If the past year was intense politically, 2022 promises to be even more explosive as politicians heighten their campaigns ahead of the August 9 General Election. It promises to be a year full of political intrigues that can only be equated to events leading to the Moi succession of two decades ago.
Then, as is presently the case, no one knows for sure the form that the competing parties or allies will take with only about seven months to the election.
Just like it was in 2002 when President Moi flatly told his vice president, Prof George Saitoti that “urafiki ni tofauti na uonzongi”, the country goes into the election year with President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto having fallen out and the bromance that propelled them to power in 2003 having given way to “brotherhood” between the former and ODM chief Raila Odinga.
In this aspect alone, the Uhuru succession is proving to be as fascinating as President Moi’s was. In that election, Raila, Saitoti, Uhuru and Ruto were all senior officials of then ruling party Kanu and each of them was hoping to be tapped as the preferred successor. Others in that mould included Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka and Amani’s Musalia Mudavadi.
This was before Moi pulled a fast one of them by settling on Uhuru and sparking an exodus that saw over a dozen Kanu loyalties quit and eventually lining up behind eventual successor, Mwai Kibaki under the National Rainbow Coalition. This was barely three months to the election.
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Mudavadi was among those who headed for the exit door before Moi convinced him to join forces with Uhuru and Ruto.
Two decades later, it is Raila who is turning tables on Ruto, who was until early 2018 convinced he would succeed Uhuru as per the pre-2013 deal, but has since lost his backing as well as that of the so-called Deep State, leaving him to soldier on with his new-found United Democratic Alliance (UDA).
On the other hand, Kalonzo and Mudavadi alongside Kanu chairman Gideon Moi and Ford-K’s Moses Wetang’ula are united under the One Kenya Alliance (OKA). While they insist they will settle on one of them to run for the top job, the grapevine is awash with reports of a likely shift that would benefit either Raila or Ruto.
While Raila has been wooing them to join him under the Azimio la Umoja movement, his new baby following the collapse of the BBI project, Ruto has been marketing his Hustler movement and has been keen on at least capturing either Mudavadi and Wetang’ula or Kalonzo.
This, according to his strategy, will see him capture the Western and Kamba nations to cushion him from losses he is set to suffer in Mt Kenya where Raila has made steady progress in climbing the mountain with Uhuru’s tacit support.
Political analysts are convinced that in the next two to three months, there will be a lot of alignments and realignments as the big players firm up their formations.
President Uhuru is believed to be waiting for the enactment of the Political Parties (Amendment) Bill 2021 before finally openly showing his support for the Azimio movement. The onus will be on Raila to continue with his quest to enlarge his Azimio movement, with a focus on February when the defections window will officially open.
What is for sure is that surprise alliances are in the offing. Such shifts will bring the unlikeliest of allies together in handshakes with a house fly's life cycle. University of Nairobi lecturer Herman Manyora also expects to witness defections and counter-defections as the elections approach.
“Many politicians will run away to seek greener pastures. Others will be bought,” opines Manyora.
With the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission having extended the deadline for parties to conduct nominations and resolve intra-party disputes before submitting names of candidates to May 26, many losers will be left clutching at straws. In their desperation, they will move to parties with less competition.
“Politicians run away from the chaotic nominations we witness every time. They don’t always get the greener pastures,” says Manyora.
On his part, Prof Macharia Munene, who teaches History at USIU-A, says regardless of how the political posturing goes, he expects Raila and Ruto to be the main competitors in the race to succeed Uhuru.
According to him, whatever successes and setbacks the two experienced in 2021, they still remain very strong on the ground.
“There was an underestimation of Ruto who then grew into a major political force throughout the country. The BBI, perceived to be a Raila project, flopped but it gave him a lot of publicity. They are the men to beat,” he told The Nairobian.
Both men have marked January 18 on their calendars as that is the date the Supreme Court will begin hearing the appeal on the BBI-sponsored Bill. For Raila, the Bill provides incentives, in the form of plum jobs, that he could use to win new backers. Success for the BBI means that Ruto, too, could use the plum jobs to win new allies.
A repeat of the events at the High Court and Court of Appeal grants Ruto the chance to gloat, one more time, at President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila’s losses. And the DP will be hoping to dent the push to create coalition political parties, Azimio’s engine.
What he isn’t looking forward to, however, is a ‘Tosha’ declaration by Uhuru that does not include his name. The president has made it rather clear that he prefers Raila to be his deputy, and 2022 may be the year that he just might back his actions with an affirmation.
Besides the job of declaring his successor, Uhuru will have to reorganise his Cabinet, given the looming mass resignation of ambitious members once the defections window opens. Waiting to fill the vacant posts will be loyalists who have, for five years, wondered when they would get their reward. That could come on February 9, the deadline for civil servants seeking elective office to resign.
Not least of the fireworks is the high stakes surrounding next year’s presidential election, for which aspirants have been campaigning as soon as Uhuru was sworn in as the fourth president. The fight to be ‘the fifth’ is as fierce as it has been. And so will be a potential battle at the Supreme Court, given that many predict the race will be close.
Political analyst Dr Wang’uhu Giitonga agrees, predicting a nail biting contest, similar to the 2007 one.