Kenya: ‘Coalition of Chaos’ Is Uhuru Kenyatta’s New Headache

After spending the last few days firing salvos at the ODM leader Raila Odinga, former Nasa co-principals Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetang’ula came face-to-face with him on Thursday in a State House meeting convened by President Uhuru Kenyatta, the fulcrum keeping them together.

The meeting, coming two days after the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) Bill obtained the nod of a majority county assemblies to pave the way for a referendum, was reportedly tense, with Mr Kenyatta asking the team to avoid utterances that may rock “the BBI coalition from within”.

Key handlers of Mr Kenyatta such as Jubilee party vice-chairman David Murathe are on the record saying that the Handshake team will produce the next president, but the incessant feuding among former Nasa colleagues threatens to tear it apart before this dream is achieved.

Not even concerted efforts by the “transition elders,” a group that comprises politicians, business people and other influential Kenyans such as Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli to stop the squabbling has helped. The elders, united in the desire to block Deputy President William Ruto from ascending to power, are keen to install a “friendly” country chief executive after Mr Kenyatta.

Kanu chairman Gideon Moi and Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu were also present.

Intra-Nasa fights

Although each of the attendees was privately invited, they were keen to know who else was coming along, with allies of Mr Musyoka sulking about the presence of Governor Ngilu, the Narc party leader.

The two are often embroiled in a duel over who is the Ukambani supremo, a title Mr Musyoka deems rightfully his. Mr Musyoka believes that with him at the meeting, the interests of his backyard were well catered for and there was no need of having the governor around.

The past two weeks have seen an escalation in the intra-Nasa fights with Mr Mudavadi and Mr Musyoka rooting to have Mr Odinga blocked from running for president. They each want him to endorse them for the top job, even as they accuse him of going back on a 2017 pre-election pact.

“Raila knows he duped us into backing him in Nasa in 2017 under the false pretence that, win or lose, he wouldn’t offer himself as a candidate. Perhaps the only cowardice in us was allowing Raila to lie to us. But there is more cowardice to pull out of a repeat elections, disguised as protest of pre-rigged outcome, when in actual fact it’s only because the act is part of a pre-arranged settlement for yourself,” Mr Mudavadi said six days ago.

Around the same time, Mr Musyoka, too, was breathing fire.

“It is common knowledge that Mr Odinga has been betraying political allies with abandon, right from his association with the National Development Party and Kanu in 2001, right through to the Pentagon in 2007/2008, to CORD, and now, Nasa,” the Wiper party leader said.

Aware of the bad blood between Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka, Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula, the President is understood to periodically call each of them directly to steady the BBI ship, a claim their aides corroborate. Two of the party leaders have confessed to confidants that they only joined the BBI bandwagon out of respect for the president.

In fact, it is Mr Kenyatta who convinced the three former Nasa honchos to back the Handshake once he agreed on a ceasefire with Mr Odinga. The trio accuses Mr Odinga of reaching a settlement with the President, their opponent in the last presidential election, behind their back.

Clinch power

Mr Odinga was the Nasa candidate for president with Mr Musyoka as running mate.

Mr Wetang’ula, on the other side accuses Mr Odinga of stabbing him in the back. He was sacked as the Senate Minority leader and replaced by an Odinga ally James Orengo yet he says in the coalition agreement, the seat was rightfully his after they failed to clinch power.

The major concern of the President’s men is that having isolated DP Ruto, Mr Kenyatta cannot afford to see his team disintegrate before he achieves his goal as that would force him to mend fences with his deputy.

Going back to Dr Ruto after three years of relegating him to the periphery would mean acceding to his terms which may include public endorsement for the top job, Mr Kenyatta’s handlers say. As such, the Handshake alliance must be guarded at whatever cost.

DP Ruto, according to observers, is the richer one in the event the alliance comes tumbling down.

“It is a tall order to beat Handshake alliance crafted by President Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga as they have the State backing and to a great extent the masses. If, say, a candidate gets their backing for State House that would be game shot. But if they go separate ways, a lot of hurdles shall have been removed on DP Ruto’s path to the highest office in the land,” Maseno University don Tom Mboya says.

He will not only be facing off against wounded opponents in the race to the State House but also land a chance to create an alliance with some of the disgruntled key members.

At one point, Mr Moi, who hopes to succeed President Kenyatta was also reconsidering his support for the BBI after the Head of State suggested that perhaps it was time the presidency goes to a member of a community that has not been in power. Being the scion of the second president Daniel Moi, Senator Moi felt he was among those being targeted by the remarks.

Mr Kenyatta was responding to DP Ruto who is on the record as saying that it was high time the influential families (what he calls dynasties) that have led the country paved way for the ordinary Kenyans (hustlers) when he spoke at the burial of Mr Mudavadi’s mother, Hannah, in Vihiga early last month.

In BBI, the President has an opportunity to keep his allies together and even hand over power to them when his second and final term in office ends. His recent remarks that he will not be succeeded by thieves brought out his intention to be in charge of his own succession as opposed to his predecessor Mwai Kibaki.

The proposal to re-introduce premiership and two deputies offers him some room to manoeuvre especially if he is able to tame the competing egos and ambitions of the party leaders he hosted. The irony of the push is that the same politicians Mr Kenyatta is today struggling to keep together were united in 2017 in their attempt to deny him second term in office.

Functions of the Prime Minister who will come from Parliament shall be to co-ordinate and supervise government functions.

Mr Mudavadi, the ANC party leader, yesterday talked of the new realignments in the post referendum days in what may see the existing alliance crumble.

“After the referendum, new formations will emerge. Politics is dynamic and as a people we need to be ready to anticipate what decisions we will make when that time comes,” he said.

Within the Handshake alliance is also found a subset that seeks to determine who becomes president next year. It has Mr Moi, Mr Musyoka, Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula. The quartet has staged joint campaigns in the upcoming by-elections in Kabuchai and Matungu constituencies. It remains to be seen whether the alliance will hold until the General Election and if they do, how they will settle on the torchbearer.

ANC has criticised the decision by Mr Odinga’s ODM to field Mr David Were in Matungu, a seat held by ANC’s Justus Murunga before his demise.

There have also been awkward moments when Mr Odinga criticises the government of his Handshake partner for failing to meet a number of campaign pledges.

His strategists are keen to project Mr Odinga as not part of the Jubilee administration even as they cooperate with Mr Kenyatta. The insider reasoning is that in the event he announces his intention to run for president, whatever failures of the current regime does not come to haunt his ticket.

But DP Ruto thinks Mr Odinga has his equal share blame in instances the government has let the people down.

Big Four Agenda

“You came and changed the government’s priorities from the Big Four Agenda to alternative ones like the Building Bridges Initiative. Now, after you have failed miserably, you want to run away. You cannot point fingers at others,” the second in command said.

Mr Mudavadi has also been on Mr Kenyatta’s case for ‘senseless borrowing’ that has made life unbearable as the government introduces punitive taxes in a bid to stay afloat.

Undeniably, there is consensus that in enlisting the support of Mr Odinga, and in the end that of the other party leaders, the president has been able to delay lame duck syndrome normally associated with leaders serving their final term in office.

There were fears in his camp the moment he took the oath of office that ‘an overambitious’ deputy keen ‘to inherit’ the throne would make him irrelevant in the initial years of his second term in what, among other reasons, gave birth to the Handshake.

And as he works to keep the loose alliance afloat, Mr Kenyatta has three options according his close associates, convince the team to rally behind one of them for the presidency, have them all agree to a compromise ticket that has none or some of them in it or deliver the referendum and afterwards take a back seat so each of them can fight it out.


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