There is emerging uncertainty over the March 9 unity handshake deal.
Key players on all sides of the political class have cast aspersions on the unity agreement. Yet others have quietly expressed reservations about the relevance of the newfound camaraderie between President Uhuru Kenyatta and NASA leader Raila Odinga.
What was initially presented as an easy sell to the political class is facing headwinds not long after the joint committee to chaperone the process was unveiled. The team seems to have elicited less enthusiasm among the players and is considered by some as not inclusive enough. The naming of the 14-member committee provided the first opening for attack on the Building Bridges Project.
However, the opponents of the unity deal have not sprung from out of the blue: They had just been lying in wait for the opportune moment to launch an attack. It has emerged many politicians have been profiting from the divisive nature of Kenya’s political processes over the years.
Any attempts to make the country stable and progressive, in spite of fierce political competition, are not welcome to such politicians. It is these circumstances the opponents of the unity project have latched on to derail the Uhuru-Raila project. Their fear has now driven them to desperation, and they are out of the doldrums to openly campaign against what is in the best interests of nation. These forces are hardliners and sometimes reactionary. They are present in the camps of the main players in our current political chess game.
Within the Uhuru camp, there are at least three regiments with different interests. The first oscillates around the desire to manage a smooth transition that would ensure DP William Ruto becomes President. They are determined to control the events since the swearing-in of UhuRuto for a second term up to 2022. This team is pro-Ruto and is sensitive to any action that would unsettle the status quo, and that is how they view the now famous handshake — unsettling.
They are even more worried because they were not in the know until the two leaders meet at Harambee House. They have vowed not to support this venture. Within the Uhuru camp are anti-Raila forces. They loathe Jakom and are the princes of tribal bigotry and ethnic supremacy. Raila to them represents chaos and anti-business leadership. They fear him because of his ability to mount a serious challenge to their hegemony. They are never comfortable with his being close to Uhuru. They must, therefore, find it in their interest to counter any efforts to bring Raila and Uhuru together.
They have become vocal against the unity deal and have cautioned Jubilee against trusting Raila. This group may not be Ruto acolytes, but they are very clear on their resentment of Raila.
Then there are the anti-Ruto forces within Uhuru’s court. They have always tolerated the Deputy President only for the benefit of the Rift Valley votes. They have never concealed their disdain for the chief hustler and always declared that the 2022 election and Uhuru’s succession are not tied to last year’s polls.
While they claim in public that Ruto, like everyone else is free to canvas for votes in Uhuru’s strongholds, in private, they have declared they will not back him. They have scared the Ruto camp into an almost destructive mode by their activities.
President Uhuru will have to find a way of dealing with the political cleavages within his camp.
Even though Raila is taken to be a control freak in his leadership style and given he is the co-principal in the handshake deal, his camp is not entirely united in support of the project. Those who support him do not seem to pull in one direction either.
There have been voices not very keen on the project. Raila’s camp is equally littered with factions with divergent views based on their strategic interests. In this mix is a group comprised of ODM leaders, who are shocked and disappointed that Raila is still calling the shots at Orange House almost a year after his fourth loss in the presidential election.
They had pinned their hopes of rising in their political careers on his hanging up his boots. However, the handshake has jolted them to the reality that he is still around and will determine the 2022 outcome, most likely to his advantage. This group is bitter and comprises the anti-Raila forces within the camp. The success of the handshake project will scuttle their ambitions and, therefore, they will sabotage it for their selfish interests.
Then there are the immediate former advisers, who were not involved in the planning of the handshake. They have also missed out again in the 14-member committee. They are sour grapes, sulking and operate like jilted lovers. They will undermine the process of building bridges to demonstrate that nothing good happens around Raila without them.
In this camp also are chauvinists who will do Raila’s bidding without asking many questions. They have joined the chorus of unity calls and taken it upon themselves the responsibility of popularising the handshake among the masses. In this overzealous endeavour, they have found company in the presence of a small clique of intellectuals around Raila. It is this intellectual clique that is suspected to have developed the Uhuru-Raila project, culminating in the handshake.
However, like their other counterparts within the camp, their undoing may well be their brazen zeal that has isolated the other political elites from the project. The three forces within the Raila camp have, therefore, united by default. They are partners in creating obstacles to the attainment of the UhuRai vision of uniting the country and creating stability.
Across the road at Harambee House Annex, the Ruto camp teams up with angry forces working inoverdrive to disorganise the Uhuru-Raila unity pact. The handshake came as a shock to the Deputy President and his handlers. The deftness and stealth with which the project was planned and executed convinced them that it was detrimental to their succession plans. Initially, their opposition to the unity was muted. The Deputy President even congratulated the two and wished them well in their new-found brotherhood.
But rather sooner than later, opposition to the project became louder from quarters close to Ruto. When Raila visited Mzee Daniel Moi and an elaborate reception was organised by his son, Senator Gideon Moi, the camp could not take it anymore. Matters came to head when Ruto attempted meet Mzee Moi at Kabarak and was denied audience. It was now clear the DP was in a battle and his troops came out guns blazing.
The Rift Valley Jubilee MPs publicly castigated the UhuRai project as mischievous and one aimed at benefiting Raila as a person. During the funeral of former Baringo South MP Grace Kipchoim, they implied that Gideon was a traitor.
They accused him of working with forces outside the Kalenjinland to frustrate Ruto’s journey to State House. They reminded him that as elected leaders, they would not allow what happened to Mzee Moi as Vice President to happen to Ruto. This was in the presence of both the senator and the DP.
The Ruto camp has within its ranks anti-Raila caucuses. These see Raila’s move to work with Uhuru as attempts to pay back Ruto in kind for scuttling Raila’s presidential bid in 2013. Some also have not gotten over the feeling that Raila betrayed them in the Nusu Mkate government.
It is their mortal fear of the former political master joining forces with their yet to be known opponents that gives them sleepless nights. Ruto’s rise in current political stature has been a product of Raila’s struggles either as supporting or opposing his moves. They thus understand him much better and will not take any of his moves lightly. Anything bringing Raila back to government circles spells doom for their careers both politically and businesswise and must be fought by all means.
Closely linked to this is the Mzee Moi and his son Gideon’s struggles to regain control of the vast Rift Valley vote bloc. Over the years, Ruto has managed to wrest the Kalenjin from the stranglehold of the Moi domination. The Mois have not taken this kindly, especially because Ruto and allies have not been particularly humble.
However, disappointments with the UhuRuto government have made the Mois gain sympathy and thus become a nagging if not outright threat to Ruto’s hegemony. There are politicians in his camp who will not support the unity deal because of Moi’s hand in it.
Lastly, within Ruto’s camp are his inner core kitchen cabinet handlers. They are closely knit and operate with lethal precision in executing political operations. They had laid out the Uhuru succession plan in detail and everything had seemed to be working smoothly. They interpreted the handshake as Brutus’ knife in Caesar’s back. They are bitter and feel scorned.
However, they are determined and committed to their resolve to make their plan succeed in spite of their erstwhile coalition partners. Their strategy appears multi-pronged but includes muddying the waters further by scuttling the unity project.
They are convinced the Building Bridges project has no place for them and in any case, they have vowed never to work with Raila again.
The constellation of these hardliners in all the three main political camps presents a challenging environment to Uhuru and Raila in pushing their agenda. They must rise to the occasion and take their agenda to the people and let the public court decide where Kenya should head.
The writer is a is a political and public policy analyst