamental structure on which it was founded. “This will be going for the very heart of the constitution,” he says.” This is not a small change.”
But if it happens, are any of the major political players including the president, the son of a president willing to pay the price? For instance, what will be the cost of such a move be on Kenyatta’s legacy?
The options for his longtime frenemy Raila are fast diminishing. Raila has the next four years to plot an audacious comeback that may result in him ascending to the place he has been agitating for a decade now.
The dilemma for him though is whether the Raila Juggernaut has anything left in the tank to propel him, finally, over the finish line and to cut the tape.
In the run-up to the last election, he famously said the 2017 attempt was the last bullet in his gun. But recently, his generals have come out forcefully indicating that he is far from finished in the political arena.
ODM leaders have revived Raila’s 2022 presidential bid debate, saying he remains their best bet for the top seat. They told those writing him off to do so at their own peril, insisting the NASA leader, who has kept off President Kenyatta’s succession talks, was still fit to lead the country.
Oburu Oginga and Senate Minority Leader James Orengo said Raila remained their best bet. Oburu said his brother was still politically flamboyant, in high spirits and full of vigour to contest for the presidency one more time.
“I want to tell those trying to overlook Raila that they should not write him off. Raila is politically dynamic and more re-energised and focused,” said Oburu.
“And herein lies his challenge. How does Odinga rid himself from the capture of his persona by those whose political careers will be dimmed by his exit,” Macharia asks. “How does he ensure his core support base remains loyal to him?”
Raila had in the run-up to the last elections, through a series of mythical sayings and anecdotes heavy on biblical teachings, said the 2017 poll would be his last. His re-entry into the political fold, and the declaration by his lieutenants over his interests in the next elections threatening to tip over the already rocking boat on opposition unity that not only had him on board, but had Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka as well as Moses Wetang’ula as passengers.
If he were to run, and lose, what options would remain for him?
“He will continue with his fight to change the Constitution,” Macharia says. “If he succeeds, he could find himself in power through the creation of another powerful, non- elective post such as that of Prime Minister, without really being elected by the people.”
Have a head start
Like every able understudy, the Deputy President will feel entitled to not only a stab at, but to the presidency itself. And because of this, his unwavering ambition complicates the political arithmetic for the two gentlemen, who have to grapple with the continuous scheming of perhaps the most ambitions man among the three.
Ruto has made his intentions of succeeding the President known. More importantly he seems to have a head start on anyone else who might express interest in the top seat. But what he might see as a head start has been described as ‘ku tanga tanga’ by the man he hopes to succeed.
“He is already moving around the country, making himself familiar even to the farthest of places. In 2022, his will be the most recognizable face on the ballot,” Prof Edward Kisiangani says. But for this to translate into votes, Ruto must deal with the monkey on his shoulder.
“The thing about Ruto is that there is all manner of allegations around him,” Macharia says. “But this should not make anyone downplay his strengths.”
He says as an erstwhile student of President Moi, Ruto has now learnt of the importance of patience. “Right now he has a lot of mud thrown on him. Some of it will stick, some of it will fall off. How he deals with this mud will go a long way into determining his political future,” Macharia says.
Another hurdle Ruto will have to surmount will be that of a perceived debt owed to him by the central Kenya voting block after he successfully managed to convince his Rift Valley voting block to vote for Kenyatta almost to a man.
“He will have to tactfully collect on his dues without being too abrasive about it. He will have to woo the block back to his side. This will not be easy because a lot of this will ride on whether Kenyatta stands by his side or not,” Kisiangani says. “And there are telling sings that the president has made up his mind not to throw his weight behind him.”
While his supporters were out asking for a return of favour from Mt Kenya, Ruto early last month said nobody owed him anything in an apparent change of tack.
“I want to remind leaders what Paul says in Romans 13:8; owe no man nothing except the debt of love for one another. That is the only debt that all of us have,” Ruto said while attending a service at Nairobi’s All Saints Cathedral.
The three are keeping their cards close to their chest. Any wrong move for any of them could spell political doom. At risk for Kenyatta is a lackluster second term that will end his ten-year presidency in a whimper.
For Ruto, then next four years will determine whether his near story book run towards the presidency will end in the ultimate fairy tale. Raila’s stakes too are higher. A misstep will mean missing out on a presidency he has been after for the better part of his life.