By Oscar Obonyo
The young man who walked barefoot on rocky and dusty paths of Mwingi to primary school seven kilometres away yesterday celebrated a quarter century in politics.
His mother ran away to hide him from bloodthirsty bandits who struck his village when he was a toddler. Ever since, Kalonzo Musyoka has been regarded as the "lucky and special one".
Today, Kalonzo who was born on Christmas Eve 57 years ago is Vice-President and de facto leader of PNU allied parties.
His entry into Parliament in 1985 was providential — thanks to a police officer gone berserk who shot and killed Kitui North MP (now Mwingi North) Philip Manandu. Kalonzo had unsuccessfully contested the seat in 1983, finishing third with a margin difference of more than 12,000 votes behind the victor.
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And in 1988, Kalonzo, who had become a strong Kanu party hawk, was among those who returned to Parliament without facing the ballot box — courtesy of the dubious ‘queue-voting’ elections.
The ‘queue-voting’ system of Kanu, the sole political party at the time, accorded those receiving 70 per cent of the vote at the party nomination stage a direct ticket to Parliament.
It was a largely messy exercise, where some winners were declared losers and losers declared winners. What counted was one’s personal loyalty to the party.
Two decades later, Kalonzo, who finished a distant third in the 2007 presidential race, won the VP’s slot through "kupitia katikati yao" as he had initially promised. This followed the chaotic polls leading to an impasse between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga.
ODM-Kenya parliamentary whip and Kangundo MP Johnston Muthama argues, though, it has not all been about luck.
Kalonzo, he maintains, has worked hard over the decades to realise his political goals.
"Of course he is where he is today because of certain qualities which have endeared him to his constituents and fellow politicians. In life you climb ladders because of your ability and Kalonzo has a good amount of that," Muthama told The Standard On Sunday.
Except for a brief stint in the backbench after President Kibaki fired rebel LDP allied ministers following the defeat of the constitutional referendum in 2005, Kalonzo has served as minister in all Parliaments he’s been.
As Cabinet minister, the VP was roundly a patriot and good performer. As Foreign Affairs minister, he is credited with initiating peace negotiations among warring parties in Burundi and spearheaded peace initiatives within the framework of Igad peace processes in Sudan and Somalia.
Nonetheless, political commentator Sarah Elderkin observes beneath the outward display of social refinement, religious mien and youthful good looks, the VP possesses an unrelenting fighting spirit, coupled with political opportunism.
If, for instance, he plotted to toss his nemesis Raila Odinga in the political doldrums after the disputed 2007 presidential polls, then he is truly a schemer per excellence. He swiftly struck a deal with Kibaki as the country burned, ultimately giving Raila little room for manoeuvre. But for the resilience of the ODM brigade over what they maintained was a stolen election, Raila finally got a breather following intervention of the international community.
ODM Parliamentary Group secretary and Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba has severally warned that Kalonzo nearly succeeded in condemning his party to political insignificance and those who ignore his ability to vanquish political foes do so at their own peril.
As Namwamba aptly puts it, Kalonzo — a political student of former President Moi and the late self-proclaimed King of Ukambani Mulu Mutisya — is a shrewd politician and go-getter.
As a youthful legislator in the 1980s, he got wired in the Kanu power corridors and enjoyed the political patronage of Moi. His political star rose fast and aged only 35, he was elected Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, and a couple of months later elected Kanu national organising secretary.
With a Moi portrait and Kanu badge on his coat lapel as his dress code, Kalonzo largely built his political career as a steadfast supporter of the Kanu administration and a harsh critic of oppositionists.
While Water minister Charity Ngilu describes his style as selfish and "the politics of me, I and myself", Muthama maintains the VP is a popular leader and his undisturbed 25-year period as legislator is testimony to that fact.
But Kalonzo was not part of the pro-reform crusade and never joined street protests or suffocated from resultant tear gas.
Even more telling has been his persistent backing of pro-establishment personalities — the typical Government-style maintenance of the status quo.
Against the public mood, he supported Samuel Kivuitu, chairman of the discredited Electoral Commission but the Kuvuitu-team was finally shown the door.
He defended the anti-graft czar Aaron Ringera — he eventually bowed to public pressure. Presently, he opposes calls by members of the civil society on Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission Chairman Bethuel Kiplagat to quit.
Clearly, Kalonzo is not well wired with the so-called second liberation struggle and when he got into the mix belatedly, he instead declared the beginning of a third and final ‘revolution’ to save Kenya.
This was last year at a rally in Mvita constituency, Mombasa.
But he has severally explained his apparent shortfall of ‘liberation’ credentials. The VP opines that everyone has contributed in different ways to get where Kenya is today. Some sacrificed with terms in jail, others through diplomacy.