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Speaker Justin Muturi on Uhuru, Raila 'secret pact'

POLITICS
By Jacob Ng'etich | November 22nd 2021

President Uhuru Kenyatta consoles National assembly speaker Justin Muturi during the burial service of his late mother in Embu County as DP William Ruto looks on. [File, Standard]

In the twilight of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidency, few have maintained a political friendship with the Head of State like National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi.

One of Uhuru’s trusted allies, Muturi — who has declared interest in the country’s topmost seat -- shared with The Standard candid conversations that he has had with the president in recent days, ranging from the handshake, to the fallout between the Head of State and his deputy. 

“Thrice President Uhuru Kenyatta has told me that he was to retire with ODM leader Raila Odinga next year,” says the speaker. “That was the only condition of their handshake”.

Muturi claims that Uhuru and Raila had sought to end their families’ five-decades-long political rivalry through the March 9, 2018 handshake by having both exit the stage concurrently.

He says the plan was that Raila would not seek to succeed the president, and which, if true, would mean that the ODM chief may be considering shelving it in light of his December 9 announcement that is likely to confirm that he will be making his fifth stab at the presidency.

“Raila’s reluctance to declare his planned stab at the presidency is perhaps because of his retirement deal with Uhuru,” says Muturi.

But Kieni MP Kanini Kega said that if there was such agreement was, it was not binding because Raila had his constitutional rights to vie for presidency.

“These are allegations that are propagated because of the fear that Raila was gaining ground across the country. Assuming that was true, it would not be binding given that Raila has his constitutional rights to vie. The only person who cannot vie for presidency now is President Uhuru Kenyatta,” said Kega.

He said on the contrary Raila was stronger politically than ever and would surprise many.

Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir argued that the only people who could speak on the handshake pact were Uhuru and Raila and he would not take third party claims.

“Those are fairy tales. The handshake was meant to say that our differences are bigger but we can come together for the good of the country, that we may not join government but we can have positive criticism of the administration,” said Nassir.

He said Raila told them that the first meeting took up to 13 hours and that is how they agreed on the country needed to address the issues that were dividing them and that gave birth to the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

Muturi, however, suggests that the ODM leader may be yielding to pressure from his base to make a go at the presidency.

The speaker, whose close political relationship with the president dates back two decades since their days at Independence party Kanu, has declared his interest to succeed the president, but is not hoping for his endorsement.

The two joined the 8th Parliament almost at the same time; Muturi through a by-election in 1999 after Mbeere MP Silas Ita died and Uhuru in 2001 after he was nominated to replace Mark Too, who was forced to resign barely a year to the 2002 elections. Too has since died.

And based on his several conversations with the president, Muturi believes that the Head of State is yet to make up his mind on who to support to succeed him in the August 9, 2022 General Election.

Muturi admits that the president had pegged a lot of hope on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) to organise his succession, and was taken aback when the courts nullified the process.

He noted that the 2022 calculations for Uhuru have further been complicated by some One Kenya Alliance principals who have ruled out support for a Raila candidature in the presidential race.

“Uhuru has not decided on who he will end up supporting in the General Election... He might surprise many by not siding with any candidate. He had hoped that the OKA principals would be united to help him build a formidable alliance for 2022,” says Muturi.

President Kenyatta has on three occasions hosted Raila and the OKA principals -- twice at State House Mombasa and at State House Nairobi as he sought to have the group speak in one voice.

The Speaker notes that though Uhuru was uncomfortable with Ruto being president, he has kept his reservations — which seem to be personal — private.

The former two-term MP for Siakago says Uhuru has considered several other scenarios for the presidency, and they did not present an obvious choice.

He says that ANC party leader Musalia Mudavadi lacks a stronghold that could help him catapult his presidential bid, and for Kalonzo Musyoka, beyond the Lower Eastern bloc that he has held firmly, the Wiper leader’s electoral base is constrained.  

Consequently, not keen to offend any side in the 2022 presidential quest, Muturi says he surmised from his interactions with his former Kanu boss that he might leave it to the best team to win. 

In any case, the speaker observes, it is not easy for an outgoing president to control his or her succession.

By Madaraka Day 2022, the last national celebrations that Uhuru will address the nation, according to Muturi, politics will be rife and knowing the president as someone who shuns controversy, “he might just let things find their natural space.”  He even warns politicians in the Mount Kenya region that the President will not pull any political magic “to get them elected”.

“I know Uhuru; he will not come to campaign for you. Those hoping that he will come to their political aid when the time comes will be in for a shock. Any leader in Mt Kenya who is interested to be elected or re-elected should go out to the voters directly,” said Muturi. “Chart your own paths, don’t wait for Uhuru,” he adds.

On those accusing Ruto of engaging in early campaigns, the Speaker says the DP could have realised that Uhuru would not campaign for him, and hence hit the road early. Nonetheless, the president’s relationship with his deputy, the speaker says, is cold but respectful.

“Ask yourselves why there has not been any Cabinet meeting for most of the year. They are avoiding each other respectfully,” he said.

Muturi thinks that it was not right for the president to take away the Deputy President’s roles and bestow them on an individual that did not have the mandate of the people. “It was not right. It also made the DP idle and free to begin his campaigns.”

Muturi says the current presidential campaigns are healthy because they are more focused on issues, as opposed to those of the past that focused on communities and could be described as tribal, and hence likely to give the country an opportunity to vote in the best.

“We have seen most of the presidential campaigning focus on issues. Kenyans will have a good debate this election,” he says. 

On the already intense campaigns, the speaker — who hosted 1,000 elders from Kiambu County yesterday to drum up support for his presidential bid — believes that the timing is ripe.

“We started planning for a Uhuru Presidency in 2009, four years to the actual polls. I even wondered (what the fuss was) when some politicians accused Ruto of campaigning early; for one to win the top seat you must plan early enough,” says Muturi.  

On Ruto’s and Raila’s bids to succeed his boss in the House on the Hill, Muturi believes that the two are competitive and if he was to change his mind from running for president, he would not mind deputising either.

Muturi was crowned as the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru Association (GEMA) spokesman mid this year, and has since hit the road to popularise his presidential bid. He believes he is currently the most qualified leader in the Mount Kenya region to take over the mantle from President Uhuru, having been in politics for long and held several high profile positions. 

“In the Eighth Parliament, I was a temporary speaker, became Kanu Chief Whip and now speaker for two terms in the Jubilee administration; I am now ready for bigger things. I am equal to the task,” said Muturi.

Asked if he is not raising his ambitions too high, Muturi says he is determined and will only review his decision next February.

“We expect a tectonic movement by January, when even those in government offices will be exiting to run for elective office. That is when to make the final decisions. After the muddied waters settle, I will make my final position,” said Muturi.

Muturi says the attrition rate for Members of Parliament is around 70 per cent, and many current members will not see the inside of the 13th House. “Most of the MPs in the current House will go home. I know a number of them based on our small intelligence that will not serve in the next parliament,” says Muturi. 

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