• The only thing we know for sure is that Deputy President William Ruto is going to be a presidential candidate in 2022, and that he is considered by many to be the frontrunner.
• But it is not easy to discern any clear pattern as to who is likely to end up as his principal challenger.
If you are having trouble keeping up with the ever-shifting patterns of political alliances within the Kenyan political elite, you should know that you are not alone.
The only thing we know for sure is that Deputy President William Ruto is going to be a presidential candidate in 2022, and that he is considered by many to be the frontrunner.
But it is not easy to discern any clear pattern as to who is likely to end up as his principal challenger. (And Kenyan presidential elections invariably boil down to a two-horse race in the last few months before the votes are cast).
At one moment, it is former Vice President Musalia Mudavadi who seems to be likely to offer the stiffest competition. Mudavadi has long been recognised as being the ideal “compromise candidate” for any presidential race. He is spoken of as an agreeable personality with very wide appeal and a “gentlemanly” approach to politics – in contrast to the “hard men” of Kenyan politics, DP Ruto and former PM Raila Odinga, both of whom attract absolute and fanatical support in some areas, but also the most intense fear and loathing in others.
Then we are also reminded that former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, another politician generally regarded as widely acceptable and personally agreeable, is “owed” the presidential nomination for the joint opposition parties because of his support of Raila in two consecutive presidential races.
Which may or may not be true. But then, Kalonzo suddenly finds that two other prominent leaders from his political backyard, Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana and his Machakos counterpart Alfred Mutua, feel better qualified than he to be the presidential candidate from Ukambani.
Both governors apparently won their seats without much support from Kalonzo, and, so, feel well placed to now challenge his decades-long dominance of Ukambani politics.
Of these two, Kivutha Kibwana is perhaps the more potent rival to Kalonzo, as he has reportedly run a very clean as well as innovative county government in Makueni.
In a country where there is overwhelming public revulsion over official corruption, this – assuming it is indeed verifiably true – would put Kibwana very high up on the list of leading presidential candidates. (Though we must note here that Kalonzo has been in politics for about 30 years now, and he too is considered to have kept his hands relatively clean, despite all the temptations that come to a veteran politician to amass unearned millions).
I could go on.
But I believe I have made my point that the next presidential race will be every bit as complex as previous ones, and that there is no shortage of plausible presidential candidates – for each of whom a strong case can be made that he has a really good chance of winning in 2022.
So, what are we to make of all this?
I would speculate that only one consideration really matters here.
It summarised as “Expect the unexpected”.
Consider that retired President Mwai Kibaki only rose to the presidency in 2002 due to the unexpected rallying behind him of the joint opposition party chiefs in a process orchestrated by Raila. Also, consider that Uhuru Kenyatta only became President after Ruto unexpectedly agreed to support his presidential bid and to be his running mate.
Further, that the current source of deepest discomfort to Ruto is that – most unexpected of all – the top opposition chief, Raila, turned up one morning outside Harambee House to cheerfully shake hands with President Kenyatta on live TV.
And with the said, Ruto conspicuous by his absence, “the two presidents” declared a new dawn for Kenya (Raila had some months earlier in a highly disruptive public event at Uhuru Park been sworn in by his supporters as “The People’s President” in what was supposed to have been the first step towards a secessionist campaign by the opposition. He has since dropped that title along with any talk of secession).
With so many unexpected twists and turns in our recent political history, how can anyone doubt that we have yet more surprises ahead?