Raphael Tuju, the Jubilee Party secretary-general seems to be one of the biggest individual beneficiaries of the ‘Handshake’ between President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Opposition hot head Raila Odinga.
As Cabinet Secretary without portfolio in the Jubilee government, Tuju has become a key person in pushing forward the Building Bridges Initiative spearheaded by Uhuru and Raila after the ‘Handshake’, which some feel is targeted at checking Deputy President Dr William Ruto’s presidential aspirations especially following a push to create a powerful Prime Minister’s position.
Sources intimated to The Nairobian that Tuju and former Jubilee vice chair David Murathe played a key role in reconciling Raila and Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, who had sued him for linking her to the National Youth Service scandal. Their rapprochement came following a directive from State House.
The ‘Handshake’ changed Tuju’s fortunes so much so that he was among the first politicians to declare that Deputy President Dr William Ruto would not be the automatic Jubilee candidate in 2022 after Murathe had made similar remarks.
The position rattled Ruto’s allies who came out fighting while demanding his resignation as Jubilee Secretary-General.
He dismissed his critics, saying many Kenyans, including those in Jubilee, are yet to figure out what the Uhuru-Raila deal is all about.
There has even been talk that Tuju could be fronted as the successor to Siaya Governor Cornel Rasanga but the one-time television news anchor denied having such ambitions even after being prodded on by then Jubilee vice-chairman David Murathe at the burial. The seat is eyed by key Raila allies, including Siaya Senator James Orengo.
Never mind a month to the Harambee House ‘Handshake’, Tuju had dismissed Raila’s Swearing-in as the People’s President likening it to “Kalongolongo”, a game played by small children.
The current windfall for Tuju is thus a 360-degree turn of events considering that the former Foreign Affairs Minister was once such a fierce critic of ‘Baba.’ Their bile spilled over to voters who booted him out at the ballot as Rarieda MP in the 2007 General Election after serving for one term.
Tuju met his political Waterloo after losing his seat despite initiating many projects in the constituency including a mobile clinic offering free services.
The clinic, a project of Tuju’s Hope Kenya Foundation, was moved to Meru after Rarieda residents almost torched it following the disputed 2007 presidential election results.
Tuju’s sin? He had gone against the grain by supporting President Mwai Kibaki for a second term, yet Raila, a son of the Luo soil and regional political kingpin, was also running for the same.
Tuju became a marked man in Luo Nyanza he couldn’t even venture into his ancestral home.
But the Kibaki administration, which conferred him the highest civilian title, Elder of the Golden Heart (EGH), retained him as presidential adviser on media and diversity, a position he held until August 2012.
Tuju expressed interest in the presidency in the 2013 elections but the father of three dropped out after several funky YouTube appearances meant to rope in the youth vote.
When various parties supporting President Uhuru Kenyatta were collapsed ahead of the 2017 elections to form the Jubilee Party, he was named Secretary General, a position he used to launch vicious attacks on Raila.
Fast forward to 2018.
President Uhuru’s move to mend fences with Raila, his main opponent in the elections, through the historic March 9 ‘Handshake’ greatly worked in favor of Tuju, who has since embraced it, warming his way into Raila’s court.
His bromance with Raila has since grown by leaps and bounds and in recent weeks, he has become a permanent fixture on Raila’s right side during functions in Luo Nyanza, the latest being the commemoration of the death of his father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga in Bondo where speakers rooted for the Building Bridges Initiative. They included Uhuru’s younger brother Muhoho Kenyatta, who abhors publicity. His presence made a big statement.
Political observers also noted how key Raila allies, previously sworn political enemies, trooped to the burial of his brother Kefa Tuju earlier this month. Kefa succumbed to brain cancer in Canada on December 19, 2018.
What political goodies will befall Tuju from the truce remains to be seen, but political analyst and media consultant Alfred Ochieng reckons it would all depend on the successes achieved through the Building Bridges Initiative as well as the designs Raila has on his political future.
“Bromance and friendship mean little in politics. It is all about interests. So, what is important is what Raila is seeking to benefit from the deal with Uhuru as a person over and above unifying the country and settling other historical issues,” argues Ochieng adding that if Raila wanted to negotiate with Uhuru, he could do it on his own or involve his trusted negotiators and “as of now, Tuju is not among them. Also, remember that Raila is very unpredictable. He could decide to abandon the deal if that favors him. So, let us wait and see.”
Ochieng doesn’t, however, dispute that the ‘Handshake’ greatly benefited Tuju as he can now venture into Luo Nyanza and freely walk in the streets of Kisumu or Bondo without attracting animosity even as he remains a Jubilee man and Uhuru’s minister.
Adds Ochieng: “I know of some politicians and professionals from the region who could previously not take his calls. They would watch as the phone rings until the call is disconnected. That has changed now.”