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Fight for the soul of Jubilee kills the 100-year dream its founders courted

 Embattled Jubilee Party secretary general Jeremiah Kioni (centre) speaks after the Political Parties Dispute Tribunal (PPDT) tasked the besieged party to solve its leadership tussle on its own. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

When founders of former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party formed it in 2016, they declared they were building a party that would last a century.

The wrangles that have dogged the weakened party since 2018, have made it all but certain that that dream is most probably unachievable.

For the last two months, the former ruling party has been embroiled in a leadership tussle, one that the Political Parties Dispute Tribunal (PPDT) tasked the besieged party to solve on its own.

Two factions claim to be the legitimate officials. East Africa Legislative Assembly lawmaker Kanini Kega and Jeremiah Kioni, the most vocal voices since the wrangling began in February, are squaring it off for the powerful secretary-general position. Eldas MP Adan Keynan and David Murathe, on their part, are fighting over the vice-chairmanship, with Kitui South MP Rachel Nyamai and Kagwe Gichohi each claiming to be the bonafide treasurer. The Desma Nungo-led parties disputes tribunal ordered the two Jubilee factions to resolve the dispute internally.

“The issues underlying this appeal are internal issues between the party and its membership… The tribunal can only assume jurisdiction once the attempt at the internal dispute resolution mechanism is demonstrated,” the tribunal ruled, also quashing the decision by the Registrar of Political Parties Anne Nderitu to change the party’s leadership without giving Kioni, Murathe and Gichohi a chance to be heard.

In her letter, Nderitu had said that Jubilee’s National Executive Council (NEC), which had resolved to oust the Kioni-led group, had been properly convened.

The factions have interpreted the tribunal ruling differently, claiming it favoured their positions. On Wednesday, the Kega-led faction issued a ‘victory’ press briefing.

“The party will now proceed to implement the resolutions made by the NEC on February 10, 2023... Mr Kioni, Mr Murathe and Mr Gichohi are forthwith suspended and their cases referred to the party’s internal dispute resolution mechanisms for further determination,” Dzuya said. “The letter by the registrar was the one giving their action the force of law,” Kioni said Thursday of the letter that the PPDT quashed. “If you want to know the officials of Jubilee, as per the February 26 National Delegates Conference, you can go to the registrar of parties... the same names that were there are the same ones that are there.”

University lecturer Macharia Munene sees the wrangling as “a normal thing” in party politics, where power is the main currency.

In the battle for numbers, no side has proven to enjoy an advantage. Kega, Keynan and Nyamai have the support of most, if not all, of their lawmakers and most members of the NEC. Wednesday’s press briefing, convened by chairperson Nelson Dzuya served the purpose of flaunting the might of Kega’s faction. On the other hand, Kioni is banking on his reported support of the party’s delegates and his access to the party’s headquarters.

Uhuru blessings?

Kioni’s claim to his seat is backed by Uhuru’s “blessings”, and he reminds whoever cares to listen as much. Kega and his allies accept President William Ruto as duly elected, with Kioni endorsing Azimio’s delegitimisation of Ruto’s presidency.

“The fights in Jubilee are just a proxy war between Raila Odinga and Ruto,” said Prof Munene. “Since the election, politicians are realigning with Raila and Ruto. Initially, Ruto had the upper hand but the influence seems to be shifting to Raila’s favour.”

In his quest to control Parliament, Ruto has wooed MPs from the opposition Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya. His biggest harvest has been bagging nearly 30 MPs from the former ruling party, edging him closer to an absolute majority in the National Assembly. The president has virtually succeeded in staging a coup against his former boss, years after his banishment from the party he helped form and is on course to stemming the resistance by Kioni and team.

Despite the wrangling, there has been the consensus that Uhuru remains Jubilee’s leader. When they met the president in February, some 30 Jubilee MPs requested that Ruto stops the hostility his government had directed towards his predecessor. That was their only condition for accepting Ruto’s olive branch.

Kega’s faction has been cautious not to antagonise Uhuru, insisting that their issue with Kioni’s leadership arises from alleged mismanagement. “We are now past the 2022 elections and are focusing on 2027. If there are people looking backwards that is their problem,” Kega said Wednesday. But concerns over Uhuru’s silence and absence as his party descended into shambles have escaped to the surface.

“If you abandon your children, don’t be surprised when your neighbour decides to raise them,” said former Taveta MP Naomi Shaban, concerns nominated MP Sabina Chege raised a month ago.

“It is high time that our party leader tells us what he wants with the party. Most especially, let him call for a meeting. Jubilee has now been reduced to a weak party, even in parliament. We look like orphans,” Sabina said. 

Shaban would lament the ouster of Jubilee lawmakers from parliamentary leadership positions. Sabina is facing removal as the National Assembly deputy minority whip, a fate that Isiolo Senator Fatuma Dullo suffered when she lost her position as minority whip, owing to her allegiance to Ruto. But Prof Munene reads Uhuru’s presence with the active involvement of his close allies. “Uhuru has been ambivalent. He is a former president who refuses to be ‘former’. His involvement in politics is new and it is making him look bad,” the historian said. 

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