Sunday, May 18, 2008



Sunday, May 18, 2008

Two functions a week apart but loaded with rich symbolism. Though they were both supposed to be parties thrown to celebrate victories of the last General Election, Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s last weekend’s homecoming in Nyanza and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka’s Friday’s fete at Machakos held more significance for the 2012 General Election.

The country seems to have gone into a four-month election campaign recess only to resume with the same intensity and sense of urgency of December2007. The battlelines are already being drawn and the generals being identified. Despite the formation of a Grand Coalition Government and the absence of an Official Opposition, it is slowly dawning to many that the four and a half years to the next elections will be as politically charged as ever.

What emerged at the two functions was an outline of the shape that the next election is likely to take. The Mwai Kibaki succession battle is already on, barely five months after his controversial re-election and just a month since the Coalition Government was formed. President Kibaki is serving his second term and is constitutionally barred from seeking a third one.

The emerging picture is that of a two-horse race in the Kibaki succession election pitting a candidate from Western part of Kenya against one from the Eastern side of the country. Barring major realignments, the succession poll will largely be about the leaders who attended Raila’s fete battling it out with leaders who attended Kalonzo’s thanksgiving.

After the two significant meetings, one thing is also for sure: The presidency remains the bone of contention, despite the premiership having been introduced into the political structure to accommodate the power-sharing formula between President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Unless the anticipated overhaul of the Constitution will render the presidency less attractive than the premiership, the party principals will go for it and use the premiership as a consolation prize for a valuable ally. Unfortunately for majority Kenyans, including those who would have wished to see the Internally Displaced Persons resettled and the pledges in the 2007 campaigns implemented, their preferences are not sought as politicians push their new albeit selfish agenda instead of pursuing the healing path.

There is little doubt who in the two camps start as the favourites for flag bearers. Premier Raila has a grip on ODM flag while V-P Musyoka holds the PNU-ODM-K flag. This doesn’t mean they will have a smooth ride all the way without someone trying to grab the flag from them. While the two got all the limelight and what sounded like endorsements from the potential rivals during their homecoming parties, the nice words may have been more out of politeness rather than conviction.

The two have four and half years to hold together their individual camps and use them as a ladder to power. But that will be easier said than done. In the four years, personal, ethnic and regional issues will come into play and how the two will handle them will ensure whether the camps will stay intact or not. Raila may be the front runner on the ODM side, but he has the task of convincing Musalia Mudavadi, William Ruto and other members of the Pentagon team to give up their presidential ambitions for the second time and support his bid.

Handling Musalia may be a particularly tough nut to crack for Raila. A statement issued by a group of youths from Western Kenya this week following what sounded like another endorsement of Raila by Musalia at the PM’s homecoming party could explain why. While the Deputy PM may be ready to allow Raila to carry ODM flag again in the next polls, Western Kenya where Musalia draws his main support may not be as enthusiastic about such an arrangement.

According to the more than a hundred youth leaders calling itself Western Youth Caucus, it was wrong for Musalia to endorse Raila for another stab at the presidency when he himself ( Musalia) was qualified to do so. “If Mudavadi still feels he can support Raila for the presidency in the next General Election, then we will have no alternative but to back another Luhya leader for the top seat,” the group was quoted as saying in a statement read by a Mr Cleophas Shimanyula who is designated as the Provincial co-coordinator.

The youth’s sentiments may, to some significant extent, represent the general feeling in Western Kenya regarding another presidential attempt by Raila with support from Western Kenya. The region is understood to have backed Raila in the last Election following an agreement that Raila would support Musalia in the 2012 poll. Whether the pact stands even after Raila’s failed bid is anybody’s guess. Besides Musalia and Western Kenya, containing young and ambitious Agriculture Minister William Ruto and using him to bait the huge Rift Valley like in the last poll will prove a challenge.

There is already talk of strained relations between Ruto and the PM though the former has taken the trouble to deny the “rumours.” Rift Valley voters remain a different issue altogether. A rebellion led by disgruntled ODM backbenchers in the province seems to be brewing. Whether the ripple effects of this disgruntlement will have significant impact on Raila’s fortunes in Rift Valley remains to be seen.

The PM, however, has to do a lot to appease the region especially the South Rift whose leaders have loudly lamented that Raila shortchanged them while naming the ODM members to the Cabinet. For Kalonzo, his Machakos thanksgiving party and the one in Meru yesterday may have been choreographed to the last detail to bring him out as the man to face the Western candidate in the likely East-West battle in 2012.

Most speakers, mainly drawn from the PNU-ODM-K wing of the Grand Coalition Government, extolled the V-P’s virtues, most stopping short of endorsing him their candidate in the next Election. Perhaps, what held most of them back from being open about it was the presence of other politicians seen to be angling to take over President Kibaki’s mantle in the Mt Kenya region when he retires.

Uhuru Kenyatta and Martha Karua, who were present during Kalonzo’s party, are considered candidates. But both coming from President Kibaki’s backyard may not be viable candidates to succeed him. But it was one absentee who may turn out to be Kalonzo’s chief trouble in the succession war: Internal Security Minister George Saitoti.

While Kalonzo was having his day in the sun, especially with Kigumo MP Jamleck Irungu declaring him the region’s choice in 2012, Prof Saitoti was with President Kibaki in his former boss Daniel arap Moi’s rural home in Nakuru where the latter was awarding Kabarak University its Charter. It is not clear why Prof Saitoti chose to skip the Machakos function, seeing that his presence in Kabarak was not absolutely necessary. But it could just be one of the signs that a fight between the two to inherit Kibaki’s political empire could already have started.

The Internal Security Minister may have given Machakos a wide berth because he wanted to avoid a situation where he would be forced to appear like he is endorsing his archrival’s presidential bid. The succession war may have started early and patterns began to form. But things could still change a great deal as alignments and realignments take place. A significant third force could for instance emerge from the groups that feel like they are being left out the main blocs.

Coast Province is case in point. The region’s leaders have been seen to be sticking together in recent days as the PNU/ODM wall collapses. Apart from Najib Balala, a person to watch in Coast Province is Special programmes Minister Naomi Shaban who is slowly emerging as a political heavyweight on the PNU side.

Some leaders from the province have been quoted calling for a formation of a common vehicle to represent the region’s interests on the national level. If they go ahead and form a party, or identify an exiting one, this could complicate things for Raila and Kalonzo since the Province is one that one cannot afford to ignore during elections.