The death of former President Daniel arap Moi, a towering political figure, could significantly alter Kenya’s political landscape in the coming days.
Bereft of their political sounding board, the group of star students he taught will now have to make their own moves, and absorb on their own any shock effects.
Perhaps an assertive and craftier President Uhuru Kenyatta, a flexible Gideon Moi who rolls with the punches, a determined Deputy President William Ruto and an emboldened Musalia Mudavadi will create their own paths.
But will ODM leader Raila Odinga continue to hold his punches and will his Wiper counterpart Kalonzo Musyoka continue to play meek?
“Nearly every senior politician in Kenya today either worked, was mentored by or went through the late Moi’s school of politics. The journey forward without him is one that will be marked with uncertainty,” says Macharia Munene, a professor of History and International Relations at the United States International University.
Munene anticipates “an intensified sibling rivalry” as the Moi boys seek to define their individual spaces without the restraint or guidance of the old man. Although they have grown thick skins, they could easily be taken advantage of by rivals, and will have to be circumspect.
It is, however, inconceivable that an outsider can sweep aside their club. This, according to analysts, is comforting to them.
“They now have blank notebooks in their hands to write their political story,” says Dismas Mokua, a political risk analyst. Anecdotal evidence that sprang off the Moi funeral showed a man who remained in charge all through. Tales were told of how he fixed political alliances, scorned others and disrupted budding ones.
President Kenyatta painted him in strictly father figure terms, while Ruto admitted that he angered the former president and earned himself a political blackout, Raila intimated that he consulted him often while Kalonzo and Mudavadi zealously listened to him ever since their initial rebellion.
“Expect more brutal politics, the politicians are going to be more liberal and they will drop the guided conservative politics of Mzee Moi’s playbook. It will be tough and nasty,” Mokua says. But the race to occupy that vacuum has also been flayed open. It could also open one more political space at the top as Raila and Kenyatta contemplate political future.
According to political analyst Herman Manyora, both Uhuru and Raila have a chance to be the father of the nation and fill the vacuum that has been left by Moi by moving out of his shadows.
“Uhuru has the opportunity of becoming the father of the nation. If he decides so he must rally everyone along with him. Raila too has such an opening,” Manyora says.
He says Moi was a point of reference and someone must fill the void by staying above parochial politics to gain the admiration of Kenyans.
Moment of reckoning
Mokua agrees that this will be the moment of reckoning for Uhuru, whose political rise is a hallmark of a political protege’s project gone right.
From obscurity, Moi picked Uhuru, dusted him and made him what he is today.
“Uhuru owes his political achievement to Mzee Moi,” says former Cabinet minister Musa Sirma. Present during the birthing of Project Uhuru in 2001, Sirma says Moi thought the younger Kenyatta had an opportunity to carry on his legacy of uniting the country.
“Though those advised had no obligation to take up his position that he would always express in a polite and firm manner, most of his opinions carried the day because they would be coated with wisdom and hindsight,” Sirma says.
In both 2013 and 2017 when Uhuru contested for presidency, he paid homage to Moi, perhaps to seek his blessings as his political father. During the funeral on Wednesday, the president recounted how he feared Moi and how one time he hid from him for a week.
For Gideon, analyst says, the ramification of Moi’s bowing out of the stage will completely reorient his political configurations.
“It is now going to be a different ball game all together starting from the Rift Valley where Gideon has inherited his father’s political baton and capital,” Mokua says.
He adds that the Baringo Senator will now want to secure his father’s legacy by invigorating Kanu and making it a vibrant political outfit that is able to field a presidential candidate and others.
During the burial ceremony, Kanu Secretary General Nick Salat said the party will start rebuilding its networks and regrouping after the eight-day mourning period for the family, an indication that there was a grand plan. “After eight days, we will begin 40-day period of hosting Kanu members at Kabarak,” Salat said.
In the Kenyan political space, voters tend to be emotionally connected with both political and biological scions of the leaders they revered. From Uhuru, Raila, Mudavadi, Vihiga Senator George Khaniri to Kitutu Chache MP Richard Onyonka, the sons of former politicians have always been treated gently by voters.
Gideon’s immediate task will be to revamp the party that his father wrestled from the big communities after he wound up his Kadu party. Another huge political assignment will be to wrestle the Rift Valley’s political base from Ruto who enjoys huge support. But, Amani National Congress Secretary General Barrack Muluka disagrees with those who believe that much will change.
He thinks those they claim to be Moi boys have already built their bases and moved on. “How do you call people in their 60s boys? That is a misnomer, most of them have cut their political teeth, we are now only likely to see a more emphatic Gideon in the political arena,” Muluka says.
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