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With about 270 days left to rule, Uhuru's options are wearing thin

By Special Correspondent | November 15th 2021

President Uhuru Kenyatta when he was received by Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa on November 14, 2021.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s tenure as President of Kenya ends in 268 days. Thereafter, he can only remain in office in a caretaker capacity, pending swearing-in of a new president, or the resolution of any challenges that the August 9 election could throw up. The one thing that has occupied Kenya’s fourth president most during his second term has been his succession.

As Kenyans ponder who is likely to be their fifth Head of State, the incumbent shares in the anxiety. Succession has easily topped his agenda, above all other worries. His anxiety is likely to go into a steady crescendo over the next few months. 

The formal electoral process has already begun, with the presentation of political party nomination regulations to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) a few days ago. IEBC rejected the regulations across the board, as unconstitutional. The parties were given two weeks to put their houses in order.

Everything now reads as a matter of when, and not if. Public servants who aspire to run in next year’s poll must resign by February 8. Party Primaries must take place by April 8, and May 30 to August 6 is the official campaign period. The country is, accordingly, on the homestretch to the August 9 poll. Meanwhile, anyone wishing to raise funds for the campaigns must get their act together within the next three weeks. December 9 is the last day. 

Where does all this leave President Uhuru, during the campaigns and after? Will the voice of the Head of State continue to be relevant, both during and after the campaigns?

Political bigwigs have jostled for his patronage, to the extent that even those in the Opposition have behaved in a manner likely to suggest that they have wanted him to indicate to the country that they are his favourites. The ending four years have been a season of loyal opposition. Focus on 2022 has softened adversarial blows against the president and his government. 

The lame-duck season is closing in, some would even argue that it has already been entered.

Traditionally, the season begins after the election of the successor to the powerful man. Then the outgoing person is seen as ineffective and belonging to the past. In the dolphin loop tradition, those who have hung around him dive on to the next wave of power. They no longer listen to the person who has been. Some even scorn him. 

Those who know how to read into the seeds of time, however, do not wait for the successor to be elected. This political hardnosed type can already see where the wind is blowing. They rush to take the front row seats while they are still there. They elbow out the dull and slow.

The incumbent must weigh things carefully, for power is in migration. He, too, wants to be in the right place when eventually power settles upon new shoulders. Part of attempting to be in the right place includes trying to determine on which shoulders power should rest upon. 

President Uhuru showed his hand in this game quite early in the day. If he has been a little ambiguous about whom he desires to succeed him, he has not left doubt about whom he does not want to succeed him. His deputy.

Gone are the days when he called from the rooftops, “Ten years for me, and ten for Ruto.” His anxiety about the possibility of a Ruto presidency, and his own fate in its wake, will increase proportionately to the closing in of the election. If the engagement against the deputy president was previously thinly veiled in innuendo and wrapped up in sundry invective, it is set to gain sharper and unsheathed edges from now on, and especially after the proposed Jubilee Party delegates meeting later in the month.

If the chasm between the president and his deputy has been indecorous, the meaning of an ugly fallout is set to be redefined over the next few months. The two and their henchmen are gearing up to sacrifice the remnants of their stock of common decency at the altar of political expediency.

In the recent past, the president has dropped hints about “a thief” whom he does not want Kenyans to vote for. He has then left it to his lieutenants to spell out to Ruto that he is, in fact, the man in the folktale.  

Equally, Uhuru has dropped hints about Raila Odinga of ODM as the person he would like to succeed him. Early in his second term, he cautioned Kenyans that he, too, would have a say on who should succeed him. He said then that his choice would shock Kenya.

While some are still processing the shock as dropped in hints and innuendo, others have taken up the cue. They are moving on, campaigning for the ODM leader. What has remained difficult, so far, has been to shout and chant the ODM name in President Uhuru’s backyard. That is going to be the ultimate test, when the new Azimio La Umoja is enjoined in a common slogan with ODM and Jubilee. 

So far, they have not called out in Nyeri, “ODM, Azimio La Umoja!” Nor have they called out in Kisumu, “Jubilee, Azimio la Umoja!” This is the taste of the pudding that Uhuru and Raila will sample in the coming days. That they have not tasted this pie, so far, speaks to the width of the chasm that they built between themselves and their supporters.

Uhuru’s supporters in the previous two elections, especially, must be brought on board to unabashedly support Raila. They must swallow their phlegm and chant new slogans, with ODM in the mix. Part of the way forward could be to change the visual brand identity of UhuRaila political brotherhood. Then the names ODM and Jubilee should completely disappear. Party symbols and slogans are expected to be with IEBC before the campaigns kick off on May 30, 2022. There is still time to get this straight, but not enough to position the new brand identity. 

The president’s anxieties will remain, however, all the way to the election counting process and announcement of the presidential results, which must be done by August 15, 2022.

Meanwhile, could the president change his mind and jump ship? As matters stand, he is holding on to a shell of a party. In a sense, Ruto has run away with the party and taken it to the United Democratic Alliance (UDA). 

In two weeks’ time, the president has the opportunity to test just how much potency is left in Jubilee, at the delegates meeting. It has also been hinted that the deputy president and a number of others will be expelled from Jubilee. National Assembly Speaker, Justin Muturi, is said to be one of them. 

It is a worthy but risky gamble. Things could go either way, after that. The gamble could strengthen the president’s hand against his detractors, at least for the time being.

Unfortunately, times have changed. The country has come far from the old single party days when expulsion from Kanu, the only party, meant political – and sometimes economic – ruin. Those who are expelled today can just laugh it off and carry on. 

Did Uhuru miss the political power bus? As the party leader, President Uhuru did not strengthen his Jubilee Party after the 2017 elections. A strong and no-nonsense party could possibly have reined in rebels, while throwing the rest into the cold, to experiment with luck elsewhere.

The party, however, went into tatters and has been losing by-elections even in the president’s backyard. While the president may want to hold on to the party as his last platform for exercising power, it is doubtful that there is much kick left in it. One thing remains certain. After the next 268 days or so, Uhuru will be waiting anxiously for the election results to be announced. For he will have a dog in the fight.

At the end of it all, he will either celebrate with the victors, or lick his wounds with the losers. It will depend not just on the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. His destiny after that hangs in the balance of the choices he continues to make. 

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