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Lame-duck: Is Uhuru losing grip on power?

By Jacob Ng'etich | November 2nd 2021

President Uhuru Kenyatta presides over the Presidential and Regimental Colour Presentation Ceremony at Kenya Navy Base Manda Bay in Lamu County. [Standard]

With nine months still to go, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s grip on political power is slipping earlier than thought, with the courts hammering him, allies dumping him one after the other, and friends defying his guidance and direction.

Known in political parlance as the lame-duck phase, the season is often characterised by open defiance by the steadfast ones, carefree moves by the ambitious ones and defections. It usually comes at the tail end of the term, but for President Kenyatta, on account of his relatively younger age, it was hoped it would delay.

In the last one week, a Cabinet Administrative Secretary he rescued from joblessness has dumped him for Deputy President William Ruto, a governor he propped in her maiden stab at politics has dropped him like a hot potato, and a court has cornered him on the long-drawn matter of judicial appointments.

In the same period, the man he hoisted to the powerful position of Leader of Majority in the National Assembly dropped all pretences and took him head-on while his political allies in the One Kenya Alliance (OKA) have openly said they will not back down on their quest to succeed him in favour of his handshake partner Raila Odinga.

In a nutshell, the President may have begun his short and lonely path to retirement.

“So President today you are telling us that 8,000,000 Jubilee supporters in your own reading are full of conmen, crooks and thieves. That is an insult to the Jubilee family and to your supporters,” Aden Duale, the former leader of the majority in the National Assembly, took on the President over the weekend.

Before that, Duale had been measuring his attacks on the President, even after he was unceremoniously booted from his powerful position during a party purge done by the president last year. He was reacting to the President’s Friday exhortation to voters in his Kiambu backyard not to water down his legacy by electing in a thief. 

In the US, the president begins their lame-duck periods after the mid-term congressional elections and the period could further deteriorate if the president’s party loses in the same polls. However, in Kenya, the period varies with the performance and activeness of the period on the house in the Hill and their charm offensive.

Kibaki’s lame-duck session began earlier in 2011, two years to the election and largely owing to the confusion the International Criminal Court (ICC) brought on the country’s political set-up. He took a back seat as the jostling and scheming for his succession took shape, up and until the political waters found their own level. 

“Please don’t allow Mwai Kibaki’s 10 years and my 10 years to be destroyed by electing thugs and thieves,” the President told Ruiru residents, urging them to carefully scrutinise candidates ahead of the vote.

In several instances in the last few months, Deputy President has subtly taken on his boss, celebrating the downfall of the president’s legacy project, the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). The project was felled first by a High Court before a Court of Appeal underscored its death. 

Before that, Ruto openly campaigned against the initiative, describing it as a self-seeking venture by its promoters. During its launch in Bomas of Kenya in 2019, the DP- in the very presence of President Kenyatta- criticized its provisions forcing the president to liken him to an impatient relay runner who sprints before being handed the baton.

Still, Ruto did not budge. Instead, he was emboldened by the court decisions, so much so that by last month, he was promising President Kenyatta that he was the best bet to secure his legacy.

“I want to assure you that together with my competitors, we will build on your legacy. We will not let any project remain incomplete. As your deputy, I will make sure that your legacy and the agenda you have set of the unity of the nation, the Big Four together with the bottom-up approach will take the country to greater heights,” Ruto said.

But it was the shocking announcement by Labour CAS Patrick Ole Ntutu that he was joining Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) that signals the turn of events for the President. Ruto neither resigned nor offered any apology for dumping the Government he serves, a year to the poll.

If anything, he cited his politicking colleagues in the Cabinet as strengthening his resolve to make his choice. Last week, interior CS Fred Matiang’i fell short of officially endorsing ODM leader Odinga’s bid to succeed the president.

“Recently we have seen some CSs in Kisii/Turkana endorsing a certain presidential candidate. I also have a right to declare my favourite candidate and he is none other than DP William Ruto and my party is UDA.”

“I will be vying through the UDA ticket and I will campaign for DP Ruto for President. If CSs are now supporting an Opposition leader then I have chosen to support Ruto who is the deputy to my boss Uhuru Kenyatta,” Ntutu said.

Last week, Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru- a Cabinet Secretary in President Kenyatta’s inaugural government- dumped his political camp after “listening to the ground” for months. Waiguru had resigned from government at the tail end of the President’s first term, citing medical grounds triggered by a stormy scam at the National Youth Service.

“After extensive consultation with the Kirinyaga people, I have officially decamped to the hustler nation. 2022 Chama ni UDA, Form ni Hustler, Mpango ni BottomUp!” she declared, while expressing zero gratitude to the man who held her hand as she tossed herself in the fray in 2017.

When shortly thereafter a newspaper screamed that she would be facing arrest over graft, she countered the claims, linking them to political intimidation.

“Surely, it’s barely 48 hours after we decamped to UDA and now this? As a believer in the rule of law, this is really unfortunate. Its intention is to dissuade those contemplating the same and an attempt at engineering succession politics… it won't work. Kenyans are not stupid,” Waiguru said.

Sometimes in September, Ruto’s digital mercenary Dennis Itumbi posted a campaign poster of State House director of political affairs Machel Waikenda, welcoming him to their camp. The former Communications Director of Uhuru’s previous party, The National Alliance, Waikenda has been traversing his home country meeting youth and women groups.

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