If you didn’t know better; or did not take note of dates as you read the many political analyses currently filling our newspaper pages; you would think that the next general election is right around the corner.
For not a day passes (and certainly not a weekend) but we have the most detailed analyses of the most recent manoeuvres aimed at “crafting a winning coalition”; or alternatively, various key players “plotting their political line-ups”.
This process has only intensified ever since the former Gatanga MP, David Murathe (now routinely reported to be a “confidant” of President Uhuru Kenyatta) made the announcement that it was time the country more or less anointed the former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, to be Kenya’s next president, as a reward for his untiring efforts to advance democracy and individual freedoms over the years.
Playing a surprisingly large role in the pro-Raila group is Francis Atwoli, who for many years past was known to all of us as a “veteran trade unionist” but in recent months has been more often defined as a “political bigwig” or a “power broker”.
All this activity has at its centre, the Deputy President Dr William Ruto, who has been systematically side-lined by the pro-Raila forces, week after week and month after month.
And the question which all this raises, and which is at the core of just about any political discussion going on right now, can be distilled to just this: Do you think William Ruto can be president?
My answer to this would be, Yes, he can. But with the major caveat that it is unlikely to happen in 2022, if only because we have yet to see anyone win the presidency on their first attempt at it.
In Kenya, the rule would seem to be that you first have to lose a presidential race before you have a serious chance of winning
Retired President Mwai Kibaki only won on his third attempt. Uhuru won on his second attempt. And if Raila does indeed get to be president after the 2022 election, he would be winning on his fourth attempt. Which may seem to be an unusually large number of attempts, but then this is exactly what the current president of Nigeria did: Muhammadu Buhari ran for president in 2003, 2007, 2011 and finally in 2015, when he defeated the incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan.
Likewise, in neighbouring Uganda, the man said to offer the only realistic alternative to the longserving President Yoweri Museveni, Dr Kizza Besigye, who has already lost to Museveni in four consecutive presidential elections and may yet lose again in the upcoming elections.
But that does not mean that we may not one day have a President Kizza Besigye guiding the affairs of Uganda.
So too with Ruto. At the moment he may seem to have been hopelessly outmanoeuvred by his political opponents and doomed to a mere token run for the presidency.
But in Kenya, the rule would seem to be that you first have to lose a presidential race before you have a serious chance of winning.
In any event, we are now into our sixth presidential election cycle since the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1991. And the way democracy works in Kenya, when it comes to such presidential elections, is fairly clear.
Basically, there are just a handful of top political leaders who have a large enough following (mostly in their regional backyards) to be considered as serious contenders. And the alliances and political pacts that these leaders form is what determines who gets to be president – with some help from the much-touted “deep state” of course.
At this moment in our history, the leaders who meet this threshold of political support are Uhuru Kenyatta (who cannot run for president again); his deputy William Ruto (who is clearly determined to run, no matter what); Raila Odinga (who increasingly seems likely to run); and finally former Vice Presidents Musalia Mudavadi and Kalonzo Musyoka, both of whom have already done that preliminary unsuccessful run which seems to be a mandatory stage, on the road to the Kenyan presidency.
At some point it will be perfectly clear, which of these men have decided to work together, and two rival political groups will form.
That is when the real fireworks will begin.