Uhuru off to a bumpy 2021 ride

Ruto’s support across the country has been growing.

In Summary

• In 2020, the strategies to pull back the swathes of Uhuru’s Mt Kenya political bedrock support yielded insignificant results.

• The Tangatanga brigade dug in and maintained their hold around DP William Ruto.

President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks at the funeral service of Mama Hannah Mudavadi at Mululu village in Vihiga County on January 5, 2021.
President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks at the funeral service of Mama Hannah Mudavadi at Mululu village in Vihiga County on January 5, 2021.
Image: PSCU

The year 2020 ended as a mixed bag fortune for President Uhuru Kenyatta.

While the government faced unprecedented challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it helped unite the country somewhat. It also halted heightened partisan politics that had threatened to be divisive and explosive.

The BBI train and the Big Four agenda legacy projects suffered setbacks.

The political lull provided by the Covid-19 gave the President the opportunity to stealthily pluck rebellious Jubilee honchos from the ranks of parliamentary and party leadership. However, the rumbling of the Jubilee river never quite ceased. The Rift Valley bastion remained largely restless and the renegade Deputy President William Ruto continued to attract more converts into his hustler movement.

The country received substantial international support to cushion it from the vagaries of the pandemic. However, the cancer of corruption reemerged in the most unlikely of places, the Covid-19 response medical supplies.

The strategies to pull back the swathes of Uhuru’s Mt Kenya political bedrock support yielded insignificant results. The Tangatanga brigade dug in and maintained their hold around DP William Ruto.

The Kieleweke team lost steam and seemed settled with the changes in parliamentary leadership. In the by-elections that occurred, the President tried to expand his support base by endorsing candidates allied to his new ally, Raila Odinga. These efforts turned counterproductive as Ruto ended up being the inadvertent beneficiary.

The relationship with the Judiciary never improved and remained at best tolerable. David Maraga, who has since retired as Chief Justice, made very uncomfortable decisions and rulings in the sunset days of his tenure at Taifa Road. The economy slumped under the weight of the Covid-19 pandemic and massive unemployment set in with the closure of many enterprises.

On New Year’s eve, Senate Majority Whip Irungu Kang’ata penned a terse letter to the President. He chose to send it through long winding channels, including social and mainstream media. Being a senior government and Jubilee Party official, this was uncharacteristically impolite and smacked of gross misconduct.

As the President’s eye in the Senate, Kang’ata should have sought and easily secured an audience with Uhuru, if he so wished. His choice of communication medium with his party leader was, therefore, deliberate and meant to achieve other objectives. His officially stated intention to help the President salvage the BBI project in the Mt Kenya region was a cover up.

It is clear Kang’ata had become a lone ranger in Murang’a for President Kenyatta’s legacy projects. His desire to replace Governor Mwangi wa Iria in 2022 was facing an uphill task. He was staring political oblivion since even his Senate seat was no longer assured. It has emerged that the senator was ring-fencing his personal political fortunes using the BBI criticism. However, his actions served to demonstrate a shaky political backyard for the President.

Murang’a has been the hotbed of Central Kenya politics since the reintroduction of multiparty democracy. The President seems to have lost control of the county and the effects are spreading to the other counties.

The fact that Uhuru is serving his last term makes him bear no future for the region. Politicians in the region, therefore, feel no obligation to heed his calls. They instead feel free to chart their future and place their political bets where they consider safe. Without a solid political stronghold, Uhuru cannot push his agenda in 2021 with authority.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created lasting negative effects on the economy. While the country received support from international partners to cushion it, the impact has been devastating.

Manufacturing and service industries have closed down in numbers. The country has seen massive job losses and the unemployment level is unprecedented. The effects of these twin events have been huge reduction in the national revenue collection. The government cannot guarantee financing of its annual budget.

The annual budget financing is crucial to the delivery of Big Four agenda, the flagship projects critical to Uhuru’s legacy. The President’s agenda is thus in limbo as there may be no funds to support the heavy investment in infrastructure.

The other challenge this has brought is insecurity, which is attendant to unemployment. The country is hurtling to the prospects of a youth implosion. The situation is compounded by the unpredictable international political environment.

Traditionally, Kenya has turned to her global allies, the US and the UK for support during economic crisis. However, the election of Donald Trump in 2016 changed the geopolitics in a way that had never been witnessed. The US foreign policy shifted significantly to focus on internal interests more than external partnerships. Britain also successfully voted to leave the EU. Brexit was more a nationalist movement than internationalist project.

Uhuru had few partners to fall to, if at all.

The other huddle to Uhuru’s agenda in 2021 is his resurgent deputy.

Ruto finished 2020 stronger than it began. In the midst of the pandemic, the DP seemed to have been succumbing to regime control. Many of his staunch supporters were purged from leadership positions in the Executive through what had become weaponised war on corruption.

The remaining voices in Parliament were dropped with the support of the coalition with Kanu and the partnership with ODM and Wiper. Sensing that he could no longer rely on his government networks, Ruto went to the people. He all but bolted out of his government and assumed opposition roles. He stopped paying respect to the protocol arrangements of government, least of all regarding the presidency.

He differed with his boss, the President, in public. He challenged the positions taken by the President, key among them the BBI process. During the launch of final BBI report, he chose to criticise the document instead of inviting his boss to do the official launch.

In the by-elections that occurred he boldly decided to field candidates instead of joining his party leader in supporting the joint handshake candidates. The pageantry witnessed during the home coming party of the Msambweni MP elect demonstrated that he chose to show off his success.

In his team’s estimation, he had beaten a combined force of an incumbent president and a flamboyant opposition leader. Ruto’s support across the country has been growing.

There have been no defections from his camp. Many more key leaders with renown mobilisation abilities like Johnson Muthama have sought to be enlisted in his service. The hustler narrative has been firmly implanted in the national political discourse.

Resources to facilitate his activities seem to be inexhaustible. Then lack of clear alternative to his candidature has greatly worked to his advantage. Ruto is no longer burdened with implementing government programmes. More importantly he does not bear anymore the baggage of Jubilee failures. The powerful candidate Ruto will surely be a hard nut to crack for Uhuru’s agenda in 2021.