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Succession power plays will shape 2020 as race heats up

By Special Correspondent | Jan 3rd 2020 | 7 min read
NASA leaders Hon Raila Odinga and Hon. Kalonzo Musyoka.

Pure political high octane is the fuel that Kenya is set to ride on in 2020, with succession machinations in the driver’s seat. While President Uhuru Kenyatta has a solid 32 months left in the saddle, those who would aspire to the throne will not wait. They say chance favours the prepared.

The main players in the succession arena have already begun saddling their horses.

Throughout 2019, ODM Party Leader Raila Odinga echoed President Kenyatta’s call for politicians to place succession issues on the back burner for a while. Yet this did not happen. Deputy President William Ruto was in the lead, with Raila himself in tow. The DP traversed the country, keeping the engines warm for the big race ahead. Raila followed, doing everything possible to cool off the DP’s steam.

Ruto shook off adverse criticism that mostly targeted his generous contributions to harambees. Efforts to demonise the largely unknown sources of his massive funds did not slow him down.

We can expect to see more of that as the race to 2022 enters a new phase. He will be berated in equal measure. 

United party

The first quarter of the year looks set to be especially politically choking. Jubilee Party Secretary General Raphael Tuju has said the party will hold elections in March.

This already appears too soon for a party that seems to be at war with itself. Can they hold elections all the way to the national level and still emerge as one united party?

The rift grows by the day, between the Ruto-led Tangatanga strand of Jubilee and the Uhuru-leaning Kieleweke.

Tuju’s statement on looming party elections was laced with ominous innuendo against the deputy president. It would seem that the main objective of the elections is to paralyse the DP’s influence in the party and the country. 

Even more confounding have been statements by former Gatanga MP David Murathe. Murathe, a close friend and confidant of the president, resigned in a huff from the position of Jubilee deputy chairman. It is not clear, therefore, why he still seems to speak for the party. Regardless, his word cannot be taken lightly. He has stated categorically that Uhuru will be one of the contenders for political power in 2022.

Murathe’s resignation last year was prompted by disputes about the Uhuru succession. He had caused concern in Tangatanga by stating that the people of Central Kenya would not support the DP’s quest for power in 2022. They owed him nothing, Murathe said, further advising Ruto to retire with Uhuru. It will be interesting to see how things turn out here.

The chances look more likely that the Jubilee elections could be put off to a later date – if ever they take place. The party needs significant levels of unity, even if of a strained nature, in the face of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

Secret pact

The BBI is set to be a big agenda this year. It has operated in stormy waters from the very outset.

Primed as a function of a secret pact between Uhuru and Raila, BBI often runs into headwinds both within Jubilee and from outside. Every politician who considers their future at risk because of BBI is likely to fight it.

The president may wish to minimise collateral damage against BBI by finding ways to get Tangatanga to tone down their rhetoric against it. Shouting them down is unlikely to be a judicious route.

There is every likelihood of sustained hostile debate about the BBI, with much of it generating more heat than light. Already, ODM plans to hold a rally in Kakamega on January 18 to drum up support for the BBI. The rally is fronted by Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya.

Western political leadership affiliated to Amani National Congress’ (ANC) Musalia Mudavadi and Ford Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula has already raised the red flag. They smell mischief in the proposed rally. They think the meeting is about undermining Mudavadi and Wetang’ula in their own backyard, while hoisting Raila.

Whatever the case, the battle for control of Western is going to go up a notch higher.

Not to be left behind in this contest will be the deputy president. He already wields some significant influence in the region. Jubilee’s Tangatanga boasts of MPs Dan Wanyama (Webuye West), Benard Shinali (Ikolomani), Emmanuel Wangwe (Navakholo), Malulu Injendi (Malava), John Waluke (Sirisia) and Didmus Barasa (Kimilili), in the Mudavadi-Wetang’ula backyard.

Faced with a common threat from ODM, it will be interesting to see whether Wetang’ula and Mudavadi will close ranks to counter the adversary, or whether they will carry on in the fractious manner that is the trademark of Luhya politics. Equally interesting will be whether they can bite the political bullet and close ranks further with the deputy president, or whether caution about the unknown response will keep them wary of the DP.

ODM also has its own internal issues to address. An internal party task force report last year returned a harsh verdict against the Edwin Sifuna-led party secretariat.

It recommended a wide raft of changes in the leadership of the party and in management style. The report just fell short of advising the removal of Sifuna and the party’s executive officer Oduor Ong’wen.

Mercifully, ODM redeemed itself in the Kibra by-election in November. Whether this is considered good enough to slow down on ODM’s much spoken about impending shake-up remains to be seen.

Like Jubilee, ODM needs calm and unity of purpose in this season when the BBI is Raila’s foremost agenda.

Mudavadi’s ANC was in the news much of last year for the wrong reasons. The party rode into 2019 on the wave of tussles over the office of secretary general between nominated MP Godfrey Osotsi and Mudavadi’s new political ally Barrack Muluka.

After a succession of contestations in court and before the Political Parties Disputes Tribunal (PPDT), the Mudavadi corner carried the day, with Osotsi failing to appeal the decision of the High Court that declared Muluka the legitimate secretary general.

Then came the party’s expulsion of Osotsi, allegedly for refusing or failing to co-operate with the party in an audit carried out by the office of the Auditor General. Osotsi appealed against the expulsion and won the first round before the PPDT. The matter now rests with the High Court, following an appeal by the party. 

Away from this, ANC is fraught with internal indiscipline that it must end before it can focus meaningfully on competition against other parties. MPs and county assemblies openly defy the leadership and push the agenda of competing parties at the expense of their own party.

The matter of the expulsion of Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala late last year has been largely hushed up. It is, however, likely to begin hitting headlines this year.

Wiper Party’s Kalonzo Musyoka has declared 2020 the year when he begins to take over from Uhuru. It is not clear how he intends to go about this, having declared that wherever the president will be in 2022, that is where he will also be. But one of his closest political allies, former Machakos Senator Johnston Muthama, says they are going to support Ruto.

Kalonzo was quick to deny this. He denounced Muthama for purporting to speak for him. He is going to be an interesting one to watch this year.

While Raila has the BBI and handshake agenda as his beacons, it is not clear what the other major players’ beacons are going to be.

Mudavadi has been talking about the economy, the cost of living and such other matters as over borrowing and corruption. He is likely to travel with the same messages. As an addition, and possibly to counter the onslaught against him by Atwoli, he has recently added the plight of workers, a real felt challenge in the country. It will be interesting to see how he develops this line, or whether he will go into a ceasefire with Atwoli and drop it.

Kalonzo and Wetang’ula have yet to state what their campaign planks are. They need to craft and position some pretty soon. What should Kenyans think of whenever they hear about them? This is the homework they must begin their succession efforts with.

For Ruto, it remains a balance between associating himself with any gains in the Jubilee government while distancing himself from the failings. It is a tricky balance.

Regardless of the president’s own agenda, his dreams and aspirations for himself and the country, the contenders for the throne will hugely set their own agenda for the country and for the president.

The Big Four Agenda, the economy, education, peace and harmony, BBI, devolution, foreign debts, corruption and all other issues will be important to the political class only to the extent that they further self-focused 2022 dreams. The race begins in earnest this year.

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