UNLIKELY UNION

Why Uhuru choice of successor could reunite Raila, Ruto

Allies of the two former ODM Pentagon members say politics remains the art of the possible.

In Summary
  • President Uhuru Kenyatta's ultimate choice of successor could trigger a political explosion.
  • Uhuru has never pronounced himself on Raila being his preferred successor but has publicly indicated that his heir will not be Ruto, and will neither be a Kikuyu nor a Kalenjin.
Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga during the funeral service of Matungu MP Honourable Justus Murunga Makokha at Makunda Primary School grounds on December 5, 2020.
Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga during the funeral service of Matungu MP Honourable Justus Murunga Makokha at Makunda Primary School grounds on December 5, 2020.
Image: DPPS

President Uhuru Kenyatta's ultimate choice of successor could trigger a political explosion that might reunite his deputy William Ruto with ODM leader Raila Odinga.

The President has never pronounced himself publicly on his successor, but some of his close associates are reportedly pushing for a Musalia Mudavadi presidency, a move that has triggered disquiet in Raila's camp.

Uhuru and Raila have been politically close after their much-publicised handshake. It was widely expected that the President could back Raila to end political hate due to the post-Independence falling-out between their fathers, Jomo Kenyatta and Oginga Odinga, who were president and vice president respectively.

However, Raila has been left out in a new alliance said to have the backing of Uhuru allies and one that brings together Musalia, Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper), Gideon Moi (Kanu) and Moses Wetang'ula (Ford Kenya).

Raila has become a subject of attacks in their recent rallies, with the leaders insisting that the former prime minister back someone else next year.

And with Ruto smarting from what his faction call betrayal by the President, there is a silent push for Raila and the DP to work together.

"Raila may not be our enemy after all. Going forward, you may not see the many attacks," said a Ruto-allied MP, who did not want to be named.

Raila and Ruto worked together in the Pentagon—a powerful five-member ODM summit akin to a politburo and arguably the most potent political machine in Kenyan history. The Pentagon comprised Raila, Ruto, Musalia, Tourism CS Najib Balala and the late Cabinet Minister Joe Nyaga. Narc leader Charity Ngilu also joined the team though it retained its numerical identity. 

They nearly vanquished then-President Mwai Kibaki from power. Presidential election results were disputed, leading to the formation of a grand coalition government.

Ruto would later serve as Minister for Agriculture and Raila as Prime Minister as part of a power-sharing matrix before their acrimonious split in 2011 that saw ODM lose its iron grip on the Kalenjin vote bloc.

After the break-up, Ruto initially sojourned in UDM before settling down into his new role as leader of the United Republican Party, an outfit through which he entered into a political marriage with then-Deputy Prime Minister and TNA leader Uhuru Kenyatta under the Jubilee coalition that won the 2013 election.

Since parting ways, Raila and Ruto have had a sour relationship that was further aggravated by Raila's handshake deal with Uhuru in March 2018.

However, interviews gleaned together from a couple of Raila and Ruto allies left no doubt that circumstances could force the pair to work together.

On Thursday, Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi, a staunch and outspoken Ruto ally, said while there are no active discussions between Raila and Ruto camps, he "cannot rule out anything”.

“At the moment, we are not having talks with anybody, including Raila's people, but again in politics, you need not rule out anything,” he said.

National Assembly Minority leader John Mbadi, while insisting that the ODM boss and Ruto do not share any ideological views, did not rule out a possible reunion ahead of next year's election.

“Ruto is completely in a different political environment at the momentwhich is at variance with oursbut in politics, you can't rule out anything. But I don't think we are there yet,” the ODM chairman said.

He said the Orange party is not desperate for alliances at the moment because it has yet to settle on its 2022 presidential flag bearer.

“Much as I know, in the current political setup and with my experience, ahead of the 2022 election, we will have to enter into alliances but I don't think we are desperate at the moment,” Mbadi said.

"You can only enter into a political alliance when you have your line-up, we don't have a line-up at the moment but we shall have that soon.”

On Wednesday, Raila opposed proposed legislation against 'hustler' narrative—a campaign mantra propagated by Ruto—saying it would amount to a violation of the right to freedom of speech.

He, however, termed the sloganeering dangerous, liking it to Adolf Hitler’s national socialism that plunged Germany into anarchy.

Ruto responded in an unusually polite manner. "While agreeing fully with your defence of freedom of speech and thought as guaranteed by the Constitution, we respectfully disagree with your very wrong understanding of hustlers but will equally defend your thoughts."

Even as ODM put a brave face and tactfully avoided a direct reference to a possible marriage with Ruto, there are signals that the emerging political coalition comprising key players has triggered jitters.

Tellingly, the Kalonzo-Musalia-Gideon-Wetang'ula alliance has launched a ferocious onslaught on both Raila and Ruto as they seek to stamp their presence in a political landscape that could soon be marred by massive tectonic shifts.

Three weeks ago, the quartet, alongside Uhuru, dominated the first anniversary of former President Daniel Moi at Kabarak. Against public expectations, Raila and Ruto were no-shows.

In a show of political might under a coalition baptised 'Sacred Union', the four have been in a three-day campaign blitz in Western Kenya to shake up Raila's stranglehold on the region.

Ford Kenya secretary general Simiyu Eseli during a press conference
Ford Kenya secretary general Simiyu Eseli during a press conference
Image: WILFRED NYANGARESI

Weighing in on the issue, however, Ford Kenya secretary general MP Eseli Simiyu said the four play in a lower league. He said Kalonzo, Musalia, Wetang'ula and Gideon do not inspire confidence and might be forced to look for Raila if they have to be regarded as a formidable force.

“When you look at them, they are Moi orphans who are regrouping," said Eseli, dismissing the four as part of a bigger crop of politicians interested in the status quo.

On Raila and Ruto reuniting, Eseli termed it possible, saying they could come together in a bitter game of revenge should Uhuru play both of them ahead of the 2022 polls.

“They will end up together because they will have little options,” he told the Star.

Saboti MP Caleb Amisi said given that Raila was able to agree on a working arrangement with Uhuru, who had been his political enemy, there would be nothing impossible.

“Some of us who were abusing Uhuru are now his number one supporters. You can never wish away any possibility, anything is possible," the lawmaker declared.

“They have worked together before and they can still work together. Politics is a matter of interest, and if the interests of Raila and Ruto converge at some point, they will work together.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta, Kanu chairman Gideon Moi and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka at Mzee Moi's Kabarak home.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, Kanu chairman Gideon Moi and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka at Mzee Moi's Kabarak home.
Image: COURTESY

Political analysts say the 2022 political battle lines would be drawn clearly after the Building Bridges Initiative process to amend the Constitution.

Political risk analyst Dismas Mokua told the Star that should Kenyans approve the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020, in a referendum, the heavyweights would start coalescing to form strong groupings.

“Until the BBI hurdle is off the road, then we cannot say with certainty on what political arrangements we expect in 2022,” he said.

Describing Raila and Ruto as the foremost political heavyweights and ones seen as frontrunners in the 2022 race, Mokua noted that the possibility of them working together would not be remote given the emerging Sacred Union alliance.

The Sacred Union appears to be targeting to vanquish Ruto's and Raila's 2022 political ambitions even as the presidential succession race shapes up.

The BBI process to amend the Constitution is tipped to provide a bigger political table for Musalia, Kalonzo, Wetangula and Gideon to share the gains and spoils in 2022 should Kenyans approve the changes.

For instance, there is talk that the new alliance could front Musalia as its presidential candidate with Kalonzo as running-mate and Gideon tipped for deputy prime minister's post.

Strategists of the alliance are said to be wooing Mombasa governor Hassan Joho to be the other deputy prime minister, with Central Kenya poised to bag the powerful position of PM if the referendum sails through.

However, Joho, a key Raila ally and the perceived political kingpin of the Coast region, has declared his ambition for the presidency. He has also maintained that he is in ODM to stay, despite speculation that he is spoiling for a fight for the party ticket knowing he cannot win, so he can use it as an excuse to exit.

 

Edited by F'Orieny