Jitters in UDA as Gachagua camp feels threatened by three deputies

President William Ruto is welcomed to UDA headquarters by the party's secretary-general Cleophas Malala and chairperson Cecily Mbarire. [PCS]

With the ruling United Democratic Alliance grassroots elections beckoning, President William Ruto’s fresh headache will be handling disquiet over the party’s provision of three deputy party leaders.

The party elections, according to its elections board chairperson Antony Mwaura, kick off on April 26 in seven counties; Nairobi, Narok, West-Pokot, Busia, Homa Bay, Isiolo and Garissa. 

Those elected will have a final say over party officials which include the Secretary General and two unoccupied deputy party leader’s posts.

The provision contained in the party’s constitution has caused jitters, especially among Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua’s lieutenants who feel the intention is to weaken him. His allies have been mounting pressure on UDA to amend the party’s by-laws.

The three positions include Deputy Party leader in charge of policy and strategy, Deputy Party leader for operations and Deputy Party leader in charge of programmes.

The DP allies believe the provisions will relegate Gachagua to secondary roles within the party and have been pushing the party leadership to review the pecking order.

Led by Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga, the leaders have vowed to oppose such plans maintaining that “such a proposal was an insult to Mt Kenya community which is a major shareholder within the Kenya Kwanza government.”

“We will not stand any effort to water down the position of the Deputy Party leader and we maintain that the party constitution must conform to the 2010 Constitution,” Kahiga noted.

He said any leader serving in the Kenya Kwanza government enjoys the votes of Mt Kenya region and hence “any plans to twist the region would be met with unequivocal opposition.”

“As a teacher, I have learnt in psychology that when one is brought up in a violent relationship he ends up being violent but we hope President William Ruto, who was in a toxic relationship with the former President, will not end up in such a situation,” Kahiga told The Standard.

He added: “The relationship in the Kenya Kwanza government is built on mutual trust between two communities and we hope it will not be destroyed.”

Nyeri Senator Wahome Wamatinga said the leaders’ fear is that with the creation of several centres of power, there will be duplication of roles, a scramble for power, a move they are rushing to arrest before it is too late.

“The government structure must be mirrored in the party leadership structure. Imagine a situation where Gachagua, being the senior most political figure in UDA by virtue of being the Deputy President, has several other officers claiming his status in the party hierarchy?” posed Wamatinga.

He said the role of strengthening the UDA party should seek to surpass generations to come and not settle certain political scores.

According to the leaders, the narrative that Gachagua should go home with the President after serving ten years, was rife, especially among leaders from the Western region. They argue that it was manifesting in the push to create the Deputy Party leader positions whose aim is to undermine the sitting Deputy President.

Stop alignments

“We must stop the 2032 political alignments and seek to serve our electorate. Whoever represents the people well will be elected and our region which boasts numbers will be a major player then,” said Wamatinga.

However, the party’s Secretary on Legal Affairs and Gatanga MP Edward Muriu downplayed claims that the move could undermine Gachagua, saying the move was aimed at persuading sister parties in Kenya Kwanza to fold and join UDA.

“We have been speaking to Amani National Congress (ANC) and Ford Kenya to fold their parties for the 2027 elections but in consideration that their party leaders may demand political value in return. That is why we have the other two unoccupied positions,” Muriu disclosed.

He added: “The two leaders are already in government. Gachagua is above them in the pecking order so there should be no cause for alarm.’’

Other than Gachagua, the two Deputy party leader slots are said to be the bargaining chip for Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi and National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula.

Behind-the-scenes negotiations between UDA and the two parties, ANC and Ford Kenya, saw the ruling party postpone its grassroots elections from December to this month, but sources indicate the stalemate is still a hard nut to crack.

While Mudavadi has hinted at ‘’another wave of the political earthquake’’ in his party’s working relationship with President Ruto’s UDA, the party’s foot soldiers have opposed plans to fold the party while Wetang’ula has stayed put that his party will not fold.

Despite Mudavadi’s assertions, ANC Secretary-General Omboko Milemba reiterated that the party is not folding as the current leadership can never accept such a plan.

Mudavadi is no longer the ANC leader since one of the requirements for him to hold his current office of PCS was to relinquish his post in the party. That ground may complicate any new plan for him to hold office in another party. Political observers however believe the party structure in Kenya is about individuals.

Financial investment

“The problem with political parties’ architecture in Kenya is that it is politicians who give them their face. This is because of their massive financial investment in the party. If Mudavadi has inked a deal with Ruto, the party adherents option is to toe the line or ship out,” said political pundit Charles Njoroge.

Unlike Mudavadi, Wetang’ula who is also expected to take up the third slot of Deputy party leader has remained mum over the dissolution debacle with his strongest ally today, Bungoma Senator David Wafula, maintaining that Ford-Kenya will not fold to join UDA as proposed by UDA Secretary General Cleophas Malala.

Wafula said the current party leadership would not allow Ford Kenya to be eroded, stating that there was no agreement in Kenya Kwanza to fold parties.

At the time the President William Ruto-led UDA put in place agreements allowing Ford Kenya to be among the first to join, it was not easy to dissolve such a party.

“It was the first party to defend devolution and to us, it is a political inheritance that we can’t toss, dump and destroy our inheritance because of our stomach,” said Wafula. 

He reiterated that the party had its pillars across the country and that they could not just wake up one day and contemplate dissolving the party.

The Sunday Standard has learnt of a meeting between Wetang’ula and Gachagua at the Deputy President’s official residence on Friday to discuss ‘‘current affairs in the country’.

“The two discussed the unfolding of political events in the country,” a source who is an ally of Wetang’ula not wishing to be named, told The Sunday Standard.

Malala, who refers to the arising debate in his party as ‘noises’ said these were indications of the vibrancy and strength of the party. 

‘’The noises you hear show that the party is democratic since we allow political leaders to vent; however, that does not mean that the party is weak. It’s strong and stable and we have confidence in the party leadership of Dr Ruto and his deputy,” he said. 

According to Malala, the issues being raised on the bi-law provisions of three Deputy Party leaders should not cause jitters as a decision to fill or scrap the positions would be decided at a later date after consultations. 

“At the moment we only have one Deputy party leader who is the sitting Deputy President. My proposal is to scrap the position but that will be decided later,” he said. 

On whether or not to replace Gachagua in 2027, Malala said ‘’we can’t change what is working.’’