As the clock ticks towards next year’s General Election, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s words and actions and those of his allies point to preference of a Raila Odinga presidency.
Informed by the need to push for unity, bury the historic Kenyatta/Odinga rivalry that has dogged Kenyan politics for five decades, Raila’s approval ratings all point to Uhuru’s preferred choice.
The president’s allies have consistently insisted that Uhuru is keen to ensure the spirit of the handshake lives on and this can only happen through a Raila presidency.
Jubilee vice-chairman David Murathe, for example, started the Raila-presidency call back in 2018, saying Kenya needed a Mandela moment in reference to a one-term transition government that the South African President Nelson Mandela set up before retiring.
“We are determined to have Raila get a Mandela moment, we are keen on this and it will happen. It is the only way we can keep the country united and leverage on the gains of President Kenyatta’s government,” Murathe told The Standard.
Cotu secretary general Francis Atwoli has also said a Raila presidency cannot be wished away as he controls half of the registered voters.
“The truth is Raila has fanatical supporters who cannot change their minds or switch allegiance. Although Raila has not declared his candidature, he has a head start and will overtake everyone once he gets into the ring,” said Atwoli.
He said some leaders were seeing themselves ahead only because they are the only ones in the field right now, but things will change with time.
“It’s up to the other leaders to assess and evaluate themselves and know their positions and strengths. This is a democratic country based on its support base. I once wrote to them and advised them that after 2022 if they don’t position strategically they will be irrelevant with the new generational change,” said Atwoli.
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But Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi said he was not sure if Uhuru supports a Raila presidency because he has not pronounced himself on the same.
“Uhuru has a choice to support Raila by simply joining other Kenyans who believe he is the best bet to lead this country,” Wandayi said yesterday.
Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jnr said it is in Uhuru’s own interest not to appear to endorse any candidate or pinpoint interest in any.
“If he endorses, the incumbency mantra that he faces, will befall the candidate. Anyone seeking direct endorsement or Uhuru seeking to coerce him in it will lose,” he said.
As an outgoing president, the senator said Uhuru should be a middle ground arbitrator focused on a peaceful election.
“This rhetoric in government will backfire. It is unfortunate that when Murathe said the country should prepare for a Raila presidency, Uhuru convened a meeting seeking to box the leaders into supporting the ODM leader,” said Mutula Junior.
And Lugari MP Ayub Savula, also ANC deputy leader, said their party leader Musalia Mudavadi was asked to support a Raila candidature but he stood his ground.
“We had advised him to maintain a hardline position and not agree to support anybody. We cannot carry anybody, we are in this race to the end. That is exactly what he did at State House in Mombasa,” said Savula.
He said they told him to only agree to share government with Raila. “Sharing government between the two with Mudavadi as the candidate is the only way to beat Ruto, or else the DP will carry the day,” said Savula.
After a fallout with his deputy, Uhuru while addressing mourners at Mululu grounds during the funeral of Hannah Mudavadi, suggested that the country has been led by two communities since independence and maybe it was time for another community. Political pundits read this to mean he was distancing himself from Ruto and suggesting that he would support a different candidate.
“Through that statement alone, Uhuru was clearly telling Ruto that he will not support him and that he was casting his net wide,” said Dismas Mokua, a political analyst.
On Tuesday, President Kenyatta hosted opposition leaders at State House, Mombasa, which has lifted the lid on his push to hand over to Raila next year.
Uhuru held talks with Raila, Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper), Mudavadi (ANC), Senators Gideon Moi, Moses Wetang’ula and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, where insiders say he urged them to jointly support Raila for a single term presidency.
“Uhuru urged them to give Raila another chance because he had better chances of winning the presidency than any of the other five in the meeting,” said a source briefed of the proceedings.
The need to tame Ruto’s political rise is one of the reasons why Raila’s candidature is appealing given that previous private and public polls have indicated that the DP was points ahead.
Ruto has repeatedly said he is ready to face any of his opponents and even urged them to unite so they can face him.
The DP has also increased his forays across the country and on Tuesday hosted leaders from Nyanza in Naivasha to discuss their region’s economic fortunes. Ruto has repeatedly claimed that some senior operatives in government want to derail his 2022 presidential ambitions.
Uhuru is said to have told the meeting in Mombasa that they needed to unite for them to beat Ruto in the August 9th 2022 polls.
The State House meeting comes three weeks after the state mobilised six governors and tens of MPs from Mt Kenya in Murang’a County with five of the county bosses endorsing Raila.
In the Murang’a event at the home of SK Macharia, Kiambu Governor James Nyoro, Ndiritu Muriithi (Laikipia), Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga) and the host Mwangi wa Iria, noted that it was time for the region to support Raila.
The mobilisation and the endorsement indicated Uhuru’s political blessings.
“It is time we reciprocate the good gesture that the Odinga family has given to our community in the past by supporting Raila in the coming election, it will be a way to pay back in kind for their support,” said Nyoro.
Muriithi noted that the Raila period had come and Mt Kenya region should not be left behind.
Before meeting with the other opposition leaders, Uhuru met twice with Raila in Mombasa where their talks lasted several hours and attended by National Assembly Majority leader Amos Kimunya.