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Uhuru tours drive and turn knife into heart of dying NASA coalition

By Oscar Obonyo | July 25th 2021

President Uhuru Kenyatta views the display boards for the construction of Thwake Dam in Makueni County.[PSCU, Standard]

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s nationwide tours, fashioned as development missions, risk achieving the exact opposite – thanks to heightened political friction, particularly among presidential hopefuls.

The emerging battles have specifically narrowed down to co-principals of the National Super Alliance (Nasa), Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula.

The trio is engrossed in backstabbing and elbowing each other for visibility in their political backyards and on the national stage.

From Nyanza region in May, climaxing on June 1 Madaraka Day event, to Ukambani and the Coast this week, the president has left in his trail a group of bitter political allies jostling for his approval.

Western Kenya is the next stop and already there is grumbling from a section of MPs who are protesting at what they consider the hijacking of Uhuru’s tour by governors Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega), Wycliffe Wangamati (Bungoma), Wilbur Otichillo (Vihiga), Sospeter Ojaamong’ (Busia) and Patrick Khaemba (Trans Nzoia).

At the centre is ODM leader Raila, whom political rivals view as an intrusive “outsider”. In the current impasse, politicians allied to Mudavadi are reportedly threatening to boycott the president’s tour if the Amani National Congress (ANC) leader is not involved in planning.

“As ANC, if they (president and the five governors) will not involve our party leader, we will boycott the tour. Uhuru must call MPs and engage us accordingly on his mission to Western,” said ANC deputy party leader Ayub Savula.

ANC’s discomfort, The Sunday Standard has learnt, stems from suspicions that Raila is secretly involved in planning the tour.

The former prime minister’s deputy in ODM, Oparanya, is said to be directly involved, having summoned fellow county bosses from the region to meet the president in Mombasa on Thursday.

“This being a tour of the head of national government, the county bosses should keep off. We are particularly disturbed by the fact that the said tour is being coordinated by a deputy party leader of our political competitor,” Savula protested.

During the president’s tour of Ukambani on July 9, Wiper leader Kalonzo was openly dismayed at his Orange party counterpart’s presence, saying, “we did not expect you to be here.”

Asked by Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana to address the gathering at one point, the former PM calmly turned down the invitation, as if to abide by Kalonzo’s sentiments that he was “an unwelcome guest”.

“Sometimes when you do something in good faith and other people view it differently, it makes you feel so bad. And the best way out of such a situation is just to keep mum and keep your cool,” says National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi in reference to Raila’s tour of Ukambani with Uhuru.

Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana. [David Njaaga, Standard]

Indeed, Ukambani tour was full of drama and sideshows. Besides Raila’s presence, protocol arrangements were a disaster. Governors Alfred Mutua (Machakos), Kibwana (Makueni) and Charity Ngilu (Kitui) literally pulled the rug out from under the feet of the politicians.

In one of the portraits, Kalonzo was at the far end of the picture, away from the centre of power.

“The president came down here purely on development agenda, while others were keen on propagating politics of poverty. We had to stop them,” says Dr Mutua of the tussle between the governors and Kalonzo.

According to Mutua, the fractions partly contributed to the delay and abridged programme of the president’s tour.

“To some, development was the issue on the card and not presence or absence of Raila. Strangely to others, the president’s tour allegedly flopped because of the former PM’s presence.”

In Western, however, MPs allied to Mudavadi insist on not having “a repeat of the Ukambani tour”. According to Savula, Raila must keep off affairs of Western “in the same way other political leaders have kept off Nyanza” when Uhuru toured the region in May.

However, Mbadi, also ODM’s national chair, sees it differently: “The problem is not Raila’s presence in the presidential tours but rather his political clout. You cannot diminish a leader who has national stature and captivating presence like Raila. Other leaders should work towards the same instead of blaming him.”

He hit out at critics of his party boss over what he considers zoning the country politically.

“Why should we pigeonhole our leaders to certain regions? This amounts to speaking from both sides of the mouth – that’s locking oneself in regional or tribal cocoons yet at the same time seek the presidency,” said Mbadi.

The hiccups in the president’s planned tour of Western are indeed understandable. Unlike in Raila’s Nyanza backyard, where all governors are from his Orange party, in Western, the county leadership is split between ODM and Ford Kenya.

Raila’s party controls Kakamega, Busia and Vihiga county governments, while Wetang’ula’s outfit is in charge of Bungoma and Trans Nzoia.

No governor was elected on the party of Mudavadi, who is the region’s de facto political kingpin. This reality complicates his push to take charge of Uhuru’s tour, especially if the governors, whose allegiance lie elsewhere, are involved.

Raila Odinga. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

This is precisely the kind of political quagmire Kalonzo found himself in when he hosted the president. Although Wiper is undoubtedly the most popular party in the region, the three governors are from different parties – except that Ngilu and Prof Kibwana’s parties entered into a pre-election pact with Wiper.

ANC has the majority number of elected MPs in Western, the reason legislators allied to Mudavadi insist on coordinating the president’s visit.

On the flipside, the Nyanza and Coast trips went on smoothly, purely because of the political dominance of one party in those regions, hence the synchrony of both development and political agenda.

“I believe the president is running his own show, aimed at restoring public faith in his government.

"So ideally, the political sideshows are just that because his agenda is primarily not politics. But even if it is, then it is politics of development,” said Mutua, the leader of Maendeleo Chap Chap (MCC).

There is no denying, however, that the president’s tours are laced with political overtones. In fact, to some, the tours are partly about Uhuru’s own political succession.

Besides the development agenda, the president has been on a political charm offensive of sorts and has openly asked leaders to work together.

During his tour of Ukambani, he lauded Raila and Kalonzo for being focused on infrastructural development and indirectly hit out at Deputy President William Ruto for “poisoning the youths with handouts and empty promises.”

Uhuru has reminded Kenyans that he registered more development during his second term after the Handshake with Raila in 2018 as compared to the first term when he worked closely with his deputy. 

Nonetheless, the president has maintained that his regional tours are purely development-oriented, geared at improving lives and getting services closer to the people.

Mbadi thinks the president is trying to make amends except that his reign has plunged Kenya into debts, coupled with high level of corruption and pilferage of public funds.

“There is also no cash in people’s pockets, not to mention the ravaging effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Uhuru is obviously not responsible for some of these misfortunes, and he needs to explain himself to the electorate more clearly about this. And this is why the tours are good for him and his legacy,” he said.

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