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January 24, 2019

Kalonzo’s rapidly diminishing options

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka./HEZRON NJOROGE
Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka./HEZRON NJOROGE


At last there is definite movement on the political front.

For roughly four years the two main political groupings in the country (the governing Jubilee Party and the opposition, now called the National Super Alliance) have remained more or less intact. Now here come the seismic shifts that political observers have been eagerly awaiting.

And right on time too. For one of the certainties of Kenyan politics, is that it is only in the final six months before a general election that the significant twists and turns will occur.

Currently, the big news is that the former VP, Kalonzo Musyoka, weary of playing second fiddle to the more prominent opposition leader (and former PM) Raila Odinga, is now preparing to bolt from NASA.

If indeed this turns out to be true, one can hardly blame Kalonzo for deserting his fellow opposition chiefs at the eleventh hour. Indeed it is amazing that he has remained in the opposition this long.

For Kalonzo is a man who has spent most of his adult life cozily within the inner circles of the political establishment, steadily climbing the ladder while – remarkably enough – managing to keep his hands relatively clean.

Raila on the other hand, is no stranger to the chilly winds of Kenyan opposition politics, having been effectively marginalised from the political arena (along with his late father Jaramogi Odinga) for much of his life. Indeed only with the return to multiparty democracy in 1992 – when he was well into his 40s – could Raila run for political office.

In any event, this looming crisis in the opposition – if indeed it should take place – is likely to be a real game changer in that it represents the potential movement of a key vote bloc away from the opposition NASA.

Yet it leaves one very important question unanswered: Is it absolutely guaranteed that if Kalonzo leaves the opposition to mount a solo run for the presidency, the whole of Ukambani will leave with him?

Or might he find, much to his surprise, that he has only taken with him a very small slice of that very big vote?

This is a question which those who support Kalonzo would no doubt consider as an insult to their chief. They would insist that having once before (in 2007) carried all of Ukambani with him, even in the face of assured defeat in the presidential election of that year, he is certain to do it again.

But if a week is a long time in politics, then 10 years is an eternity; and a lot has changed since the 2007 general election.

We find, for example, that after decades of marching lock-step with the rest of Central Kenya, the two Meru counties of Meru and Tharaka-Nithi, are surprisingly open to the attentions of opposition leaders.

On the surface at least, this would seem to be linked to the banning of miraa imports by various European nations, which has denied the farmers of that region the lucrative markets on which their livelihoods depended. In a somewhat amazing change from the usual focus on personalities, which define Kenyan presidential elections, it would seem that the greater Meru region is likely to vote for their perceived economic interests.

Then there is the South Rift, which has increasingly striven to create an independent political identity under Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto. Thus far, this newly minted vote bloc has not shown any signs of deserting the Jubilee party’s presidential candidate. But who can tell what will happen between now and the August election, which might change all that?

In other words, if Kalonzo does indeed make a solo run for President, outside the two major political coalitions, he needs to be pretty sure that the gap he leaves in the opposition’s tally, will not in time be filled up by a combination of the South Rift and the two Meru counties.

All in all, if his departure from NASA is to be of any real strategic value, Kalonzo needs to be certain that his supporters are willing to follow him, once again, into an election he is sure to lose.

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