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Uhuru Kenyatta's dilemma in his last month at State House

President Uhuru Kenyatta during a non-denominational worship and prayer service that he hosted today at State House Nairobi.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s name is back on the lips of presidential candidates – featuring even more prominently on the campaign trail – barely 30 days to the main ballot. Clearly, Uhuru is a focal point in this election.

The unveiling, in May, of Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua as the presidential running mate of Raila Odinga of Azimio la Umoja - One Kenya, momentarily shifted focus from the President. But gradually, Uhuru has returned to the campaign mix.    

Much as it is expected of him to project a neutral stand during his last 30 days in office, Uhuru as party leader of the ruling party, Jubilee, and chairman of the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition party, is an interested party in the current happenings. 

The Kenya Kwanza brigade has particularly been taunting their Azimio rivals, with Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi, particularly mocking them for being “abandoned” by Uhuru. Apparently, the bigger scheme was to get the President onto the campaign table. 

Except for his recent public spat with Ruto, Uhuru has lately lowered his political tempo and activities, a factor which political analyst, Prof Amukowa Anangwe interprets as aimed at playing the middle ground in the hotly contested duel between Raila and UDA leader William Ruto.    

“The Kenya Kwanza hails this (apparent) change of approach, which in my view is a realisation that victory on August 9 could go either way. So ideally, Uhuru is readying for whoever wins to succeed him, which is why he does not wish to antagonise any of the candidates at this point,” says Prof Anangwe, a member of Ruto’s think-tank. 

Political analyst Mark Bichachi considers the burden of incumbency, which hangs around Uhuru’s neck, as the biggest persuasion of those keen in ensuring the campaigns revolve around the President. 

Owing to a rather depressing economic outlook, courtesy of the high cost of food and other basic needs, Bichache says the Kenya Kwanza brigade is largely responsible for trying to make Uhuru an agenda in the polls “with the hope of puncturing the Raila campaign”. 

“It is indeed a big gamble that the pro-Ruto team is making and there are high chances of this backfiring, because the truth of the matter is that Uhuru is not on the ballot but Raila and Ruto,” says the governance expert. 

Noting that Uhuru is exiting from power in under two months, Bichachi says focus of the wider Mt Kenya region is shifting towards Karua and Rigathi Gachagua, who is Ruto’s running mate. 

The recently leaked audio tape of Ruto stating he nearly slapped the President in 2017, for instance, seems to have been a well-choreographed ploy to bring back Uhuru on the campaign table.

The clarity of the audio and the high quality of the recording can only mean that it was recorded internally by those responsible for the DP’s public address system. Curiously, the leakage also coincided with Ruto’s presence in Mt Kenya region and he aptly reacted to it while on a campaign trail in Meru County.  

Prof Anangwe concedes that the tape gave the DP an opportunity to give a good account of himself with regard to his contribution to Uhuru’s poll victory in 2017. “His reaction was not plain campaign. It was also incidental because the DP was addressing a Kikuyu audience and he was accordingly demonstrating his role in the last poll”.  

And then there was the statement read out by Mudavadi on Uhuru government’s alleged agreement to sell off ports in Mombasa, Lamu and Kisumu to a firm from Dubai. Prof Anangwe explains they were concerned about Uhuru’s dealings “and we had to raise the red flag just in case he was plotting to pull another such move”.  

In the meantime, Prof Anangwe, who served in the late President Daniel Moi’s government as Medical Services minister, says Uhuru is separately preoccupied with activities related to his exit from office, including penning the handover notes. 

“I worked closely with Moi in the Kanu regime and I remember him personally penning handover guidelines. At this point in time, one is fixated about his legacy and negotiating for peaceful life out of office,” says Prof Anangwe, pointing out that Uhuru is similarly keen at negotiating a safe passage to Gatundu. 

This dream, claims the political scientist, has almost been achieved – thanks to the bitter Ruto-Raila political rivalry. According to Prof Anangwe, Uhuru might have been initially worried that Ruto would team up with Raila to impeach him midday his second term or politically plot against him. 

Outgoing Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu separately says that the President has already managed his political succession: “He has presented his preferred successor and all things remaining constant, Raila will get whatever votes he needs from Mt Kenya region to cross the 51 per cent mark,” he said. 

According to the vocal politician, the entry of Karua as Raila’s running mate has made this goal even lighter to achieve. This, he argues, is because “Raila will get most, if not all, the votes he usually gets in the past elections accounting for 44 per cent”. Owing to her reforms history, the vibrancy and new energy that she injects into the Azimio campaign, Wambugu projects that the Raila-Karua tciket will get much more votes in Mt Kenya than the ODM party leader has ever registered in past polls. 

In fact, following the entry of Karua in Azimio, Uhuru slowed down his political activity including his direct campaigns for Raila, couched under a series of “consultative forums” for leaders from Mt Kenya region at the Sagana Lodge, Nyeri County. This is because she quickly inherited the space Uhuru was holding to politically market Raila to the mountain.  

This was a major breather for the President because the move relieved him of the awkward role of exhibiting open partisanship in contest where he was expected to play a neutral role to steer a peaceful post-poll power transition. 

However, David Murathe, who is Uhuru’s close confidante and vice chairman of the Jubilee Party, has maintained the President will still have one last chance to put in a word for his preferred successor. According to Murathe, this will be in the form of a last lap around the Mt Kenya region to thank the voters for electing him twice to the country’s top seat.    

“And because of the deliberate misinformation by politicians allied to Ruto, who claim the President abandoned his people and allegedly initiated zero projects in the region, Uhuru will also use the thank-you tour to correct this erroneous notion and update the people on his development record, not just in Mt Kenya region but across the country,” says Murathe.  

Then there is the “small matter” of clearing the air on why the President differed with his deputy. While little has been shared with the public on this front, snippets of this may have been made public already, courtesy of claims by Nairobi-based politician, Stanley Livondo, among others. 

The Saturday Standard has, however, established that any such disclosures have been momentarily shelved because it may not add value to the campaign of Uhuru’s preferred candidate and may instead flare up tensions at this delicate electoral period.

And as the clock ticks towards polling day, all eyes will be on the President. Unlike his predecessor, the late Mwai Kibaki, who took the backseat during the 2013 polls, a relatively younger Uhuru has quite several political interests to fix and protect before his exit. This demands of him two approaches – to scheme against and ultimately vanquish his political opponents, or open up room for possible reconciliation with rivals.   

Towards the latter, the President’s cousin, Kung’u Muigai who is the chairman of Kikuyu elders (kiama Kia Ma), has been openly negotiating with Ruto, the latest engagement being the source of a leaked audio tape that has lately excited the political scene. 

Commenting on his overtures to Ruto, Muigai, explained that his move was aimed at guaranteeing a peaceful transition just in the event that things do not go the way his younger cousin anticipates. Muigai has, however, clarified that he was acting independently and not at the instructions of the president.