Sunday, July 20, 2008



Sundy Times
July 20, 2008
By Kipkoech Komugor

Narc Kenya’s determination to break free from the PNU family is a demonstration of one politician’s fight against great odds stacked against her quest for higher office.This week’s refusal by the flower party to remain in Party of National Unity is essentially a tough struggle by its leader, Martha Karua, against powerful politicians who, like her, are players in Kibaki succession race.

In her declared ambition to succeed Kibaki in 2012, Karua is facing a myriad of hurdles, the main one being clique of politicians from Central Kenya who are determined to see that she doesn’t inherit Kibaki’s mantle. The plan to dissolve the affiliate parties is seen by Narc Kenya as part of the grand plan to handover Kibaki’s mantle a candidate handpicked by State House powerbrokers.

Narc Kenya reportedly led other parties in rejecting President Kibaki’s plea that the affiliates lose their identities to strengthen the party that he rode to re-election in last year’s polls. Taken aback, the President and those in favour of dissolution resorted to the 15-member committee in the hope that it will change attitudes among the parties in due course.

It therefore came as a shock when the following day, Narc Kenya, seen as the majority shareholder in PNU snubbed the invitation to send a representative to the committee saying instead that it was committed to strengthening itself as an in independent party.

The message was relayed to PNU via a press statement delivered by interim partychairperson Karua and Organising Secretary Danson Mungatana, the increasingly chummy pair that has been causing the President and backers of a united PNU, a lot of trouble recently. To President Kibaki, Narc’s rebellion must have given him a feeling of déjà vu.

About five years ago, the President plea of dissolution of Narc affiliates was met with the same resistance that his idea of a united PNU is receiving. Then like now, it was a matter of power struggles, disgruntlement over defaulting in the payment of political debts, and strategising for the next polls. Mungatana hit the nail on the head when he told a function in his Garsen Constituency that the reason his party was opposed to a united PNU is that some political “lazybones” were whiling away their days doing nothing, waiting for the PNU parts to be assembled into a vehicle before jumping into the driver’s seat.

The Garsen MP’s statement speaks for Narc Kenya, and especially the party leader Ms Karua. It is believed that the Justice Minister is demanding a bigger share of President Kibaki’s political estate when he retires than the President and his perennial affiliates are willing to give. She sees the proposal to dissolve parties as a grand scheme to disinherit her of her rightful share.

Ms Karua must have felt especially unappreciated when the deputy PM post that many expected was hers for the taking went to Uhuru Kenyatta. After the fierce fight that she put up to defend President Kibaki and PNU following the disputed elections, Ms Karua was seen as the more deserving of the position than anybody else including Uhuru.

The main grouse in Narc-K is that while the workhorses in PNU like Karua and Mungatana are out in the field playing hardball politics, some battle-shy individuals are being groomed to take over from President Kibaki, either as the country’s President, Vice President or Central Province political prefect. The usual suspects in the “freeloaders” camp are Uhuru and Internal Security Minister Prof George Saitoti, two politicians considered frontrunners in the Kibaki succession race.

The two may have so far kept their opinions to themselves on the Kibaki’s proposal. But the fact that the two are involved in minimal party politics could mean that they are banking their hopes in a united PNU. Conspicuously, there is little activity in Uhuru Kenyatta-led Kanu (expect disgruntled voices from the party’s Rift Valley chunk which is led by former Baringo Central MP Gideon Moi). Prof Saitoti’s conduct is also suspect.

Though known to be a Narc Kenya member, the Kajiado North MP has been detached from Narc Kenya activities including the picking of Karua as interim party leader. Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka could also be in this camp that Narc-K loves to hate. Analysts see the jostling for supremacy in PNU (especially between Karua, Uhuru and Saitoti) as either a race for the presidency or the vice presidency if the Mt Kenya region decides not to field a serious Presidential candidate in the next polls as is widely expected.

Convinced that Kenyans would not be willing to elect another Kikuyu president soon after Kibaki, Uhuru is said to favour a power sharing arrangement with V-P Musyoka. In the event, he would end up as Central Kenya’s political kingpin. If statements that some politicians from the region have been making in the recent past are anything to go by, Kalonzo is seen as the most likely surrogate candidate for the demographically, politically and economically influential region.

What Karua, Uhuru and Saitoti are scrambling for could therefore turn out to be the vice presidency and not the main prize. Is this a contest that Ms Karua can win? It is obvious that, while the Minister is a certified political toughie, the odds are stacked high up against her. Save for guts which she has in plenty, Karua joins the race as an underdog in every other aspect, be it gender, resources, connections and the goodwill of the people who make major political decisions for Mt Kenya region.

Perhaps the latter is Karua’s biggest disadvantage. It is believed that President Kibaki’s circle of friends who have been known to hold sway in his court from his days in the Opposition are not just marking time, waiting for their man to retreat into political insignificance as retirement approaches, and with his retreat their influence in Nairobi’s crucial addresses.

In preparation for Kibaki’s succession, the men of means and connections are said to be sizing up possible candidates who can replace the president to ensure that they still have say in how things are run in the country. For some reasons, Karua doesn’t seem to feature very high in their lists of candidates. While they consider her an asset in the political slugfest where she gladly gives as much as she receives, she is seen as too rough-hewn for their presidential tastes.

Besides, Karua is seen as a loose cannon and too independent minded to be guided by the current movers and shakers at State House who are looking for a seamless extension of their influence upon Kibaki’s retirement in 2012. The gender factor is also said to be militating against Karua’s chances in the succession race. Most of the Mt Kenya political guiders are of the old school and would therefore not be comfortable of a female replacement of Kibaki.

The problem here could be what some call the “Wangu wa Makeri Syndrome”, which manifests itself in distrust of a woman being seen as the community’s and probably country’s ruler. Wangu wa Makeri was a legendary Kikuyu chief and fable has it that she was a highhanded leader who enslaved men and changed the traditional order of things by placing women above men in the domestic and societal pecking order.

Karua’s assertive, even domineering personality could make people draw parallels between her and the ancient chief. Karua could also be considered by State House powerbrokers as having been born on the wrong side of the blanket, both in the political and background sense. Compared to her rivals Uhuru and Saitoti, Karua could score poorly in the eyes of the brokers. She neither has Uhuru’s pedigree (the DPM is the son of founding father Jomo Kenyatta) nor Saitoti’s experience.

Prof Saitoti has been in politics for more than 20 years, more than half of which he served as President Daniel arap Moi’s V-P. He is considered a steady pair of hands with experience and first hand knowledge of how government works. Resources are another factor where Karua loses out to Uhuru and Saitoti. Where the two are known to be endowed resource wise, with old (in Uhuru’s case) or recently acquired wealth, Karua is not known to be particularly wealthy.

Experience of the last few elections have left no doubt that the wealthier the candidate the higher their chances of winning the presidency. What powerbrokers do is look for a candidate whose net worth would mean they would not have to dig too deep into their pockets in supporting the candidature. It is said that one of the factors that convinced Moi to settle on Uhuru as Kanu candidate in 2002 was the financial one.

On this factor alone, Uhuru would beat Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, George Saitoti and Musalia Mudavadi – all of whom were seen as possible Moi successors – hands down. Compared to Uhuru and Saitoti, Karua is a financial lightweight and this could mean being overlooked by the powerbrokers in the search for a suitable candidate to replace Kibaki.

There are reports, too, that the Kibaki succession has rekindled the traditional political rivalry between the Kiambu and Muranga Kikuyu. Karua comes from Kirinyaga while Uhuru hails from Kiambu. The side that holds sway at State House could mean a candidate from region stands the better chance in the Kibaki succession race.