Kenyatta’s headache on BBI and 2022 succession

President Uhuru Kenyatta inspects the progress of ongoing construction works of Naibor (Posta)-Kisima-Maralal Road in Samburu County on March 5. [Maxwell Agwanda, Standard]

The emergence of cracks in the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga may force the former to rethink his political strategy, 16 months to the end of his tenure.

The Handshake between the two leaders, birthed on March 9, 2018, has in recent days been the subject of debate over its survival as allies of Raila accused persons within the Office of the President of sabotaging the pact.

Raila’s allies have been uncomfortable with what they see as inclusion of the ‘sacred alliance’ into an agreement that was initially between the two leaders, and have threatened to pull out of the arrangement.

The alliance comprises of Amani National Congress (ANC) party leader Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper), Baringo Senator Gideon Moi (Kanu) and his Bungoma counterpart Moses Wetang’ula (Ford Kenya).

Uhuru now finds himself with several balls to juggle — passing of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) at a referendum, the dilemma of managing his succession politics especially within Mt Kenya, and securing his post-retirement relevance.

Coupled with this is the headache of how to deal with his deputy, William Ruto, ensure he leaves behind a unified country, as well as manage expectations of members of the alliance, who all have presidential ambitions.

Jubilee Party Vice Chair David Murathe has affirmed that the president is not ready to retire from active politics, arguing that he will still have a vibrant party that he leads, ensuring he remains in control of Mt Kenya region politics.

The recent political salvos fired by Raila’s allies against the government over its handling of the BBI has exposed the fragility of Uhuru’s relationship with Raila, and could introduce a new dynamic in the 2022 political matrix.

Uhuru and Raila came together on March 9, 2018, and vowed to correct the sins of their fathers (Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga) that had sown the seed of political discord in the country.

But with the unfolding events, the current political scenario could easily put a heavy toll on the president.

The Head of State has had an acrimonious fallout with his deputy, whom he once enjoyed a ‘bromance’ with since 2013. The two stayed together until after the Handshake in 2018 when things fell apart.

Dynasties narrative

Ruto’s allies have accused Uhuru of betrayal after the fallout and have gone ahead to coin the ‘Hustler Nation’ versus Dynasties narrative in a contest which has painted Uhuru as belonging to the latter, whose time is up.

The entry of similar accusations by Raila’s allies of a possible betrayal could easily be unsettling to Uhuru, who has shown indication that he is keen to manage his succession.

ODM chairman John Mbadi yesterday stressed the importance of ensuring that the Handshake lives up to its expectations.

“Mt Kenya will play a key role in the succession politics. But we are already immune to emotions and politics of betrayal. Uhuru needs Raila for the Handshake objectives to come true,” said Mbadi.

He added: “There should be no panic. Betrayal is part of politics and it depends on circumstances, politics and interests. The Handshake gave Uhuru the calm to rule the country.”

He stressed; “For the Handshake to succeed, it rests with the two leaders who are the owners. As stakeholders, we are only trying to make assumptions of what they want.”

He argued that Uhuru only has Ruto or Raila, who have a solid support base for negotiations.

“Those ‘system’ people can try whatever moves, and whatever they are trying to do is not a big deal. Raila has built his support through years of strategy while other are just starting,” he said.

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Samuel Poghisio admitted that the Handshake and the BBI were among the biggest headaches for the president.

“These two mean a lot for the president; they should not be in danger in any way, otherwise all the investment into it will be in vain. That is why he (Uhuru) is reaching out to more people and expanding the handshake by bringing on board the party leaders to pass the BBI and by extension 2022 succession politics,” said Poghisio.

“The president has been forced to bend backwards literally to accommodate the party leaders for the BBI to succeed.” 

Jubilee Deputy Secretary General Joshua Kutuny said as allies of the president they will ensure that the Handshake and the BBI are protected and guarded.

“We will not allow it to fail, we will use every means to protect it. We have listened to the concerns raised by ODM and the matters are being addressed,” said Kutuny.

But it is the entry of the ‘sacred alliance’ that seems to be part of the Handshake problem.

Immediately after the entry into the expanded handshake, Kalonzo and Mudavadi last month turned their political guns on Raila, once their National Super Alliance (NASA) partner, claiming he was “incapable of keeping a vow to friends”.

President Kenyatta, caught in the bare-knuckle battles, hosted the leaders at State House two weeks ago and is reported to have urged them to focus their energies on promoting the BBI and to hold a truce.

However, an ODM MP who sought anonymity said the party leader was a political master tactician who knew that once there was mistrust in politics, then there was no cure and therefore it was time to re-strategise.

“He (Raila) has smelled mistrust, he is weighing options on whether he needs to disown and dump the BBI process and instead begin planning on how he can revamp his party and prepare it for the 2022 General Election,” said the MP.

Pundits also weighed in and noted that Raila could be having second thoughts on BBI, or was negotiating his position on the table.

The dilemma for Uhuru is, if Raila dumps the BBI that he has marketed with passion, then the project which pegs the hopes of leaving a united country will crumble.

The ODM leader, who is recuperating at the Nairobi Hospital, is seen as being an integral part of the BBI, and the political threats by his allies that they could ditch the process and go back to where they were in 2017 has triggered a political debate.

This seems to have been sensed and yesterday, Mutahi Ngunyi waded into the matter and told Raila that there was no time to waste. “Dear Raila Odinga, just remember that Raila Odinga belongs to the country, not to YOU. Tell him to pull himself up by the boot straps. Country is waiting. No time to get sickish.”

Ngunyi’s tweet coming from an adviser of the president is heavily loaded and could point to a desperate position the president’s people may be in.

National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohamed, however, said the BBI document was ODM’s and they would therefore not run away from it.

Junet, however, indicated that they had been starved of cash to popularise the document.

“We will fundraise if need be; we do not care if there is money for the exercise,” said Junet.

Having noted that ODM has developed cold feet towards BBI, Mudavadi’s ANC in a statement said they were ready to press on with the process to the next level should Raila step aside.

Yesterday, Senate Minority Whip Mutula Kilonzo Jnr observed that it appeared the objective of the Handshake from the unease it has generated among its proponents was to bring unity.

Soy MP Caleb Kositany, a Ruto ally, said when one practices politics of betrayal when interacting with people who stood with them at their hour of need, then they lose trust in you.

Homa Bay MP Peter Kaluma accused persons in the Office of the President of trying to use the provincial administration to hijack the BBI process.