Since the reintroduction of multiparty politics in 1991, Kenya has acquired the distinct reputation of being on electoral campaign mood every year.
Visitors to the country are normally confounded on the cyclic political tension all year round. The mood and mode of the nation are usually pulsating to degrees associated with an election year. President Daniel Moi sought to dissipate the tension elicited by the disputes of the 1997 election without much success. This he did by entering into an alliance with then leader of National Development Party, Raila Odinga. This alliance later led to the merger of NDP and Kanu and the eventual defeat of the ruling party in 2002.
However, the alliance could not slow the political rumbles as Raila was not the opposition leader. Mwai Kibaki was. Kibaki suffered the same fate during the coalition government as the two sides took more time to settle. By the time they did something significant by delivering the 2010 Constitution, ICC came calling through the Ocampo Six envelope. The suspects organised countrywide prayer rallies that went well into the general election. The country has, therefore, consistently been on an annual divisive electoral mode for more than three decades. It is this schism that Uhuru and Raila seek to undo through the handshake? The intention is to unite the country and deliver an election devoid of tribal balkanisation and political violence.
Looking at the New Year, factors seem to work in tandem to alter the familiar landscape for the better. The main political players are preoccupied with self-imposed assignments that will deny the citizens the usual drama of Kenyan politics. President Uhuru Kenyatta is determined to secure his legacy, and has since repackaged the Jubilee manifesto into the Big Four agenda.
The delivery of this blueprint requires undivided attention and focus of his core team. He needs to build consensus among his team and inspire confidence within the public service cadres. This demands dedicated efforts and round the clock monitoring, as well as prompt remedial steps. He has the advantage and disadvantage of being the Founding President’s scion. His father was not only revered but also credited for establishing the foundations of the nation. These foundations have lasted the country this long albeit with some serious setbacks on occasions. He has chosen to return the nation to where it was at Independence in terms national unity. It is this desire that led him to broker the handshake deal with his perennial bitter rival Raila Odinga.
While Raila has also pledged unflinching commitment to the realisation of the ideals of the Building Bridges Initiative, more is expected from Uhuru. As president, he has the trappings of state power and the success of the project relies more on him. He is serving his last term as President and, therefore, has no encumbrances of reelection. Whatever he desires to do as part of his legacy must be done between January 2019 and December 2021. He, therefore, does not have the luxury of playing, entertaining or encouraging high-octane politics. He will be keen to see a peaceful country devoid of polarising politics. He will as well seek to ensure that his preferred political environment prevails.
On the other hand, Raila has just managed to reinvent himself and pull out of the hitherto inevitable political obliteration. When he swore himself as the People’s President against the counsel of his fellow NASA principals, he demonstrated he alone knew what the future held for the country. He set himself apart from the NASA brigade and created an opportunity to determine his next course of action. The economic sabotage through the selective boycott of goods and services helped heighten the tensions. The series of the Peoples’ Assembly launch raised the stakes to the breaking point. Then he snapped out and shook hands with the President and declared that the country is bigger than both Uhuru and himself. The launch of the Building Bridges Initiative caught Kenyans by surprise and main political players flat-footed. He created space to reorganise his troops and breather to regain political energy.
Over the years, he has established himself as the quintessential master of political chessboard. He is not about to exit the political scene. He has a legacy to secure on account of the long experience he has built. Like his newfound brother Uhuru, he is also a scion of the founding Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. He is desirous to bequeath to Kenyans a more united nation as their fathers had envisioned and missioned. Yet his efforts at succeeding where his father floundered have not borne fruits. He considers that he still has a reasonable chance at being Kenya’s Fifth President. This appears to be his best chance for the fourth time courtesy of the handshake.
He, therefore, must develop a comeback game plan. The images that Kenyans have of Tinga (bulldozer) and Nyundo (hammer) are destructive and intimidating. In these circumstances, Raila would be the last person to stoke the embers of political volatility this year. The more peaceful the country is the more space he has to concretize his game plan for 2022 and beyond.
The handshake threw the succession plans of Deputy President William Ruto into total disarray. The DP has not concealed his resentment for the Building Bridges Initiative. His handlers and supporters have spared no chance to castigate the proponents of the initiative. What seemed to have been a well laid out succession plan has been scuttled by a single stroke of the handshake magic pen. Yet, as the Deputy President, he is the heir apparent and cannot sit back and watch his investment of over three decades go up in flames just like that. He needs a conducive environment to retreat and come back with the necessary momentum. He will have to reorganise his troops and develop new strategies.
Constant public spats and political war mongering from his quarters have proved ineffective in controlling the handshake juggernaut. Displaying open hostility towards Raila, while at the same time blackmailing Uhuru, will only help to isolate him. He needs to reposition himself as a co-architect of the current harmony and tranquility being enjoyed in the country. His handlers will need to learn from the mistakes of Raila and remove the tag of reckless bulldozer from him. His recent initiation into bull fighting by his new found ally, Boni Khalwale may be counterproductive for his 2022 vision.
He will need to demonstrate passion for the fight against corruption and embrace the national unity project. These shifts will require a lot of strong will from the inner depths of the person of William Ruto. The ideal environment would be a country that is not engaged in daily political ruckus. Therefore, the Deputy President will find it prudent to initiate activities that will calm the nation to allow him space to re-strategize.
Last year treated Kenyans to melodrama of high-profile government officials hauled before courts on corruption charges. These arrests have helped to restore some level of public confidence in the justice system. It demonstrated the government’s resolve to slay the dragon of corruption at the head and scatter the base. A lot is still expected this year in concluding these cases. If there are some more big fish remaining, they must be fewer than the arrests made last year.
As a natural consequence of the government determination, the cartels will proceed into hibernation. They will avoid confrontation with the law enforcers. At all costs, they may tactfully resist the temptation to engage in graft for the time being all the while hoping that things will soon cool down. This is a survival instinct prone to all living organisms. Kenyans will, therefore, miss the television display of dramatic arrests of high profile corruption suspects arrested last year. They will also miss the political tensions and theatrics of yore. For good measure, the economy is predicted to improve and the citizens will be the happier!