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Uhuru’s options when he leaves State House after August elections

By Special Correspondent | Apr 19th 2022 | 7 min read
By Special Correspondent | April 19th 2022
President Uhuru Kenyatta with AIPCA Archbishop Dr. Julius Njoroge, National Presiding Archbishop Samson Muthuri and Archbishop Fredrick Wang'ombe when he received prayers during the AIPCA National Holy Oil Consecration Ceremony 2022 at AIPCA Gakarara in Kandara, Murang'a County on April 14, 2022. [PSCU, Standard]

President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to leave office in August after serving the constitutional two five-year terms. If Kenya has a smooth presidential election on Tuesday, August 9, President Kenyatta should leave office by Tuesday, August 30. However, whether he will also retire from politics is a different story.

The political optics and pronouncements of the season indicate that the President may not be keen to retire from politics after he leaves office.

The recently published schedule of officials of Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Alliance is only the latest indicator that Kenya’s fourth president expects to carry on in the political arena beyond his formal retirement date.

Article 141(2) of the Constitution of Kenya (2010) provides for the assumption of office by a newly-elected, or re-elected president.

It says in part; “The president-elect shall be sworn in on the first Tuesday following the fourteenth date of the declaration of the result of the presidential election.”

If a clear winner is declared between Wednesday, August 10 and Tuesday, August 16 (as required by Article 138 (10) of the Constitution, Kenya will have a new national CEO on August 30, provided that no petition is filed against the election (under Article 140). In the event of a petition, or even nullification of the presidential poll by the Supreme Court, however, the assumption could delay for a while. It must eventually take place, however, once contestation is over. 

The converse of the presidential assumption of office is the retirement of the person who has up to this moment served as president.

Symbolically, a retiring president hands over the instruments of national sovereignty and power to the newly-inaugurated one, who also takes over as Commander-in-Chief of the defence forces of the republic.

The power shift is instant. The president’s aide de camp migrates at once, to stand behind the new head of State. He remains the ADC, until the new president deems it necessary to replace him. 

A retiring president literally walks away from public space, like former presidents Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki did in 2002 and 2013 respectively. One option is to begin leading a quiet life as a private citizen who, however, enjoys special treatment and privileges set aside for retired presidents. It is only at very great pains that a retired president, and indeed elsewhere in the world, meddles in politics.

The influence of such a former president can be a powder keg. Its harmful character arises out of the fact that a president does not retire alone.

Entire retinues of State officials and sundry influence dealers go with him. Such persons will nurse nostalgic grief about the passing of their former glory days. They require very little encouragement to disturb the authorities of the day. They have in some instances changed, or attempted to change, the order of the day extra-legally, in such countries as Guatemala, Chile and Nicaragua in South and Central America. 

Good practice

It is for such reasons that it is considered good practice and astute, for the stability of nations, for retired heads of State to stay away from the politics of the day. A sitting head of government may occasionally consult them in private, or assign them some specific transient, non-political assignment. It does not go beyond that, however.

For instance, the then US president Barack Obama joined hands with retired US presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, in January 2010, to raise funds for Haitian relief, recovery and rebuilding, following a devastating earthquake. Mr Obama had named his two predecessors to lead the fund-raising effort. Such coming together has the symbolic role of underscoring the import of national unity in the face of towering challenges. 

Generally, it is expected that retired heads of State will constitute themselves into informal clubs in their own countries and meritorious formal fraternities at regional levels and beyond. They hardly get mixed up with the issues and tussles of the day.

President Moi, for instance, handed over Kanu party leadership to Mr Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr William Ruto, soon after handing over the country to President Kibaki in December 2002. His only visibility thereafter was in 2005 when he campaigned against the draft constitution, and in 2010 when he endorsed the new one. He steered clear of politics and active public life at all other times. 

It has been argued in some quarters, however, that President Kenyatta at 60, is far too ‘young’ to go the same way. The iconic President Obama took office at 48 on January 20, 2009 and retired at 56 on January 20, 2017. President Kibaki retired at 82, and President Moi at 78. If he is elected Kenya’s next president, Mr Raila Odinga should retire at 87, if he serves for two terms. At 55 today, Deputy President William Ruto will be 65 in 2032, should he commence next ‘ten-year’ presidential season this August. Arguably, Mr Ruto would also be considered too ‘young’ to retire in ten years should he win this year. 

Because of the “age factor”, the question of President Kenyatta’s retirement has consistently been moot. The optics show, however, that he may leave office, but not retire from politics. Put differently, he may collect the benefits of a retired president, but remain active in competitive and even caustic, politics. The power and command structures in the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Alliance point to the possibility that President Kenyatta is not going anywhere anytime soon. An Official Gazette notice published on April 14 by the Registrar of Political Parties, Ms Ann Nderitu, lists him as the Chair of the Coalition Council. ODM leader and Azimio presidential flagbearer Odinga is listed as Party Leader and Council Member. 

These are the two senior-most positions in the alliance. The Coalition Council has 10 other members, with ODM’s Junet Mohamed listed as Secretary General. Other council members are Messrs Kalonzo Musyoka, Gideon Moi, Hassan Joho, Ms Sabina Chege, Ms Naomi Shaban, Ms Martha Karua, Ms Charity Ngilu, Mr Wafula Wamunyinyi, and Mr Abdi Noor Omar Farah.

There is also a 19-person National Coalition Executive Council. The command structure that lists President Uhuru at the very top suggests that he will continue to play a key role in the affairs of the alliance and, accordingly, in the politics of the country, even after he leaves office.

Earlier, on March 15, the revamped Jubilee Party National Delegates Conference (NDC) had ratified the party’s management committee’s resolution to retain Mr Kenyatta as Party Leader even after he retires as President. And as a sign of things to come, he is reported to be actively involved in identifying a running mate for Mr Odinga. They hope to settle on a person who can draw in votes from populous demographics, while also being less polarising than Deputy President Ruto is perceived to be. Mention of senior public servants in the search team is a pointer to the President’s role beyond the present moment.

Separately, while addressing the same Jubilee Party NDC as a guest, Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu echoed Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli’s sentiments when she said; “There is nothing like going home as some people have been saying. Uhuru, you will be a part of the next government. And even if you want to go home, you will still be in Kenya. Uhuru will remain at hand, to give wise counsel on how to run the government.” 

Mr Atwoli was the first person off the blocks when, in 2018, soon after the Uhuru-Raila handshake of March 9, he called for a constitutional change that would give President Kenyatta another role once he ceases to be President. Others who chimed in with similar sentiments were Jubilee’s David Murathe and Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu.

Building Bridges Initiative

Their critics, led by Dr Ruto, took the critical view that their agenda was sinister, narrow and selfish and that their primary concern was about self-focused power. The DP has had no kind words for the Azimio team and its now defunct Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). He has been critical of the BBI, which he has pejoratively described as “a power-sharing deal through boardroom meetings.”

For their part, Azimio leaders say that theirs is a search for national unity through ethnic inclusion in leadership at the very top.

However, ANC Party Leader Musalia Mudavadi and his Ford-K counterpart, Mr Moses Wetang’ula, have criticised the President for what they call an attempt to run the next government by remote control. They have remained averse to the thought that President Kenyatta could import himself into the next dispensation.

They also fear that he could order things in a puppet administration in such a way that he will be the real power behind the throne after the August elections. They have said that this was the major reason they discarded the One Kenya Alliance, to work with Dr Ruto, whom they had previously been critical of. 

Time will tell, however, depending on whether Azimio wins the August polls. Yet, it is not lost on keen observers that campaign-style Jubilee Party billboards with President Kenyatta’s elegant mug shots have emerged in parts of Nairobi and its environs, with the text, “Promises made, promises delivered,” and “10 years of transformation,” as well as, “Our party, our future.”

It would appear that the Uhuru party is only just about to begin.

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