Why Kalonzo Musyoka holds key to a coalition deal

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka speaking during Wiper Party National Delegates Congress at the Kasarani indoor Arena on November 25, 2021. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

In June, former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka categorically stated it was “very unlikely” he will support former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s bid for presidency again. But five months later, the two political bigwigs appear to be warming up to one another.

This, on the surface, can only mean that the shoe is now on the other foot. That Kalonzo is embracing Raila because the ODM leader supports his presidential bid. But there is also a prerequisite that Kalonzo outlined in June, and which is either lost to many or has conveniently been ignored. It implies the Wiper leader may back his Orange party counterpart for the top seat, yet again.

Kalonzo said, “I will be the most stupid fellow under the earth to support for the third time, a presidential candidate without a measure of reciprocity.” Ideally, the weight of the former VP’s sentiments lie in the last line, and in particular the word “reciprocity”.

The question on the lips of many, therefore, is what is the good political deal or pact on card that corresponds to an acceptable “measure of reciprocity” for Kalonzo? Is he a probable compromise presidential candidate or is it about an offer for a new post of chief minister or quasi premier, under a fresh power-sharing agreement with Raila as alluded to by key allies of the Wiper and ODM chiefs?   

According to Makueni MP Dan Maanzo, this would be a hard sell for Kalonzo, “considering the fact that the position does not exist under the current constitutional structure of the Executive”. Kalonzo’s focus, maintains Maanzo, is on the top seat.

Either way, the latest twists and turns aptly reflect on the former long-serving Foreign Affairs minister’s wit in diplomacy and negotiation skills. They mirror on Kalonzo’s political acumen, especially his ability to adapt as well as identify and maximise on realistic prospects. 

Presently, Kalonzo remains the most sought after political bride on the scene ahead of next years’ polls – thanks to his firm hold on an estimated 1.7 million vote-basket of Ukambani region, alone.

Deputy President William Ruto’s camp has reportedly reached out to him, with some of Ruto’s allies openly offering the former VP the position of National Assembly Speaker, while Raila has hinted that the two of them will walk the same path “very soon”.

And within One Kenya Alliance (OKA), Kalonzo is a valuable player, whom Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi is openly worried could be poached. And he has more than once warned unnamed people against making calls to some of them, aimed at winning them over and causing rifts in their midst.

Noting that Kalonzo is an important team player within OKA, Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua considers his party boss a cut above the rest – courtesy of his wealth of experience as a political leader and peacemaker.

“He is a statesman who has created wide networks over the period with heads of governments across the globe, meaning he is a well-connected leader who will do this country a lot of good,” says Wambua.

Over the last 38 years that he has been in active politics, Kalonzo has perfected the art of political loyalty, flexibility and agility. Perhaps the most memorable incident of agility revolves around the 2007 highly disputed and discredited presidential poll.

Initially under the ODM umbrella, Kalonzo and Raila differed and went separate ways ahead of the polls, with Kalonzo vying for the presidency under ODM-Kenya and Raila, the ODM ticket. And when violent protests rocked the country following the electoral body’s declaration of Mwai Kibaki as the victor, Kalonzo who had all along campaigned under the mantra, “nitapitia katikati yao (I will pass between the two of them)”, swiftly entered into an alliance with Kibaki and was appointed vice president.

Although Kalonzo maintains to this day that his move was an act of sacrifice geared at rescuing the country from further bloodshed and creating political stability, pundits and his critics view it differently. The move, they say, was purely opportunistic and hatched way before the polls day.

In his book, The Politics of Betrayal: Dairy of a Kenyan Legislator, former Bahari MP and Kalonzo’s ally Joe Khamisi claims that Kalonzo had a pre-poll pact with Kibaki, and that they needed to boost his visibility during his campaigns to give the impression that he was a formidable challenger.

The author singles out the famous “miracle” crowd that attended the launch of Kalonzo’s presidential bid at Uhuru Park, Nairobi, in October 2007. Indeed, Nominated MP Maina Kamanda has previously confessed to “assisting Kalonzo” by transporting people from Nairobi and the neighbouring Kiambu and Murang’a counties, to the ODM-Kenya’s rallies.

Behind the calm, God-fearing and gentlemanly mien, Khamisi writes, is a very a calculative and smart political schemer. This view is shared by some Wiper-allied legislators, who point out that Kalonzo is good at reading situations and acting fast.

“Unlike some of his political rivals and colleagues, he is good and fast at discernment. If it was not for this capacity, Kalonzo may never have been a vice president in the first place,” says Maanzo.

This time around, however, the 68-year-old politician is faced with perhaps one of the toughest political challenges ever since joining elective politics in 1983. Since the death of the political kingpin of Ukambani, Mulu Mutisya, in 2004, Kalonzo has been at the helm of political power in the region – a responsibility that he has shouldered almost unchallenged, vying for the presidency once in 2007 and as a presidential running mate twice in 2013 and 2017.

But this time, impatience is growing among some of his supporters. So far, the governors of Machakos and Makueni, Dr Alfred Mutua and Prof Kivutha Kibwana, for instance, have also shown interest in vying for presidency, a factor that puts a lot of pressure on the Wiper leader.

“There is also the UDA (United Democratic Alliance) party boss, Johnstone Muthama, who is leading campaigns for Ruto and if he makes a wrong move, Muthama and others who are waiting in the wings will take full advantage of the situation,” warns Maanzo.

In the meantime, Kalonzo is the glue that holds the OKA principals together and the bridge that links the team to the Raila-led ODM brigade.

With some of the OKA principals openly critical of Raila and with the latter reluctant to reach out to some of the OKA principals, the former VP remains the sole hope of realising the dream of a united OKA-ODM political force.  

Little wonder, during Wiper party’s NDC on Thursday, most speakers bestowed Kalonzo with the task of spearheading unity talks between Raila and the OKA principals.

“Please use your diplomatic skills and all your persuasive abilities to take us to government. It is cold out here, we are tired of being in opposition,” implored Ruaraka MP Tom J Kajwang. Whether or not Kalonzo will put his personal ambition second and prioritise uniting and assembling a 2022 winning side is a matter that will come to the fore soon.