Why Uhuru should avoid anointing successor

Anointing a successor would require that he spares his resources, including time, to campaign for the candidate

In Summary

• Those angling to succeed Uhuru should avoid the temptation to be the State House candidate. The allure of the system and state largesse is normally too strong to resist.

• History has shown that being sponsored by the retiring president is more baggage than a blessing.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto at State House, Nairobi,during Madaraka Day celebrations on June 1 this year.
BUMPING ELBOWS: President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto at State House, Nairobi,during Madaraka Day celebrations on June 1 this year.
Image: PSCU

There have been frenzied efforts to persuade President Uhuru Kenyatta to declare his successor from both the ruling Jubilee and other parties.

This desire is not entirely misplaced. Many a contender to the throne would be happy to have the vast resources that come with the endorsement of the incumbent. Other than financial, such a candidate would have the state machinery at his disposal.

This machinery can be used to influence and manipulate the electoral process as well as the outcome. Control of the electoral process is key for any candidate seeking the presidency in this part of the world.

It is because of this that many aspiring presidential candidates seek to be on the good side of retiring presidents, who also have an interest in their successors.

This is so since in developing countries, it is expected that heads of governments ordinarily engage in illegal activities while in office. Such unbecoming conduct may attract punishment through criminal proceedings. To shield themselves from such an eventuality, they seek to be in the good books with whomever is their successor. This also helps them secure their wealth, which might have not been acquired in honest business dealings.

It is meant to be a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit.

However, in Kenya, history has been anti in-house succession. The sitting presidents’ desire to anoint their successors has never been granted.

On the two occasions that we have had transition through the general elections, the retiring presidents’ preferences have suffered defeat at the ballot.

Jomo Kenyatta had the luxury of reigning for life and thus had no pressure to organise his succession. It is claimed that he did not support the anti-Daniel Moi forces in Central province coalescing around the Change the Constitution Movement. However, there is also no historical moment recorded that he endorsed Vice President Moi as his preferred successor.

The ascendancy of Moi to the presidency was more a function of fate, good luck and circumstances than a planned process to capture state power. The countdown to Mzee Moi’s departure from office saw concerted efforts to instal a successor who was amiable to the establishment.

Out of the blue, in 2002 Moi picked Uhuru Kenyatta, then considered a greenhorn, as his preferred successor. All hell broke loose in Kanu and the rest, as they say is history.  Mwai Kibaki triumphed in what remains the most outright convincing electoral victory in Kenya’s political history.

However, when Kibaki's turn came to prepare for his handover, his experiment with the United Democratic Movement of Musalia Mudavadi backfired badly. Mudavadi would cry foul as the would-be support cast led by Uhuru blamed madimoni for their short-lived and ill-fated alliance. Mudavadi was a distant third in the 2013 elections and there was no Kibaki in sight to lean on. It took the arrival of Nasa to rejuvenate his political fortunes.

It is in this context that Uhuru should avoid anointing anyone to succeed him when his time is up. In his case, however, the decision will not only hinder the prospects of his preferred candidate but also undermine his own legacy.

Unlike Moi and Kibaki, his tenure began on a burdensome note. The ICC charges led him to enter into an uncomfortable alliance with former Eldoret North MP William Ruto. 

The Jubilee Coalition then became a party ahead of the 2017 polls. As he sought to get reelected, Uhuru behaved as if he was wholly dedicated to his deputy. For all intents and purposes, the presidency was a shared outfit. Some quarters felt that Uhuru was the de jure president, while Ruto was the de facto.

This arrangement was not working well for government service delivery and Uhuru was never going to be seen for his true worth if it continued.

But Uhuru's address during his second inauguration was telling. He set aside the Jubilee campaign manifesto and launched the Big Four agenda. The grounds for parting ways with his deputy were set. This was soon cemented by the handshake with ODM leader Raila Odinga some months later.

The President has thus sacrificed greatly for his legacy projects. It would thus be unwise for him to sacrifice this noble effort for the success of another person.

Anointing a successor would require that he spares his resources, including time, to campaign for the candidate. Yet his first term was a duopoly and was bedevilled  by a miasma of corruption and administrative malaise. He has also spent the better part of the second and his true term assembling the legacy team.

President Kenyatta,  therefore, needs every effort and all resources to be focussed on achieving his legacy projects. Anointing a successor would divert his attention and attract many more opponents unnecessarily. The worst part is that if his anointed candidate succeeds, then he (Uhuru) will suffer the Machiavellian fate. That is if Uhuru's candidate is beaten, the electoral loss may be his only 'legacy'. S


The allure of the system and state largesse are usually too strong to resist.

History has shown that being sponsored by the retiring president is more baggage than blessing. As they say in business succession, you assume full responsibility for the assets and liabilities of the previous regime.

In politics, though, the candidate assumes more of the transgressions than achievements. The candidate will attract resentment from within the court and from the opposition from outside. He will suffer sabotage from the sulking axis of the kitchen cabinet as Joseph of the biblical Jacob.

The candidate will be so encumbered with the dirty linen of the house that his freedom at campaign events will be greatly curtailed. It will also be difficult to remove himself from President Kenyatta, whose shadow would continue to loom large. It would be extremely difficult for the candidate to forge an independent image for himself.

Further, the candidate will find it tough connecting with the electorate because almost a third of the voters in 2022 were eight years old in 2013. They thus have no civic connection with Uhuru. They will most likely be looking for a candidate who does not represent a continuation of the current regime.

Some, if not most, of Jubilee's  2013 and 20-17 promises have not been delivered. Therefore, being Uhuru’s anointed candidate comes with this weight as well.

Finally, it is hoped that Kenyans will manage to review the Constitution and separate the Executive from the state. In this scenario, it would be better for Uhuru to allow his successor a free hand to interpret the functions of State as president.

An incoming'anointed' President should also as much as possible avoid learning from Uhuru  because his presidency is a combination of state and executive government functions.

The next constitutional dispensation - if endorsed by a referendum -  envisages the executive government function to be performed by an office separate and different from that of the president.