Jubilee Party’s slide to collapse is now assured and irreversible course

Jubilee party offices in Pangani Nairobi. /Monicah Mwangi
Jubilee party offices in Pangani Nairobi. /Monicah Mwangi

Kenya has had a long history of unstable environment of multi-party democracy. Since Independence, parties have been unable to sustain momentum of their pre-election campaigns after the results are declared. The leaders of the parties always seek to remain relevant in the ever-dynamic politics by reorganising and re-engineering their existing parties to be responsive to emerging issues.

Every electoral cycle always has new concerns and determinant factors always vary with every election. Since the reintroduction of multi-party democracy in 1991, no party, except Kanu under President Daniel Moi, won a re-election. However, both Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta have proceeded to win second terms but on different parties.

President Kibaki was re-elected to a second term in 2007 on the PNU ticket instead of Narc and while Uhuru won on the TNA ticket in coalition with URP in 2013, he formed the Jubilee Party in 2016, on whose ticket he won. They jettisoned their ideologue, Onyango Oloo, the erstwhile voluble secretary general. In all the instances, the decision to fold up the ruling parties and form new ones is deliberate on one hand and circumstantial on the other. It is deliberate to enable the sitting President rid himself of the baggage of the king makers of the first term. It is also a function of circumstances because the core members of the presidential court feel betrayed and shortchanged, and thus seek to exert revenge. This fate seems to stalk Jubilee Party.

On another plane, the confluence of interests of Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga seems to be the Achilles’ heels of the party. The two are united in their quest to bequeath a lasting legacy to the nation as they plan to retire from active politics. As the scions of the founding fathers, they appear to have determined to leave the country more united. They are weary of being seen as the heirs to the throne under whose leadership the nation disintegrated.

Talks of secession had gained traction during the period of disputed presidential elections last year. Calls widespread economic sabotage civil disobedience were largely successful. This was more as a result of the rivalry between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga. Opinion was divided on whether this rivalry was political and ideological or family and business.

When they finally found their Damascus moment in March, the symbolic handshake shook the political landscape in tectonic proportions. They demonstrated rare comradeship and extolled the virtues of building bridges to heal the country. As the world hailed the brave act of the leading protagonists of Kenyan politics, fissures of discomfort and disquiet begun to emerge on party layers. Support for the programme was muted in both camps by closest of allies.

As the political structures adjusted to accommodate Raila and his shared vision, the bubble burst. The murmurs became louder and rebellion became open. The newfound warm working relationship between Uhuru and Raila unsettled the applecart. New alliances were being crafted and old wounds being reopened. Fallen heroes watched the unfolding events in glee and sought to replace the jilted allies with enthusiasm. On the Raila side, NASA fell in one afternoon at Stoni Athi Resort. Even though Jubilee struggled to maintain a face of invincibility, pundits started writing the epitaph. The political sea had turned turbulent and the horizon had become blurred for the party. Party secretary general, Raphael Tuju was removed from Pangani Jubilee House to State House as minister without portfolio.

The Jubilee Party had emerged as coalition in the first government of UhuRuto. TNA and URP agreed to fold up to form one outfit, as they sought reelection. However, the unification was more on paper than in content. In character the party operated as a coalition and union of two distinct organisations. The leaders regularly made reference to the 2013 pre-election agreement, as if they were not one party. Demands for reciprocity from Mount Kenya to the Rift Valley were made with reckless abandon. Then the fight against graft assumed unprecedented gusto.

First was the NYS mega scandal dwarfing the previous one that led to the resignation of current Kirinyaga Governor, Anne Waiguru. Then, in quick succession, followed the NCPB, the Kenya Forest Service, and the KPC and Kenya power cases. As MPs delved into the long-winding road of parliamentary investigations, the country was treated to the theatre of the absurd: The country had had imported contraband sugar laced with poisonous metals.

The fight against graft assumed partisan approach, with the URP side of the party crying foul. Incidentally, each side of the coalition had on opportune occasions previously accused the other of graft. Corruption thus immediately became the bane of the Jubilee Party unity. Leaders allied to the Deputy President led by Majority leader in the National Assembly Aden Duale claimed the fight was impartial.

They saw it as targeted at their side of the coalition and aimed at frustrating Ruto’s 2022 bid. They made it clear they were not taking it lying down and, in any case, were not willing to be the sacrificial lamb.

Then out of frustration, they mentioned the President’s brother, Muhoho Kenyatta, as a major importer of contraband sugar. [Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri later said Muhoho didn’t import]. This might have been meant to scuttle the seizure and destruction of counterfeited sugar and other commodities. However, it helped seal the fate of Jubilee as a party since the battle now assumed sibling rivalry and fought within the house. Therefore, on one hand, the fight against corruption was buttressing the legacy of Uhuru and building the careers of some politicians. On the other, it was undermining the prospects of Ruto’s presidential bid and destroying fortunes of other politicians.

Kenyans are now firmly in a campaign mode and the divide is clear. On Saturday, addressing a public rally in the Rift Valley, Nandi Governor Stephen Sang’ made a broadside on Raila with comments bordering on ethnic incitement. Drumbeats of political war are renting the air and the journey towards the split of Jubilee seems irreversible. His Senate counterpart, Samson Cherargei announced the formation of a new party for Kalenjins. The formation of the two new parties associated with Ruto allies have since been confirmed by the Registrar of Political Parties, Lucy Ndung’u. The Rift Valley leaders on the Deputy President’s side can only proceed on this path to secure their bid outside Jubilee. This is a demonstration of their determination to go the full hog and alone should their colleagues decide to back pedal on the pledge to support Ruto in 2022.

As if in response, Kikuyu elders were reported to have urged the Deputy President to retire with his boss. It has been argued by many central Kenya leaders that both sides have benefitted their fair share of spoils in the government and thus none owe the other. These claims, coming in the backdrop of recent historical events of 2007 post-election violence together with the Mau forest evictions do not bode well for the Jubilee party.

It should be recalled that it is the 2007 post-election violence that brought the grand coalition of Kibaki-Raila government. The violence was basically wedged by the Kalenjins against the Kikuyus in the Rift Valley for perceived historical injustices. It later sucked in the Luos and western tribes in Limuru, Naivasha and Nakuru.

However, the attacks on these tribes were more as retaliation by the Kikuyus, who saw them as supportive of the Kalenjins. It is out of this that the charges of crimes against humanity were preferred against some Kenyans at The Hague. Uhuru and Ruto found themselves together at the International Court of Justice. The Hague cases helped both Uhuru and Ruto to weave the most unlikely political alliance in our region in recent times. Almost at the same time, the government had decided to reclaim the dwindling Mau forest. This was in a bid to fight the escalating environmental degradation that was threatening to kill the Mara ecosystem. This responsibility was assigned the environmentally conscious Raila, then as the Prime Minister. As Raila pushed the eviction of Kalenjins from the Mau Forest, Ruto got an opportunity to hit back for his previous sacking from the Cabinet.

Therefore, coincidentally, as The Hague cases were forging a bond between Uhuru and Ruto, the Mau reclamation was driving a wedge between Raila and Ruto. Uhuru got Ruto plus the Kalenjins and bagged the presidency, while Raila parted ways with his erstwhile partner Ruto and lost the Rift Valley together with the coveted seat. Uhuru and Ruto reconciled their respective tribesmen. The armistice seems to be coming to an abrupt close and with it the death of Jubilee as a party. The path to this painful death is assured.

Kanyadudi, Political and Public Policy Analyst

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