Making of super UDA as William Ruto moves to consolidate power

He has already bettered what he and former President Uhuru Kenyatta attained with the Jubilee coalition of 2013, which would fold up into one party ahead of the 2017 elections, at least unofficially.

Courtesy of cooperation agreements he has negotiated with opposition lawmakers from Uhuru's Jubilee Party and Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), he is well on his way towards an absolute majority in Parliament.

President Ruto has already secured support of other opposition Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition party members, which ditched Azimio as soon as he was declared winner of last August's presidential election. That gave Kenya Kwanza, the initial minority, a majority in both Houses.

More could be on their way to the ruling coalition. Former West Pokot Governor John Lonyangapuo recently said his Kenya Union Party had quit Azimio, leaving the door open for an alliance with the president.

The defections and cooperation agreements grant Ruto the support of 231 MPs, just two MPs shy of the two-thirds majority, pegged at 233.

And yesterday's nullification of the election of two ODM MPs - Harrison Kombe (Magarini) and Abdikadir Hussein (Lagdera) - grants the president a chance to attain support of 233 MPs, depending on UDA's performance in the looming by-elections.

The president has punctured the opposition to strengthen his position, earning criticism as one intent on turning Kenya into a one-party autocracy. He has hit at Azimio and gone for the soul of Raila's ODM by winning over lawmakers from Nyanza.

But Ruto's apparent plan also includes consolidating power from within his coalition. By pushing for dissolution of the parties forming Kenya Kwanza into UDA, Ruto, seemingly, wants to establish himself as the only centre of power.

President William Ruto (center) with Nakuru Governor Susan Kihika, National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichungwa and other leaders during the launch of NPK Granulation factory at Fertiplant East Africa Limited in Nakuru on March 3, 2023. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

"The president wants a majority in Parliament and he is looking forward to 2027," observes Timothy Onduru, a lecturer of history at Moi University. "He wants a walk in the park and so he wants to neutralise other Kenya Kwanza parties."

The president has enjoyed some success in consolidating this influence. His appointment of Musalia Mudavadi as Prime Cabinet Secretary essentially left the ANC without a leader, since the law bars him from holding office in a political party.

The appointment of former Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala as UDA secretary-general only dents ANC deeper, given he is among most vocal supporters of the party with a base in Western, but whose fortunes struggle in the face of ODM's hold on the region.

Others whose appointment into government affected their parties are Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Alfred Mutua, formerly leader of Maendeleo Chap Chap, and Attorney General Justin Muturi, who led the Democratic Party. Trade CS Moses Kuria also dissolved his Chama cha Kazi party.

The only Kenya Kwanza principals allowed to keep their parties are National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang'ula (Ford-Kenya) and Senate Speaker Amason Kingi (Pamoja African Alliance).

The Kenya Kwanza principals earned their jobs owing to their positions in various parties, outfits that have since independence been considered leaders' personal property. And so Ruto knows that to establish a single centre of command, he needs all allies within his umbrella.

Just like Jubilee when it dissolved, UDA officials have said they intend to form a party as huge as Tanzania's Chama Cha Mapinduzi and South Africa's African National Congress. Kenya's recent history, however, would not encourage such behemoths, first because of the resistance that meets dissolution plans.

"We will begin consultative meetings with all the parties to ensure that we come into one big party in 2027," Malala said recently.

But even before UDA embarks on the said consultations, there are those ready to resist dissolution.

"Never. Never. Never. We would rather fold our tails in Kenya Kwanza than folding our party Ford Kenya. A clever man will learn from other people's experience but a fool will learn from his own experience," abuchai MP Majimbo Kalasinga yesterday said in response to whether he would be open to Ford-K's dissolution into UDA.

Dr Onduru reads the resistance as a "sign" that Ruto's attempts at establishing a super UDA might be futile. "It appears he is trying to make the same mistakes of the past that saw Jubilee crumble," the historian says. "It will be difficult because there are cracks. ANC and Chap Chap have already expressed resistance before."

Then there is the familiar story of the short lifespans of such parties. When Jubilee was founded in September 2016, it was supposed to last 100 years. It did not last two, disintegrating soon after the March 2018 handshake between Uhuru and Raila.

Similarly, former President Mwai Kibaki's National Rainbow Coalition crumbled as soon as it secured office after the 2002 election. It would be replaced by Party of National Unity, which was weak against ODM.