Like a cornered fox, Uhuru Kenyatta has devised covert strategies to keep William Ruto and Raila Odinga busy fighting each other to ensure they do not team up to vanquish him.
The president’s move to engage Ruto and Raila is said to be fueling bitter wars at State House that have seen two camps allied to the two politicians go for each other’s throat. Uhuru kitchen cabinet is disagreeing on how to handle the succession puzzle that has continued to pit the head of state against his deputy. Last week on Wednesday after Uhuru and Raila held a meeting with the so-called Embrace Kenya Women BBI supporters, the pro-Ruto camp pushed for Ruto to hold talks with Uhuru a meeting that lasted for three hours and led to the postponement of BBI signature collection that was scheduled for the next day at KICC Nairobi.
According to the Ruto side, the BBI was not part of the Jubilee 2017 campaigns manifesto but it has now taken centrestage relegating to the margins the pledges the two made and derailed Jubilee’s four point agenda. To them, the handshake with Raila and the accompanying shenanigans have made Uhuru and in extension Jubilee the most unpopular president the country has ever produced more so in his second term office compared to the first and history will judge him harshly. According to sources, Uhuru idea is to have the two camps engage in attritional fights to create possibility of a formidable compromise lineup emerging in his succession race as a section of his handlers do not trust the two.
The idea is being pushed by a third camp at State House called the neutrals that seems to enjoy the support of state security apparatus. The said agencies are said to have warned Uhuru to be cautious in the manner he is handling the BBI process that is likely to mess up his legacy. By late last week, unconfirmed reports indicated that the president had fallen out with his nephew and private secretary Jomo Gechaga. Jomo has been allied to the Ruto wing ahead of the 2022 politics. He was in the news recently after he failed to pay rent to a company owned by for Nairobi governor Evans Kidero. His Mojos Pub in Nairobi’s Banda Street has been closed.
The same group that is fighting Ruto has targeted Nairobi governor Mike Sonko. Sonko has of late been crying out that he is not afraid of jail or death. Sources say one of the cases Sonko is facing is negotiating its final laps. The governor has been at war with Nairobi Metropolitan Services general director Mohammed Badi. Badi is said to be controlled by a one Patrick Kariuki who is NMS chief of staff. Kariuki was sacked by Sonko as Nairobi county secretary after being seconded by powerful State House operatives. The operatives pushed for formation of NMS to tame Sonko and it has gone as planned. Just like the handshake was used to fuel Ruto, Raila war, NMS is doing the same in Nairobi county politics.
Jomo was said to be sympathetic to Ruto and Sonko and even tried to intervene as the governor’s influence kept on dwindling in the corridors of power until Sonko’s final fall. With Jomo being sidelined and NMS controlling lucrative tenders at City Hall including road construction, health and environment, Kariuki is fighting to replace Jomo as president’s private secretary. On the other side, State House comptroller Kinuthia Mbugua’s influence is also being felt at NMS. Kinuthia’s face at NMS being Rachael Maina who recently made dramatic changes at city inspectorate demoting some officers and sending others on compulsory leave. Inside sources say she is at war with Kariuki.
There are fears that her next target is the planning docket. Maina previously served as the Nakuru county executive committee member when Kinuthia was Nakuru governor. Mbugua always favoured her and was behind the deal to bring her to Nairobi through the NMS. She wants to elbow out Kariuki whom she accuses of cutting deals. Sonko sees her as chief link in attempts to what he describes as militarization of City Hall operations with State House backing. The governor was at one point rattled by Maina after she reportedly stormed City Hall in the company of her colleagues and carted away sensitive documents from the personnel registry of city inspectorate.
In a protest letter, Sonko stated that documents confiscated by Maina and her team touched on the employment details of the concerned officers adding that the action was obnoxious. The county government stated that Maina’s conduct did not portray NMS in good light and triggered unnecessary friction between the two county government entities. Sonko has been demanding that the employment documents carted from City Hall be returned. The decision to have Badi attend cabinet meetings is said to have been opposed by a section of Uhuru’s kitchen cabinet on legal grounds but those for the proposal carried the day. The pro-Ruto camp managed to silence those who were pushing for a major cabinet reshuffle that could have seen CSs allied to the DP dropped and replaced by those perceived to be leaning towards the handshake in what was widely touted to be a cabinet of national unity.
Uhuru is said to have shelved the cabinet reshuffle idea as it was bound to up political tension as it was witnessed when pro-Ruto allies were removed from key parliamentary and senate positions. The president has been fuelling the war between Ruto and Raila over his succession in 2022 by directly bankrolling camps cutting to size his second in command’s presidential ambitions and at the same time dilly dallying on fulfilling pledges he made to the ODM leader during the March 9, 2018 handshake that would give the Orange Party leader an upper hand in the succession matrix. Uhuru, insiders say, has two camps advising him at State House with one camp comprising hardliners who want him to severe all links with his deputy while the other camp comprises moderates who are calling for caution in dealing with the number two.
It is the hardliners who have advised the president to fund groups fighting his deputy either directly or through Internal Security principal secretary Karanja Kibicho. The groups include the Kieleweke that was cobbled up by Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu to fight the Tangatanga brigade associated with the DP. The Embrace Women Movement spearheaded by Kirinyaga governor Ann Waiguru, Homa Bay county woman rep Gladys Wanga and Taveta MP Naomi Shaban has also been receiving funds from Uhuru or Kibicho to crisscross the country to curtail Ruto’s 2022 ambitions. The Kikuyu council of elders led by Wachira Kiago has also been receiving funds from Kibicho and Uhuru through former presidential adviser Nancy Gitau to derail Ruto’s 2022 presidential bid.
The Kikuyu elders recently toured Raila’s Bondo home in Siaya county where they pledged to back him in the 2022 race and were set to host their Luo counterparts in a meeting that never was. Insiders familiar with the developments intimated that Uhuru is capitalizing on the fact that both Ruto and Raila are eyeing his support in 2022 with each aware that failure to secure it will spell doom for their presidential ambitions. The balance at the moment favours Ruto who is now more popular in Mt Kenya than Uhuru. Uhuru has crafted a strategy that has enabled him to circumnavigate major hurdles that would have complicated his administration had Raila been left in the opposition or Ruto allowed to take control of Jubilee party.
Talk at one time was that Ruto then controlling majority in parliament wanted to sponsor a vote of no confidence against Uhuru, assume power and go for 2022 elections as an incumbent with instruments of power at his disposal. There was thus a need to target Ruto source of money and counter his activities by funding Raila side and cutting his deals within strategic ministries by removing CEOs allied to him from parastatals. In fact, anti-Ruto forces say Ruto is currently experiencing serious financial woes and that is why he does not want a referendum but a consensus. To him, those surrounding Uhuru opposed to him want to use the referendum to burn him financially and come 2022 he would have no money to oil his campaigns.
Those for Raila in Uhuru camp say the new strategy is that the president has promised to support Raila in the 2022 presidential race even if it means being a stopgap president who will rule for one term then pass over the baton to Baringo senator Gideon Moi in 2027. They are the brains behind recent Raila’s hefty donations in harambees something the ODM leader was unknown for. As a result, Raila has swallowed the bait and his strategists have worked out the mathematics and reached at a conclusion that he only needs a fraction of votes in Mount Kenya to carry the day in the presidential polls.
Raila’s conviction that he will be the president’s preferred candidate was first brought to the public limelight by his elder brother Oburu Odinga who claimed the ODM leader will win the race in 2022 since he “will have the backing of the deep state” unlike in the past three presidential elections when the system was against him. It is this belief that has compelled Raila to push for a contested referendum for three reasons. The first one is to gauge Ruto’s influence in Mount Kenya region. The ODM leader wants to know if Mount Kenya will choose Ruto over Uhuru and the outcome of the referendum will help him evaluate his partnership with the president. If the president fails to deliver the Kikuyu vote in the referendum, Raila can forget the region.
The second reason he is pushing for a contested referendum is for him to identify political heavyweights willing to stand with him all the way to the 2022 elections and will use the new friends to form a political coalition. Raila also wants a contested referendum to accord him a chance to galvanize his current support base by using the new positions to entice Kamba, Luhya and Coastal voters by accommodating their kingpins in the post-Uhuru government as either premier, deputy premiers or deputy president. The ODM leader knows too well that without his current political base, he will just be an overrated tribal leader of Luos and thus has no chance against gifted politicians like Ruto in the presidential race.
The contested referendum will therefore help Raila keep his base happy by promising Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka and Hassan Joho top seats in his government. But the president, insiders pointed out, appeared to have stabbed the ODM leader in the back when he postponed the signature collection drive for the referendum on the building bridges initiative that was set for last week. The president, insiders added, appeared to agree with the moderates who rooted for consensus process that would not divide the country.
Raila is opposed to consensus. Uhuru shocked the ODM wing when he abruptly cancelled the launch of the signature collection drive though State House had it booked in its diary and all arrangements, including sending invitation cards and mobilizing security organs, had been completed. The drive was cancelled on the excuse of late completion and publication of the constitution amendment Bill 2020. But many wondered how State House would have booked the date for the president to launch the exercise without first getting confirmation that the document was ready.
The cancellation raised eyebrows as it came after reports that Uhuru had held two separate meetings with clerics on Tuesday and a subsequent meeting with Ruto the following day that could have played a major role in the decision to cancel the function that Raila the previous day was saying was on. The DP and clerics have reservations about the BBI report. The meeting with Ruto led to speculations that their talks centred on how to make the BBI process more inclusive and ways to avoid a divisive referendum as pushed by Raila. Ruto has been demanding amendments to the BBI before it is presented to the public for a referendum while Raila has been adamant no changes would be made to the document.
The cancellation of the drive also came amidst reports that the National Intelligence Service had cautioned the president that the BBI only enjoyed the backing of 19pc of Kenyans while the rest were opposed to it. Insiders added that the president, in a bid to keep the war between Ruto and Raila alive, opted to go for the consensus route in the BBI that the deputy president backs knowing the ODM leader will use all arsenal at his disposal to oppose. Ruto wants a non-contested referendum, which he is calling a win-win contest, for three reasons. First, Ruto does not have the resources to mount a No campaign against a side backed by the state.
Second, the deputy president knows that a defeat in the referendum will be a psychological blow to his support base which will give up even before the whistle for the 2022 race is blown. Third, the DP does not want to severe ties with the president since doing so would likely see him lose a chunk of votes in Mount Kenya region.
Coupled with this is the fact that some of the amendments like the expansion of the executive will help him entice voting blocs by promising tribal kingpins seats of premier, deputy premier and deputy prime minister.
Ruto is adamant that some of those backing a contested referendum are after lining their pockets from the campaign kitty, a view shared by the moderates in Uhuru’s kitchen cabinet.Insiders added that before Uhuru called off the signature drive, he had hosted clerics at State House who included Catholic bishops. The president is a catholic. The clerics are said to have prevailed upon him to make the process inclusive by listening to dissenters and to also mend fences with his deputy. They also questioned the rationale of prioritizing constitutional changes at a time the country is battling the deadly coronavirus that is claiming lives.
The clerics reportedly echoed Ruto’s call for the president to halt the referendum and use the Sh14 billion to be earmarked for the exercise to equip medical facilities as well as cushion poor Kenyans from the effects of the virus. The president, insiders added, had also appeared to pour cold waters on Raila’s quest for a contested referendum when he consulted with Mudavadi and Kalonzo, where their talks centred on BBI and coronavirus. The two leaders were reportedly of the view the process needed to be more inclusive by taking into consideration the dissenting views. They also called on the president to prioritize the fight against Covid-19.
The president, insiders added, had also met diplomats from Western countries who again called for a more inclusive BBI process and the prioritization of the war against Covid-19. The diplomats had also met the other political leaders and prevailed upon them to drop their hardliner stance on BBI in a bid to cool down political temperatures. Uhuru started fuelling the war between Ruto and Raila months after the repeat presidential election when he sidelined him in key decisions. Ruto’s allies were quick to read mischief in the concerted strategy by Uhuru to block the ambitious DP’s promised elevation to the top job in 2022.