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Here’s what 2018 has in store for Kenya’s political big five

By KAMAU NGOTHO December 30th, 2017 6 min read

The August and October election have demonstrated one thing about Kenya: It has finally evolved into a country of two major political formations unlike in the early years of multi-partyism when there was a plethora of ethnic-based parties.

That means Jubilee and Nasa will be the political formations to watch in 2018. It is likely that Jubilee will retain the same leadership and composition in the coming year, but it will have to contend with the occasional and inevitable complaint or dissent.

However, Nasa will most likely evolve into a hydra-headed creature, with each head pulling away from the others. However, as the clock ticks towards the 2022 elections, three of the heads will collapse into one political outfit with same name. It could still be Nasa or it could take another name to suit the moment.

For 2018, in Jubilee, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto will remain the key players, with the succession factor offering a sub-text from a wide cast of other players.

1. Uhuru Kenyatta – Serving his second and final term, President Kenyatta will be preoccupied with what kind of legacy he will live behind. And 2018 is the year he will start building the foundation for his legacy.

My crystal ball tells me that he will go out of his way, including being ruthless, with anybody or anything that threatens to deny him the opportunity to build the legacy he envisages for himself. He has already put courts on notice, warning them not to put important projects in abeyance through injunctions.

On the political front, his priorities will be to leave Jubilee a united and formidable political machine. After putting so much of personal energy and resources into making Jubilee what it is today, the last thing he wants to see is the party disintegrate as he makes his exit from State House.

For that reason, he might opt to retain the position of party leader long after he quits the presidency. In doing that he will be following in the steps of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, who remained the influential leader of Tanzania’s CCM party long after his presidency, a factor that greatly contributed the party retaining a grip on power to this day.

By remaining as party leader, Mr Kenyatta will quell the doomsayers’ fear that the Mt Kenya/Rift Valley political unity that is the crux of the Jubilee Party will crumble once his presidency comes to an end. By now, it must have come clear to both Mt Kenya and Rift Valley voter blocs that politically, they either hang together or hang separately.

Mr Kenyatta will not want to be remembered as the head of State who united only two of the country’s 40-plus communities. To give it to him, the collapse of over 10 regional parties to form the Jubilee Party last year was one smart move to secure his legacy as a national leader.

That was further demonstrated in this year’s election where Jubilee made a good show across the country, except in sections of Nyanza and lower Eastern.

The President is likely to further enhance the inclusionist agenda when he picks his new Cabinet in the next few days. Should he remain as party leader after 2022, it is likely that the Deputy President, Mr William Ruto, the shoo-in Jubilee presidential candidate, will pick a running-mate from outside Mt Kenya region. Look to western Kenya this time round.

Away from politics, Mr Kenyatta is also likely to devout a huge chunk of his time and resources to projects that will ensure food security for the country.

We will see him give personal attention to health care, beginning with his Jamhuri Day pledge to have medical insurance cover for all school-going children. Education will also be top in his agenda, and so will infrastructure.

2. William Ruto – He and Mr Raila Odinga will dominate headlines in the next year. Insiders in Mr Odinga’s circle largely have no problem with the Uhuru presidency; they dread a Ruto take-over. And they have good reason.

They were with him in the trenches in 2007, the closest that Mr Odinga came to clinching the presidency. They know Mr Ruto is a master strategist with volumes of energy. They also know that, unlike retired President Mwai Kibaki and to an extent President Kenyatta, Ruto doesn’t shy away from a good fight. He will take on his opponents head on and stay the course.

A source inside Nasa says that boycotting the October 26 repeat presidential election had less to do with electoral reforms. It was a tactic to force a stalemate that would have paved the way to negotiate a power reconfiguration that would put roadblocks in Mr Ruto’s race to State House in 2022.

Mr Ruto starts on three advantages. He has incumbency on his side and a boss with whom he enjoys good chemistry. Second, he will be vying on a ticket of a united political juggernaut. His party has the numbers and the resources to make him the candidate to beat in 2022.

Third, and most important, he is part of the political strategy that drives Jubilee. Indeed, while his boss, the President, has been stating the broader aspects of the Jubilee strategy, it is Ruto who has been handling the nuts and bolts. He even knows the numbers off-head.

That isn’t to say he will have it on silver platter. Besides the vicious slug fests with Mr Odinga, he has a set of headaches waiting within his own political house.

The first will be deciding who to pick for running-mate without upsetting the apple-cart. Will it be a person from Mt Kenya? If so, will he be from central Kenya or the Upper Eastern? And if Central, will it be Kiambu, Nyeri, Murang’a, or Kirinyaga?

But with Uhuru remaining as party leader, skirting around the Mt Kenya factor might prove easy. The latter most likely will whip Mt Kenya leaders to see the bigger picture.

If taming Mt Kenya leaders might be a bit easier, handling other Jubilee blocs might be a bit tricky. They too will want to be assured they are equal stake-holders in the party.

Will the running-mate slot go to western Kenya where Jubilee made significant inroads in this year’s election? That would be quite an appealing proposition especially in the likelihood of Mr Musalia Mudavadi being on the presidential ballot in 2022.

How about the Kisii region, which has demonstrated it can be quite at home in Jubilee if “talked to” nicely? How about a running-mate from the Coast to steal thunder from the “secessionists”? How about lower Eastern should Mr Kalonzo Musyoka feel he has waited too long to regain the Number 2 slot?

Mr Ruto will also have to contend with sibling rivalry in the name of Mr Gideon Moi in the Rift Valley.

Lastly is the perception problem. Like the late Michael Wamalwa once said of Mr Odinga, Ruto too is affected by both Rutomania and Rutophobia. There are those who will do as he commands, but also those who cannot politically stomach him.

FROM LEFT: Nasa co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka, Raila Odinga and Musalia Mudavadi addressing journalists at Panari Hotel in Nairobi on September 17,2017. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL
FROM LEFT: Nasa co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka, Raila Odinga and Musalia Mudavadi addressing journalists at Panari Hotel in Nairobi on September 17,2017. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL

3. Raila Odinga – Mr Odinga will be busy the whole of next year and beyond. He has an urgent reason to do so. He will be seeking political relevance both on the national stage and within opposition ranks.

After losing the presidential election three times in a row, and with age catching up with him, he will need to do much more to make his presence felt, otherwise, his larger voter base outside Nyanza may feel his presidential aspiration is jinxed and opt to try another person within Nasa.

However, the bigger worry for Mr Odinga isn’t the individual voters, but the co-principals representing respective voter blocs who definitely feel that now it is high time he stepped down for other co-principals in Nasa to have their shot at the presidency.

But, in all probability, Mr Odinga will not throw in the towel. Not just yet. So he will kick all the fuss he can to remain relevant.

Already, there is the “swearing-in” ceremony scheduled for early in the year. Whichever way it turns out, you can trust Mr Odinga has already lined up some other “storms” to kick up. He has to keep the country engaged to remain relevant.

After some months, however, important allies in his core team might start deserting him. Of course, the big principals will keep their mouths shut, but their spanner boys will make statements that will leave no doubt as to what direction the wind will be blowing.

4. Kalonzo Musyoka – In 2018, Mr Kalonzo Musyoka will be a man in a dilemma. Will he stick with Mr Odinga? If so, is he ready to do anything Mr Odinga directs him to, starting with the joint “swearing-in”?

And is it worth it if it is just to secure the same position of running-mate?

More importantly, how will his constituents take it to hear that he will be running-mate for the third time in a row? And who said the other co-principals will agree to the same arrangement that prevailed in 2017?

Should Mr Musyoka then defy his boss and chart his own path? That option too is beset with its own set of hurdles.

Does he have the Odinga magic to convince Mr Mudavadi and Mr Moses Wetang’ula that he can deliver where his co-principal has repeatedly failed?

If so they, will they agree to shelve their own ambitions and back him? That may as well be a tall order.

The question will also arise; Will he seek accommodation in Jubilee?

5. Musalia Mudavadi – This is the man to watch in Nasa, even if the outfit changes its name at some point.

Many, including those outside Nasa circles, see leadership material in Mr Mudavadi. He is able to see both sides of a coin unlike many politicians.

Of course, during the last campaigns, he came across as a rough cob as the rest. However, it was all probably a show to give the impression that he belonged, but deep inside, he is a different man.

Mr Mudavadi is also well-wired in Kenya’s political arithmetic. He has the Rift Valley connection through the Moi family, an asset one can’t dismiss off-hand when it comes to big money and numbers.

He also enjoys a soft spot in Mt Kenya, which is why power barons in the Kibaki administration once regarded him as the man to back before the UhuRuto pair scuttled the plan. He also has considerable support of the international community.

My hunch is that Mr Ruto and Mr Mudavadi are the men to keep an eye on from next year and all the way to the ballot in 2022.