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Attention shifts to hardliners as parties seek to build alliances ahead of 2022 polls

By Oscar Obonyo | August 16th 2021

President Uhuru Kenyatta when he met with ODM leader Raila Odinga and OKA Principals at State House Mombasa.

An animal trained to lead the rest, mostly cattle, sheep and goats, to a slaughterhouse is called a Judas goat. Similarly in politics, there exist Judas goats with a tendency of – knowingly or unknowingly – (mis)leading others to the electoral guillotine.   

Same as the Judas goat that delivers its victim to the slaughterhouse while its own life is spared, some politicians have perfected the art of taking a hard-line stance, which in some instances has sent their party leaders in political oblivion.

With the next General Elections less than a year away and building of coalitions and presidential campaigns taking shape, political operatives are taking centre stage to promote interests of their preferred candidates or shield them against joining new formations.

And last week the allies of Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper), Musalia Mudavadi (Amani National Congress), Gideon Moi (Kanu) and Moses Wetangula (Ford-Kenya), have been hitting out at each other over who to rally behind in next year’s elections.

This follows last Tuesday’s meeting of the party bosses with President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House, Mombasa. The meeting was reportedly called to among other things craft a united front that would face off against Deputy President William Ruto in next year’s presidential poll.

Kalonzo, Musalia, and senators Moi (Baringo) and Wetangula (Bungoma) are separately engaged in a process to identify a flag bearer under the aegis of One Kenya Alliance (OKA). The four have already set up a joint secretariat based in Karen, Nairobi. But even before the coalition building kicks off, allies of the five presidential hopefuls are already poisoning the ground with personalised attacks and hard positions.

ANC deputy party leader Ayub Savula and Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala, for instance, maintain that Mudavadi will not offer political support to any candidate other than Musalia. In Malala’s words, “It is either a vote for Mudavadi or Musalia!”.      

Kalonzo’s handlers, including senators Enoch Wambua (Kitui) and Mutula Kilonzo Jr (Makueni) equally maintain their party boss is politically senior to his opponents and will not play second fiddle this time around. The Orange party’s Secretary General, Edwin Sifuna, is similarly unyielding, stating that any political formation that his party joins has to appreciate Raila as a senior partner with the largest political constituency.  

The DP’s lieutenants like Nandi Senator Samson  Cherargei and MPs Oscar Sudi (Kapseret) Alice Wahome (Kandara) and Rigathi Gachagua (Mathira) among others, are equally protective of his interests. Cherargei, for instance, looks forward to a fallout between Raila and the OKA leaders, but holds that those who may shift base to Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA), “must prepare to resign to a level junior to our candidate, the DP”.

According to Dr Richard Bosire, a political scientist, hardliners are crucial players in negotiations the world over and whose role is even recognised in international agreements. The only difference, he observes, is that some are extremists and utterly selfish.

“Hardliners, even in the Kenyan political context, are found on both sides of the divide and their role includes marketing their candidate and upping the political stakes. Except for the fact that they sometimes poison the environment by causing disfavor to some candidates, this is just but part of the game,” says the University of Nairobi lecturer.

The list of perceived political hardliners today is long and includes, but is not limited to, National Assembly’s Minority Whip, Junet Mohamed and Homa Bay County MP Gladys Wanga for Raila, Makueni MP Dan Maanzo, Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja and Likuyani MP Enoch Kibunguchy for Musalia.

Former Kakamega Senator Bonny Khalwale is just one of the many perceived political hardliners, who is now a diehard supporter of Ruto. The DP’s interests are also jealously guarded by Uasin Gishu County MP Gladys Shollei and MPs Oscar Sudi (Kapseret), Alice Wahome (Kandara) and Rigathi Gachagua (Mathira) among others. 

And while the end game is usually teaming up or building a political coalition, activities of some hardliners help to achieve the exact opposite. And this, according to Dr Bosire, is due to fears by foot soldiers of the political bigwigs that they may lose out big time within a larger grouping. 

“Politics is about interests and individual gains and if collapsing a party to join a new coalition amounts to losing control of resources and influence, then naturally people will resist or frustrate the process,” says Dr Bosire.

Noting that most political units and outfits “collapse at night” to merge into bigger ones, the political scientist reminds players in the electioneering process to be alive to the fact that coalition building is not a walk in the path.

“I have witnessed individuals resigning to set up party or coalition secretariats, alternatively form professional think-tanks, only for their outfits to be collapsed to give way for new political formations. Political life is not a straight line and many are going to frustrate new formations for fear of being rendered jobless or irrelevant,” says Dr Bosire.

Former Kakamega County Senator Dr Bonny Khalwale, for instance, confesses guilt for “misleading” Musalia. Khalwale has often been accused of pushing his then United Democratic Forum (UDF) party boss to vie for presidency in 2013, only for him to shift allegiance once he was safely in the Senate.

The self confessed bullfighter, who admits to leading the ANC super bull to his political slaughterhouse in 2013, however maintains he was only acting on instructions from Musalia’s handlers at State House “who at the time offered us the UDF party and insisted that my brother runs for presidency”.

“I wish to apologise to Kenyans for my hard-line stance in pushing the Musalia candidature. Yeye alipangwa, akanipanga na mimi nikawapanga (He was hoodwinked and he hoodwinked me and in turn I misled the voters),” confesses Khalwale.

The unverified sentiments by the vocal politician, now a harsh critic of Musalia, notwithstanding, the Khwalale-Musalia 2013 electioneering experience epitomizes an emerging trend of blackmail and manipulation of political bigwigs for selfish interests.          

Hardliners push their party leaders to go for the top seat. And while at it, they form a ring around them and largely frustrate coalition overtures where their political benefactor is destined to play “second fiddle”.

“It matters not what the realistic chances of their bosses are in clinching the presidency. The whole idea is to ride on their popularity to win individual electoral seats, or get appointed to plum positions in government if they lose and their candidate wins,” observes Dr Bosire.

The leaders, however, denied being hardliners but just doing what is expected of them. Sifuna says he is not a bishop and whatever he says is in his capacity as spokesperson of the party.

“I am only the voice of the party and my party leader, a task I have undertaken accurately without a single contradiction from my party bosses over the last three and half years,” says Sifuna.

Reached for comment, Wambua denied he was a hardliner: “I just happen to know what is good for my community and what is good for Kenya, and that is what I am pushing for.”

He said he was lobbying for a Kalonzo presidency because he knew – compared to the rest – he was the best for Kenya. He pointed out that Kalonzo had a wealth of experience on the workings of government and had a very elaborate and dependable network of international leaders including presidents.

 “My quest to have him as our next President, therefore, has absolutely nothing to do with any selfish interest on my part,” he maintained.

 But Sakaja maintains he is politically pragmatic, arguing that his stand is persuaded by science and available statistics:  “I strongly believe in a Musalia presidency, because at this moment the country requires economic rejuvenation and national cohesion. Only Musalia fits that bill.”

Taity MP, William Kamket, while insisting on Gideon Moi presidency is however alive to the need for a political renegotiation that will bring together all the other players from the collapsing entities of NASA and Jubilee. The Taity, has nonetheless been a vocal defender of Moi.

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