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Kenya’s political landscape littered with broken promises and failed alliances

By Wilfred Ayaga | February 20th 2020

Uhuru Kenyatta (left), William Ruto (centre) and Raila Odinga (in suit), flanked by other leaders at Orange House where they launched the 'NO' campaign referendum for the proposed constitution, Wako draft, on October 27, 2005. [File, Standard]

Rival factions in Jubilee allied to President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto continue feuding, playing into a political landscape that has been a graveyard of betrayal and backstabbing since independence.

Mr Kenyatta and his deputy forged a formidable coalition that swept them to power in 2013 and secured re-election in 2017, but soon after, the ruling party imploded into factional wars that rage on.

The Kenyatta-leaning Kieleweke camp accuses Dr Ruto of undermining his boss with premature 2022 presidential campaigns, while the DP’s Tangatanga group blames their rivals for working with ODM leader Raila Odinga to scuttle their man’s quest for the presidency.

While the jury is still out on who has shortchanged who – and if the fallout will persist to the next election – history is replete with similar political alliances that ended in acrimony.

The beginning

It started when the country’s first vice president, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, was placed under house arrest a few years after he declined an offer of premiership from the British colonialists, instead of demanding the release of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

“If I accept your offer, I will be seen as a traitor to my people. The British cannot elect me leader to my people … Kenyatta is around, just here in Lodwar. Release him and allow him to lead us; he is already our choice,” Odinga told a shocked Governor Sir Patrick Renison.

Mzee Kenyatta became the country’s founding president but would later isolate Jaramogi after they fell out ideologically.

“Jaramogi, if you were not my friend, I would have crushed you like unga (maize flour),” history records Jomo warning Jaramogi.

Mzee Kenyatta would name Joseph Murumbi his second vice president and then Daniel arap Moi, who would later succeed him in 1978.

With the seeds of betrayal thus planted, politicians in subsequent years have perfected this art, leaving behind a trail of broken promises and frustrated ambitions. Treachery is the stock in trade in Kenyan politics.

 Moi braved humiliation by a cabal around Kenyatta to assume the presidency in 1978 with the support of then-Attorney General Charles Njonjo and Finance Minister Mwai Kibaki.

The trio was pitted against the change-the-constitution brigade that sought to block Moi from succeeding Kenyatta.

But in 1984, President Moi sent Mr Njonjo, his minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, packing. 

Njonjo had termed Moi “a passing cloud”,  suggesting a stop-gap president, but he would soon find himself battling claims of ‘traitor’ that subsequently dealt a mortal blow to his political career.

This ended the better days when Moi, Njonjo and Minister GG Kariuki would ride in the same limousine, which consequently acquired the moniker ‘presidential matatu’.  

Kibaki was later demoted from vice president to Health minister. He would later abandon Moi in 1991 at the advent of multi-party democracy.

This period witnessed its fair share of political intrigues, with Kenneth Matiba refusing to support Jaramogi for president, leading to the split of the original Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Ford).

Jaramogi’s death in 1994 also saw his son, Raila Odinga, turn against Michael Wamalwa who had faithfully deputised the old man.

Their battles for control of Ford-Kenya, immortalised in the dramatic photograph of the chaotic and abortive elections in Thika Stadium in which Mr Odinga is captured taking cover from an irate crowd, led to the latter’s exit to the National Development Party (NDP).

It is on NDP’s ticket that Raila made his debut run for president in 1997 in an election that Moi triumphed over a divided opposition, just like in 1992.

Raila led his party to a merger with Kanu in 2002, a development that saw Kanu loyalists George Saitoti, who was Moi’s VP at the time, and Joseph Kamotho, the party’s secretary-general, thrown under the bus to accommodate the newcomers.

Short-lived dalliance

Raila replaced Kamotho as Kanu secretary-general and was named Energy minister, but the dalliance with Moi was short-lived after the president handpicked Uhuru as his preferred successor.

It prompted a walkout from Kanu that was led by Raila and Saitoti, among other rebels, who formed the Rainbow Alliance that would join the National Alliance of Kenya’s Kibaki, Wamalwa and Charity Ngilu to form the National Rainbow Alliance (Narc).

But prior to Raila declaring “Kibaki Tosha” at a rally in Uhuru Park, which introduced Kibaki as the compromise Opposition presidential candidate, former Cabinet minister Simeon Nyachae has in the past protested that Raila had first inked a deal with him.

But Raila would later cry wolf himself after newly-elected President Kibaki trashed a power-sharing agreement that would have seen him named prime minister under a Narc government.

In the run up to the elections, Raila had pulled out all the stops to ensure Kibaki, who was confined to a wheel chair after suffering an accident, becomes president.

A 2018 KTN interview with Kibaki’s personal physician Dan Gikonyo captured Raila’s efforts to get Kibaki to a London hospital for treatment.

“The difficult bit was in boarding the plane. We did not have the control. I remember asking for some seats at Kenya Airways and they were not co-operative,” Dr Gikonyo recalled.

“Raila, who was with us, said they could not put their president at the back of the plane and must be put in the first class cabin … he came with about eight young men who carried the stretcher to the front seats on their knees.”  

A story is told of how on the morning after Kibaki was sworn in at Uhuru Park, Raila, the then leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), went to State House to negotiate for Cabinet positions, only to be met by Kibaki men who told him that the president was not available.

It would turn out to be the first sign that the pre-election power sharing had been torn apart, opening a new chapter in the country’s litany of political betrayals.

Kibaki’s first term would bring together strange bedfellows like Uhuru, Raila, Ruto and Kalonzo Musyoka, among others. They campaigned against a government-sponsored draft constitution that was defeated in a 2005 referendum.

Raila and Mr Musyoka, were among those sacked from the Cabinet, which saw Raila popularise the Orange movement on whose ticket he challenged Kibaki for the presidency in 2007. Uhuru abandoned his Orange colleagues and took Kanu to support PNU’s Kibaki.

The disputed vote plunged the country into chaos. Kalonzo, who had decamped from Raila’s team with ODM-Kenya to mount a solo presidential bid, joined Kibaki and was named vice president. 

But to end the violence, an international mediation nudged Kibaki and Raila to form a coalition government in which Ruto was among the ministers. He would be sacked later by Raila.

Kibaki succession

Kibaki’s succession reunited Uhuru and Ruto, and on their path to the presidency, they took Musalia Mudavadi for a ride. On the back of ICC cases, Uhuru temporarily withdrew from the presidential race, and the two announced they were backing Mr Mudavadi.

Uhuru would later claim to have been misled by some dark forced to back Mudavadi.

Kalonzo, angry that the Kibaki men did not support him, teamed up with Raila. Their joint ticket was, however, defeated by Uhuru and Ruto.

More recently, the NASA trio of Kalonzo, Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula claimed they had been locked out of the Handshake deal between Raila and President Kenyatta, although they had been comrades in arms in the 2017 elections.

Notably, Raila’s allies accuse the trio of abandoning him on the hot January afternoon when he was sworn in as the people’s president by ODM lawyers.

Political analyst Herman Manyora sums up the country’s culture of betrayal as a case of there being “no honour among thieves”.

“Political betrayal is a common theme in politics. However, some people are civil in the way they do it and others are crude. It happens across the world. In the case of Uhuru and Ruto, Uhuru will have to make a choice between the bigger picture on the good of the country and his promise to Ruto,” said  Mr Manyora. 

However, political betrayals are not unique to Kenya. In the UK, former Prime Minister Tony Blair reneged on a political deal to step down for Gordon Brown early in his second term as prime minister in 2005.

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