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September 19, 2018

JP infighting will sabotage Big Four, handshake deal

President Uluru Kenyatta speaking during the  Jubilee Party NDC before last year's elections. File
President Uluru Kenyatta speaking during the Jubilee Party NDC before last year's elections. File
There is relative political calm in the country, thanks to the March 9 handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga.

The hard stance and brittle political brinkmanship seem to have thawed. Ethnic hostilities that ran along ethnic lines have dissipated.

However, beneath this apparent warmth in the national leadership is a simmering row within the top ranks of government. There is palpable tension among the key planks of Jubilee mandarins. This unease was initially muted but has become loud lately. For their second term campaigns, the President and his deputy succeeded in uniting their troops under one party just before the last election. However, it is now clear the fault lines were never sealed and healed completely.

The TNA and URP sides of the Jubilee coalition did not jell into one homogeneous political outfit. Government policies are being declared from one side of the ruling party and opposed by the other side. The opposing side complains the government agenda is out of tune with their pre-election pledges. They hold the view that the recent declarations are aimed at disorganising some Jubilee leaders. Some of these leaders have been bold enough to claim that they are targeted at derailing Deputy President William Ruto’s ascendancy to State House.

Soon after the handshake, the President appeared to have gained some unprecedented impetus in the fight against corruption. He declared total war on graft and vowed to stem its widespread in the public service. This, he determined to be part of his legacy.

High profile government officers were arrested and charged. The frequency of such arrests became unpredictable and unbearable to the other side of the weak political union. Previously, both sides had been quick to depict each other as corrupt as circumstances may demand. However, in the latest battle, it is clear which side had the short end of the stick. Corruption cases, theft of public funds and evasion of tax are being unearthed in quick succession.

The worst-case scenario was when the cartels not only evaded tax but also imported poisonous sugar for public consumption. The hue and outcry was united in condemnation of such acts as heinous. Then came the Mau Forest saga, soon after the elections the government declared war on deforestation.

The Mau has witnessed unbridled encroachment that has grossly affected the climatic conditions of Kenya and the East Africa region at large. It was only in order that the government decided to reclaim grabbed parcels and initiate reforestation programme. The leaders of the communities living around the largest water tower deliberately incited their kinsmen to ignore the government directive. It has served to expose the hostilities within the political union, which has now turned fragile. High placed leaders of the government are now driven more by the imaginary (or real) fear of their personal loss than the public good.

Lost in this melee are the benefits of the apparently good intentions of President Kenyatta’s push for a positive legacy. It is in this regard that his team might have synthesized the second Jubilee manifesto into the Big Four agenda — manufacturing, universal health, food security and affordable housing. These are issues that are pertinent and close to the hearts of Kenyans in their majority. Why this agenda does not resonate with the other side of the union is a paradox to ordinary citizens. These nobble initiatives cannot be successfully executed and achieved in an environment riddled with corruption and hostile climatic conditions. It is increasingly becoming clear the arrival of Raila Odinga through the handshake jolted Ruto and his allies.

The President has made efforts to demonstrate he wishes to be a leader of all Kenyans. For his unity project to come to fruition, Raila has become a key plank in the process. The rumbling in the government ranks will only serve to undermine the implementation of the Big Four agenda. It is within this agenda the legacy of Uhuru as the Fourth President lies. Those who are currently unhappy within the government have trained their sights on scuttling the Building Bridges Initiative.

If they should succeed then in the same bathwater, they will throw the Big Four agenda baby. In the unlikely scenario the Building Bridges Initiative succeeds without the Big Four agenda, then Uhuru will have still lost his legacy to Kenyans. The two processes have since become intertwined and will only bear fruits if implemented concurrently and seamlessly. The noise occasioned by the tensions in high offices does not bode well their success. The President must thus move with deliberate effort to stem the growing hostilities to hasten the success of the twin initiatives. He stands to lose more in the event of failure.

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