Will Uhuru's pain over failure of BBI be Raila's to bear in the polls?

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) has held three meetings with Mt Kenya leaders at Sagana State Lodge. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

From his active involvement in the Building Bridges Initiative, President Uhuru Kenyatta has lately been moving from one disappointment to another.

This begs the question – will he effectively manage his succession plot even as he enters the lame-duck phase of his presidency?

Dr Edward Kisiang’ani, a member of Deputy President William Ruto’s campaign think-tank, believes Uhuru is cornered and cannot, therefore, turn the tables on his deputy or successfully push through Raila Odinga’s candidature.

“The former PM’s bid has already been bungled and the only way it can be rescued is for a return of the old Raila. This is because the new Raila is already tainted by his association with Uhuru plus his governance failures,” Kisiang’ani said.

But according to Wambugu Ngunjiri, Nyeri Town MP, Uhuru’s political succession is on course.

“He has presented his preferred successor and all things remaining constant, Raila will get whatever votes he needs from Mt Kenya, to cross the 50 percent mark, considering that he has always hit the 44 percent margin in the last three attempts, without help from Mt Kenya,” Wambugu said.

But Igembe North MP, Maoka Maore, insists it is not yet time to celebrate.

Noting that President Kenyatta has entrusted technocrats with public administration matters “which they have delivered expertly”, the National Assembly’s deputy Majority Whip however expresses concern over his Jubilee Party leader’s apparent faltering on the political side of things.     

Big mess

“In terms of coordination of political affairs and messaging, I am afraid he has totally bungled it. Judging from the way the president has approached politicians, there is a big mess in his hands,” said Maore.

The vocal politician divulged to Sunday Standard yesterday that it was not smooth sailing for Azimio La Umoja – One Kenya Alliance on the political front.

He hilariously singled out incidents where some aspirants in Mt Kenya region were stammering at the mention of Raila and Azimio while addressing rallies. Maore’s observation indeed matches instances where various aspirants who are allied to Azimio are pinning up posters without the image of the presidential nominee. 

“The president must now work with politicians to fix these political and campaign-related concerns, since the technocrats cannot provide any help here. And I am afraid if he does not do that, he could bungle the Azimio votes the same way we did in the past by-elections which we lost to Ruto even in Mt Kenya,” Maore said.

The legislator appealed to Uhuru to step in and align the campaigns in Mt Kenya. “We must rein in politicians who want to ride on the Azimio and Jubilee wave, but are reluctant to campaign for Raila. Those of us with such selfish inclinations must be denied the ticket and funding,” he said.

Uhuru has so far held three meetings with region’s political leaders at Sagana State Lodge, where he has dissuaded them from voting for Ruto. In the last session, he invited government ministry officials who, through data and graphics, demonstrated the various projects initiated by the president in the region.

Despite enumerating his government’s development plan, largely skewed towards the Mt Kenya region, most residents still regard the DP – at least until now – as their preferred presidential candidate. 

Dr Kisiang’ani, who teaches History at the Kenyatta University, partly attributes the apparent political resistance of Uhuru to alleged arrogance and “being out of touch with the public thinking.” 

Dr Edward Kisiang’ani. He is a member of Deputy President William Ruto’s campaign think-tank. [File, Standard]

However, Maore thinks differently: “This is just another one of their lies. The people are with us and on the BBI question, the truth of the matter is that the BBI judgment was favourable to us and not them, and we shall prove this fact in the 13th Parliament by immediately embarking on its revival.” 

No political wisdom

The series of losses in the courts and at the ballot, nonetheless, bring to the fore questions about the capacity and abilities of the president’s handlers and the so-called Deep State.

On the campaign front, for instance, Uhuru’s shadow looms large in Raila Odinga’s presidential bid, with some now questioning whether the Uhuru factor will bungle or deliver a Raila presidency.

Claiming that the so-called Deep State has clueless individuals, who have no tact and political wisdom, Kisiang’ani, maintains that robust defence of the Constitution and voter protection on the polling day will shield Ruto against perceived manipulation of the presidential poll by the Deep State.

Political scientist, Mutahi Ngunyi, similarly postulates that the Deep State is “not particularly reliable” in delivering a Raila presidency, considering recent developments where he has lost in court and ballot battles, including in 2017 when the SCK nullified Uhuru’s win thereby necessitating a repeat poll boycotted by Raila.

In a recent online broadcast, Ngunyi claims that retired President Mwai Kibaki’s inner circle relatively performed better. Noting that Raila has always secured a 44 percent voter margin, which he assumes is still intact.

He advises Raila to “focus on his campaign to realise an additional seven percent vote”, instead of waiting and depending wholly on Uhuru and “the slippery and unreliable Deep State”.

Nonetheless, the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the Deep State does not disturb supporters of Raila, at least according to his elder brother Dr Oburu Oginga

“We are not interested in rigging because we have the numbers and have always had them. We shall be announced victors and we trust government institutions will not interfere with the process.”      

But the situation is dicey on the judicial front. And although the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the president and his “handshake brother”, Raila, in five out of the seven issues, it is Uhuru’s involvement that dealt BBI the deadliest blow.   

The Supreme Court ruled in favour of the president and his “handshake brother”, Raila Odinga, in five out of the seven issues. [File, Standard]

Earlier on, the High Court and Court of Appeal judges returned the same verdict on the president stating he lacked the legal standing to initiate a popular initiative. And now the Supreme Court's affirmation of the same, only heightens murmurs on the kind of legal advice Uhuru gets.

Crucial detail

According to Nelson Havi, the former president of Law Society of Kenya (LSK), President Kenyatta had a better way to approach the amendment but chose to ignore it. Havi, who represented petitioners opposed the BBI Bill in the case, faults his learned colleagues for “letting down” the president and BBI proponents over what he regards a minor but crucial detail. 

Nonetheless, the President’s lawyers put up a spirited legal battle and succeeded in throwing out the so-called Basic Structure Doctrine, which was the biggest impediment to the BBI process.

The decision by the seven judges, led by Chief Justice Martha Koome, to unanimously throw out this demand now clears the way for fresh and future amendments to the Constitution.    

And as Nairobi-based lawyer, Donald Kipkorir aptly observed on Twitter, the BBI collapsed only on one ground – being initiated by the president: “It therefore means that between now and August, fresh promoters can dust up the Bill, remove the part relating to constituencies only and run with it successfully on all the other proposals”.  

Stating that past presidents wielded too much power, Wambugu attributes current misgivings on the feeling that what a president wants, he must get: “However we now know that this is not the case. The president has demonstrated that our legal system is strong, which is important and good for our democracy.” 

In the meantime, Uhuru continues to pull strings behind the scenes to boost Raila’s bid. According to sources within Raila’s party, the president is credited with pulling numbers, including brokering deals which led to the teaming up of Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka and Kanu's Gideon Moi with Raila.

The president, says Maore, continues to spearhead a rejuvenation exercise of Jubilee Party, especially in Mt Kenya aimed at clawing back gains made by Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) outfit.

The return of Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui and Kirinyaga's Purity Ngirici, as governor aspirants on Jubilee Party ticket is, for instance, a major optical boost.

The revamping exercise notwithstanding, Kisiang’ani maintains the string of legal and ballot losses have badly hurt Uhuru’s political potency and boosted momentum in Ruto’s camp. 

Download the BBI Judgement by all seven Judges - Civil Appeal No. E291 of 2021