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Kalonzo Musyoka: Political turncoat or master tactician?

Wiper Party Leader Kalonzo Musyoka during an interview with the Standard on April 27 2022. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka has once again left many Kenyans dumbfounded in his latest political masterstroke.

Today at his SKM centre, flanked by KANU Chairman Gideon Moi and his Wiper Party's top leadership, Kalonzo returned to the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition fold.

The former vice-president accepted the coalition's presidential flagbearer Raila Odinga's offer of Chief Minister should they form the next government after the August 9 General Election.

“After deep introspection, I have today deferred my dream to run for the President of the Republic of Kenya in the forthcoming General Election and I will support the Raila-Karua ticket," Kalonzo said.

The announcement comes two weeks after the Wiper leader bolted out of Azimio and announced his presidential candidature on the same day and hour that Raila unveiled Narc Kenya Martha Karua as his running mate.

Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka with his Andrew Sunkuli (centre) and KANU Chairman Gideon Moi at SKM Command centre in Karen, Nairobi on May 16, 2022. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

But today, Kalonzo said he was now fully on board and congratulated Karua.

"Beginning today, I commit myself to the Azimio-OKA campaign activities because we are in this race to win, there is no other option. With humility, I hereby accept the nomination for the position of the chief minister when Azimio forms government. I would wish to congratulate Karua on her nomination as Azimio running mate nominee," he said.

Today marks another milestone in the illustrious career of a man who started his career in 1985 as an MP of Kitui North rising through the political and government ranks which saw him become assistant minister, minister and vice-president under the regimes of later Presidents Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki. 

But in the last two decades, Kalonzo has made some decisions that have led many to question his integrity and loyalty leading him to be branded by the (in)famous 'watermelon' tag.

This is a tag he has vehemently tried to fight off insisting in all his political decisions, he has always put the interests of Kenyans first and his actions are all aimed at ensuring a prosperous and united Kenya.

This however has been disputed by his political foes who view him from a suspicious and a selfish point of view.

Back home in Ukambani, all the three governors Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni), Alfred Mutua (Machakos) and Charity Ngilu (Kitui) have all at different times had a frosty relationship with Kalonzo.

Kibwana in April took a step back from Azimio saying he made the decision to step down from top-level engagements in the coalition "because the space at the top had been constricted to lock out non-Wiper members".

Kibwana said since Kalonzo’s arrival in Azimio, their operating room as independent parties within the coalition has dwindled.

Wiper Democratic Movement Leader Kalonzo Musyoka when he appeared before the panel of Eminent Kenyans on the Azimio - One Kenya Alliance Presidential Candidate running mate at Serena Hotel on May 10, 2022. [Dennis Kavisu, Standard]

In an exclusive interview with the Standard, Kibwana said his position as a member of Raila's presidential think tank was invalidated on account of new realities, and it has been difficult finding a spot to stand on.

The three governors at one point seemed all united in Azimio without being under the wings of Kalonzo before Mutua switched camps to Ruto's Kenya Kwanza.

Kalonzo is on the record saying he is a misunderstood man.

He often describes himself as a principled, well-meaning and straight-shooting politician. He could be all that, but several political observers don’t think so.

Prof. Macharia Munene of the United States International University-Africa (USIU) describes Musyoka as a “politically-insecure man”, while Prof. Gitile Naituli says the Wiper Party leader “lacks leadership”.

Herman Manyora says Kalonzo’s decisions smack of confusion.

But why has Kalonzo drawn so much scrutiny into his character in politics?

In October 2021, he stated that he was best suited to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta, urging the Head of State and his handshake partner, Raila, to retire from active politics post-August 9, 2022 General Election.

“My thinking is that President Kenyatta should go home with Raila. If you look at the ages of all the others who want to contest for the presidency, Raila is way ahead of us,” he told Emoo FM on October 13, 2021.

Before that, in June 2021, he said that it would be stupid of him to support Raila for the presidency.

The quote became so famous, that both allies and opponents, for a moment, believed that Musyoka had finally made up his mind – concretely so – on his political future.

On October 7, 2021, again, Kalonzo reiterated his remarks – that he was the best option to succeed Kenyatta, going ahead to claim that the president owed him support in the 2022 presidential election.

“I was the one who convinced Kibaki to appoint Uhuru [Kenyatta] as Deputy Prime Minister in the grand coalition government,” Musyoka said during a meeting with the Mt. Kenya Foundation.

To shore up his chances of realising his presidential dream, Musyoka teamed up with KANU's Gideon, Narc-Kenya's Karua, Musalia Mudavadi of ANC, Moses Wetangula of Ford-Kenya and Cyrus Jirongo of United Democratic Party (UDP) to form the One Kenya Alliance (OKA).

OKA was formed sometime in April 2021, but by March 2022, the affiliate parties had gone separate ways.

What remained was the name of the alliance, but the different parties had either teamed with DP William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza coalition or Raila’s Azimio la Umoja.

When Raila was being unveiled as the Azimio la Umoja presidential candidate on March 12, 2022, Kalonzo pledged to support Odinga’s candidature, albeit after intense lobbying by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka, President Uhuru Kenyatta (Center) Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition flagbearer Raila Odinga at Jacaranda Grounds, Nairobi on March 12, 2022. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

The convincing took several hours, delaying the ceremony at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC).

However, after Raila Odinga was crowned, Kalonzo started blowing hot and cold, appearing with the ODM boss during some political rallies, and skipping others.

Then came the running mate talk, the straw that appears to have broken the camel’s back. Kalonzo and Raila appeared to go separate ways, with Kalonzo saying his key condition for supporting Raila was that he picks him as his running mate.

That did not happen, as Raila opted for Karua after a panel interview that ranked the former Gichugu MP as the most suitable candidate for the job.

Karua later declared he will be on the ballot as a presidential candidate on the Wiper Party ticket, with Andrew Sunkuli as his running mate.

Clearly, the Wiper boss has shifted goalposts several times, and it’s this pattern that made Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua accuse him of “auctioning the Kamba community to the highest bidder”.

“We are a region whereby every election people pretend to be running for presidency so that they can wager, sell the community and make money,” Mutua told Capital FM on October 23, 2021.

Political observers describe Musyoka as an indecisive politician.

Prof. Macharia Munene on Tuesday, May 17 told The Standard: “Kalonzo Musyoka is a politically-insecure man.”

The History professor further described the Wiper chief as “politically short-sighted”.

“The short-sightedness in politics makes one frustrated when things don’t go as per their expectations. In the last six months or so, Kalonzo has flip-flopped to a point that he can’t be trusted anymore. I’d say that his announcement that he will run for president is an act of desperation. Shifting goalposts in a very short period gives the impression that one is insecure, and shouldn’t be trusted,” said Munene.

Party leaders Gideon Moi (KANU), Musalia Mudavadi (ANC) and Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper) during a church service at St Marks AIPCA in Kinamba Naivasha on November 21, 2021. [Antony Gitonga]

On what could be Kalonzo’s game-plan, Munene said: “He has almost zero chance of winning the presidency, and he knows it. However, he should stick to his decision this time around to save the little trust that people have in him. If he abandons the wagon midway, he’ll never salvage his reputation.”

Prof. Gitile Naituli says Musyoka’s “flip-flopping” is an indicator of a man “who lacks leadership”.

“Leadership is about making decisions. If you flip-flop too much, it communicates that you are yet to mature as a leader. Look at Martha Karua, she decided from the word go that she’d oppose the BBI, and she went all the way in rejecting it. Indecisiveness, as exhibited by Kalonzo’s political pattern, shows that he cannot lead. The Wiper leader has zero chance of winning the presidency,” said Naituli.

“I think Kalonzo believes he’ll be in a position to force a run-off in the presidential election. However, that could be a big gamble on his side.”

Herman Manyora, on his part, said Kalonzo’s shift of goalposts smacks of a man who is “confused”.

“I’d say Kalonzo lacks the knowledge, skill and instinct to swim in the murky political waters. As a politician, you must have the instinct to know who you can trust, the knowledge to make calculated moves, and the skill to reinvent yourself.

“The Wiper leader has failed to read between the lines. The president and Raila Odinga had made up their mind that they’d walk together, and nothing was going to change that. Instincts ought to have told him (Kalonzo) that ‘this is a Uhuru-Raila deal, and they’re not willing to have anyone stand in their way’. In that situation, he should have accepted to play second fiddle and remain relevant using the two leaders’ influence,” said Manyora.

Just like professors Munene and Naituli, Manyora opined that Kalonzo stands a chance of victory in the August 9 polls.

The Standard understands that on the night of May 15, a few hours after Raila named his running mate, the ODM boss drove to Kalonzo’s Karen home to convince him to remain in Azimio after the coalition settled on Martha Karua, but the Wiper chief stuck to his guns – that it was either him as a running mate or nothing.

Even the president’s calls to Musyoka couldn’t help much.

While announcing his candidature on May 16, Musyoka said he left Azimio la Umoja because the “good faith” that he’d offered wasn’t being reciprocated.

“I know people would go out there, do whatever they want to do, call us names, but we will remain very firm; very, very firm. I think a majority of Kenyans want an alternative between Kenya Kwanza and Azimio la Umoja," he said.

"That’s now the fact. What I have said in regard to my candidature is in absolute good faith. In fact, the terms of engagement under this grand-coalition agreement are based on utmost good faith, and where there is no good faith, you can’t do business. Some of us have suffered the consequences of bad faith for far too long.

"For how long do people expect one Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka to be the one always sacrificing? And then after sacrificing, they mess up the country. We will not allow this to continue," said Musyoka.

After today's announcement, what remains to be seen is whether he will abide by his latest promise and whether the calculated risk will bear fruit come August 9