Power merchants in 2022 succession

Pointmen: Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli, former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth and Senator James Orengo at his Kajiado home last weekend. [Peterson Githaiga, Standard]

From President Jomo Kenyatta to Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki, every succession cycle has heralded merchants of power at whose beck and call politicians rise or fall.

And now, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s succession is falling into the pattern, minting power merchants whose conscious acts of scheme, plot and thought will determine where the political chips fall.

Some are old wagers in the game while others have been thrust into the centre of the game by fate and time. Some have been watching from the sidelines but now want to play strikers in a high-stakes game whose end is tied to the country’s destiny.

Others are just tired; tired of flogging politically dead horses and now want to get it right for once in their lives. In the conflation of these varying interests, the fate of the country will be decided before it is sealed by Kenyans through a vote.  

“The efforts of capturing State power is always a class project, cutting across the business, ethnic, family and friends considerations. In Kenya, it has largely been a tribal affair. The only positive thing happening right now is the expansion of this group to include ‘the others’,” Wafula Buke, a political commentator and former ODM official told The Standard.

Two main axes

The political merchants who have already shown their claws are drawn from different political persuasions but are mainly centred on the two axes - the Uhuru -Raila Odinga formation featuring Kanu chairman Gideon Moi and Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka, and the other coalescing around Deputy President William Ruto, ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi and Senator Moses Wetang’ula.

Unlike the previous succession matrix involving known old men pulling the strings behind the curtains, the new power brokers have openly been on overdrive making their real intentions known. 

At the core of this is Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli whose Ildamat home in Kajiado has been transformed into a theatre of 2022 political scheming. Regular visitors include Jubilee vice-chairman David Murathe, Siaya Senator James Orengo, former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth, Suna East MP Junet Mohamed and Ntonyiri legislator Maore Maoka.

Raila has visited the home twice for “lunch” while Gideon was there on Sunday. Despite their absence from previous meetings, the pair and the president have been ably represented. It is from these Ildamat meetings that pronouncements that shape political talk and acts are moulded before they are pronounced. Atwoli has modelled himself as an elder statesman with no ambition for elective politics. He has the ear of the president, Raila, Gideon, Kalonzo and Mudavadi, making him a potent deal-maker.

“We are clear in our mind... and we have the benefit of learning from the past. We were here in 2002 and we know where we went wrong. We are negotiating in the best interest of the country, and in good faith,” Murathe told The Standard. He said as major players angle themselves, they have to cast their eyes wider. They have to be honest in their dealings, spread all cards on the table and not take others on a wild goose chase.

“For instance as Central, we have put our cards on the table, and in clear terms. One man, one vote, one shilling is not negotiable as far as we are concerned. It’s a legacy issue for us. You cannot expect our backing when you cannot guarantee us to support at the moment,” Murathe said.

According to Junet, those plotting Uhuru's succession have brought the flair of ideas, issues and interests. The tribe is no longer the sole consideration.

“We are bringing to the table the vigour, the resolve and the freshness of our generation. We are guided by the wisdom of the elders. We can feel the pulse of the nation. And we believe in God and time,” Junet, who is emerging as Raila’s chief merchant, said.

Senator Irungu Kang’ata, though not in the inner sanctum of the Uhuru-Raila axis, is playing the role of the executor. He told The Standard that there are no accidents in politics, that people have to work out for certain strategic ends, and that he’s not being left behind.

“The body structure of politics is interests, plain simple. And the process through which resources and values are shared is what politics is all about. We are determined to safely negotiate succession politics in a manner that will guarantee us good standing in the future,” he said.  

‘Mr Fix It’

Also batting for this team is Njee Muturi, Uhuru’s childhood friend, former solicitor-general and now the Deputy Chief of Staff in the Office of the President. Njee has positioned himself as the president’s Mr Fix-it, and his name looms large whenever Parliament is debating Bills deemed close to Uhuru’s interests. Alongside mentions of the ‘deep state’ in the latest fiasco in Senate that saw three lawmakers arrested and acquitted without charges, Njee’s name has been whispered in the corridors of Parliament.

He is said to have chaperoned the recent Jubilee leadership changes and many a politician won’t cross his path lest their ambitions are vaporised. Njee could not be reached to comment on this story.

On the side of Ruto, former senators Johnstone Muthama, Hassan Omar and Bonnie Khalwale have been the conspicuous players complementing the known figures of Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika, Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung'wa and Senator Kithure Kindiki. Muthama has been hosting meetings canvassing support for Ruto.

Three times now, he has forced Kalonzo into coalitions which had problems clinching victory. He was also an ally of Raila. Muthama has dumped Kalonzo and is backing Ruto. “I am taking charge of the regional vote as we speak. In fact, what is engaging me right now is not to consolidate the Kamba vote bloc. I am more interested in getting the country on the right side of history. If Kalonzo wants, he can join me,” Muthama told The Standard.

Omar says he’s baring his all for his team. He says he’s there to lend intellectual, moral and generational support to Ruto. He expects the side to bulge in the coming days as people begin to realise that it’s the best bet. Although he has not openly come out on it, former Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri has been identified as a key ally of Ruto and has not hidden his disdain for people who are opposed to the DP.

“These groups represent wider interests. There is a perpetual struggle to find a winning formula while taking on board all interests obtaining around their candidates. When you look at it this way, you then begin to realise how fake the concept of democracy is,” Buke said of the merchants of power. 

Murathe has been there. In 2002 and together with Ruto, he rallied behind Uhuru in his maiden stab at the presidency. Despite the backing of the State machinery, their candidate lost to Kibaki.

Atwoli has always been there but has played nominal roles in succession politics, until now. Both men claim what they say always comes to pass. Besides, they say they have learned from history.?

Orengo has seen it all, all the three successions. In 2002, he ignored the pleas of the power merchants of the times who included Raila, Kisumu Governor Anyang' Nyong’o, and former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, among others, to run for president. After heavy defeat, he spent the next five years politically brooding, until 2005 when he closed ranks with Raila. Now, he’s lending the full wealth of his experience to the Raila-Uhuru-Gideon axis. His performance at the Senate in the revenue sharing formula debate demonstrates this.

High expectations

Kenneth is a strange entrant into this circle, given his troubled history with Uhuru’s inner sanctum.

In 2013, he ran for president against Uhuru, earning himself the spoiler tag. He re-emerged in 2017 seeking Nairobi governor post before disappearing again. Now, he’s back on the high-table of Raila-Uhuru axis with high expectations and gravitas. 

Another new entrant is CS Peter Munya. Within three years, he has risen from a loser in the 2017 gubernatorial elections to the powerful Agriculture docket. The president’s closest allies, led by Murathe, have lots of faith in him. “Meru is Mount Kenya. In the new formation, whatever happens, Mt Kenya must be in it. And I am announcing today. The best of Mt Kenya in this formation will be Munya. Wapende wasipende (like it or not),” Murathe said.

Yesterday, Maore said as leaders, they have to plan for the future, politically.

“We are in the same wavelength as the handshake. We must plan our future. This is a duty that we have, and one that we must execute,” he said.

In Coast, governors Hassan Joho (Mombasa) and Amason Kingi (Kilifi) sit at the apex of brokers who will decide which way the region goes.

Notably, Joho, the ODM deputy party leader, has been uncharacteristically quiet of late, provoking intense debate on what he is up to. Western Kenya has lots of big names with big ambitions enveloped in the shadow of Raila, but it’s Busia Senator Amos Wako who is emerging as a serious agent in the succession mix, leading missions to win over bigwigs in the area.

Through him, Mudavadi is reportedly being approached with a view to winning him back to the Raila-Uhuru axis.

Unlike Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa whose hands are forced by post-2022 ambitions, Wako has the ear of politicians across the board, partly due to the fact that he is not seeking a higher office and his previous tenure as Attorney General. Senator Wako is trusted and respected by the system, as well as all party leaders.