Is Kalonzo a serial flip flopper or victim of circumstances?

Kalonzo Musyoka, who became the butt of jokes and was branded a watermelon for failing to take a clear stand on the referendum. [Photo, Standard]

Kalonzo Musyoka seems to have, in an uncanny way, mastered the art of flip flopping in his speech, something that often leaves him with an egg on the face as Kenyans lampoon him with all manner of jokes and vitriol.

The latest episode that irked Kenyans was when he, in an animated manner, suggested that he would have no qualms supporting President Uhuru Kenyatta beyond his 2022 limit.

“And I’m here suggesting tuungane…with other communities, tumsaidie ndugu Uhuru Kenyatta, kama Uhuru atasema after the new constitution tumeiunda…aseme ndugu Kalonzo mimi nataka kuendelea mbele, nitamwambia nitakusupport,” Kalonzo told a gathering of leaders in Koma grounds, Machakos County.

The remarks were taken to mean Kalonzo was advocating abolition of presidential term limits. They spread like bush fire, with majority of Kenyans wondering if the Wiper leader was rooting for dictatorship.

Fence sitter

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However, speaking during an interview with a local TV station, Kalonzo painfully tried to explain what he meant, clarifying that he would never in his sound mind, propose Kenyatta’s third term as President. What he did not know is that the explanation ended up affirming the confusion.

He said he meant that should the Constitution be amended to expand the executive, there would be a government of national unity post 2022 elections and that “you cannot rule out Uhuru in that arrangement.” He also clarified that he meant possibility of letting Uhuru take up the Prime Minister position.

“I think Uhuru should go home but Kenyans might want him to stay owing to his fight against corruption,” he said. Many were left wondering if he had talked to Kenyans to gauge their satisfaction on the fight against corruption and the President’s performance.

In 2010, during the referendum campaigns that gave birth to the new constitution, Kalonzo became the butt of jokes and was finally branded a watermelon for failing to take a clear and decisive stand on the referendum.

As the campaigns heated up, Kalonzo seemed to find comfort in perching somewhere in between the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ teams, prompting ODM leader Raila Odinga to dismiss him as watermelon. But with the current calls to amend the constitution ahead of the 2022 elections, Kalonzo says he is vindicated and has turned the watermelon tag on his detractors.

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“I said let us listen to the church and everybody else, but they branded me a watermelon. Now, they are the biggest watermelon,” he said in Koma.

Seemingly, the former Vice President agonises over these issues and thinks Kenyans intentionally misunderstand him.

And because he is not confrontational, they also find him an easy political target for bashing, he laments.

Wrongfully profiled

“I have been wrongfully profiled as indecisive, coward and a fence sitter. I am actually none of those, I act in the best interests of the country,” Kalonzo defended himself.

From now on, he said, Kenyans will see a different side of him.

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Youthful Embakasi Wiper politician Fred Kioko believes that is indeed the case, that Kalonzo’s leadership style is a function of culture and that there is no good or bad culture: “When people demand Kalonzo to become a Raila, what they really want is a cultural change, which is nearly impossible. Culture is deeply rooted in people.”

Kioko says the fact is Raila or Uhuru’s leadership methods are different from Kalonzo’s, but that does not mean they are more functional or better. Through his cultural growth, Kalonzo learnt to shoot straight from the hip, lace talk with humour, be risk-averse and dole out favours which return to haunt him.

“Take Raila for example; his bullish, aggressive and highly-assertive leadership style may be ‘at home’ with his people. But for Kalonzo’s people, it may be perceived even as immoral. Kalonzo’s grateful and smooth interpersonal relationship orientation is in line with his own people’s kindness, politeness and humility may be perceived as ‘weakness’ by others,” he said.

Not long ago, the Wiper leader ran into political headwinds when he declared himself ‘mtu wa mkono (errand boy) wa President Uhuru Kenyatta’ during the burial of his father. The statement caused resentment even within Wiper Party, with many interpreting it to mean he had abandoned his ambitions.

Kalonzo, however, says all that was said in jest, and that what he actually meant was that he would join others like Raila, the President and his deputy on the negotiating table to fight corruption and unite the country.

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“You know when you are before a political audience, you say some things in jest which are quickly taken out of context,” he offered.

When he is not being referred to as water melon, then he is a chameleon. The Wiper leader acquired the chameleon tag shortly after the disputed 2007 presidential elections that degenerated into deadly violence.

As the country burned, Kalonzo quickly abandoned the opposition camp that was disputing the re-election of former President Mwai Kibaki and joined him in government. He was rewarded with the vice presidency.

The cuckolded opposition camp branded him a chameleon, although his camp has always maintained he helped cool political tempers and quel the violence.

Just before that election, Kalonzo had made a ‘katikati’ (in between) declaration that would for many years be used to haunt him.

Too diplomatic

“Raisi Kibaki akiwa pande hii na Raila pande hii, Kalonzo na wakenya nitapita hapo katikati yao,” he said then. It was not until recently that none other than Deputy President William Ruto stopped making snide remarks against Kalonzo, occasionally referring to him as “yule jamaa wa katikati.”

His failure to be sworn in alongside Raila only served to ridicule him further as a certified coward.

Newspaper cartoonists have had a field day depicting him either as a watermelon or chameleon, and lately a chameleon resting inside a sliced watermelon fruit.

Kalonzo has however taken it in his stride, although his allies say he is sometimes pained by what he considers malicious depiction of his character.

Some within his circles say Kalonzo has fear of the unknown.

He is said to be too cautious and would think so much about the consequences of his potential actions, something that would take him a while to make his mind.

Others say he is too diplomatic and that his greatest undoing is trying to please every side of the political divide.

Kalonzo, however, thinks he has the gift of foresight, which is lacking in many people.

“God has given me ability to see far. I have the gift of vision,” he told a gathering at his Yatta farm recently.

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