Having served a maximum of two-five year terms, President Uhuru Kenyatta, on paper is expected to exit from Kenya’s top seat in 2022. But a fledgeling campaign seeking to have him back on the ballot, this time, as Prime Minister has understandably opened up political fissures that are threatening to upend the government.
But these are early days and the future is fraught with eerie possibilities.
In big measures, the forces seeking Kenyatta, 58, to arguably circumvent the constitution are drawn from a faction of the ruling political party, including ironically the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), the country’s biggest opposition party.
Turns out the ruling Jubilee Party is currently divided with a subtle supremacy war pitting two antagonistic wings – one coalescing around Kenyatta while the other owes its allegiance to Deputy President, William Ruto, 53, who publicly has made it known that he will be on the presidential ballot in 2022.
The origin of the resolution is traceable to March 2018 when Kenyatta struck a public rapprochement with Raila Odinga, 73, the de facto leader of the opposition and head of the ODM party that caught the nation by surprise.
Famously referred to here as “the handshake”, the peace accord is widely credited with bringing closure to post-election violence that had threatened to push East Africa’s biggest economy down the precipice after hotly contested elections in 2017 that saw Kenyatta controversially installed as President in repeat elections that Odinga and a sizable part of the electorate boycotted.
“Our differences are not that big. What is bringing all this problem is political competition our opinions are not that different. We decided to sit and even look beyond 2017 election. Why is it after every five years Kenyans must fight each other? Why must we shed blood and destroy properties? Why do business come to a halt and fear engulfs our people? These questions were the beginning of building bridges initiative idea,” said Kenyatta during the initial introduction of “the handshake”.
A spin-off of “the handshake” saw the formation of what is referred to as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). This incorporated a selected team of imminent Kenyans drawn from across the political aisle mandated with canvassing the country to curate views from the citizenry on how and what needs to be done for the country to avoid civil instances of violence that have been witnessed after every cycle of an election since the country embraced plural democracy in 1990.
Unequivocally, the feuding parties agreed also to rewrite the country’s constitution. The putative 156-page report unveiled this past December indicated that the BBI had reached a consensus that the nation was craving for the creation of a prime minister’s position among a raft of other options as a relief to the routine violence occurring in the country after every election.
In retrospective it’s observably clear the BBI move is old hat.
In early 2008, in the aftermath of another presidential election gone awry that ignited widespread bloodletting, then-President Mwai Kibaki and his rival, Odinga, shook hands on what came to be known as the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation (KNDR) agreement.
The KNDR had four components including overcoming the immediate crisis, ending the violence, dealing with the humanitarian crisis it had occasioned and dealing with the political crisis occasioned by the electoral crisis.
With hindsight, its’ apparent the KNDR initiative was simply snake oil.
Meanwhile, it has not been lost to close Nairobi watchers that the two competing leaders deliberately blackballed the deputy president from the March 2018 accords, emboldening a belief that an irreparable fallout had taken place at State House, the official address of the President.
Understandably, the Deputy President’s wing has not hidden its mistrust of the BBI initiative, alleging its purpose is simply to stop its candidate from running for the country’s top seat.
Also, the group is carrying a narrative that categorises Kenyatta and Odinga as belonging to a lineage of the country’s dynasty families. While Ruto traces his ancestral roots to a life of peasantry like a disproportionate size of the country’s population, it is likely he would empathize with the daily struggles of the electorate compared with the competition.
However the Kenyatta-Odinga group, the Achilles heel of Ruto’s candidature is a public perception that paints him as the godfather of graft in Kenya, as evidenced in reports in the local daily papers’ and therefore should be barred from running, they say.
For Kenyatta to become a Prime Minister his political party must muster a majority of seats in parliament, leading a President to tap him for the premier position and he must be the head of the party at the time, according to the BBI arrangement.
For now, Kenyatta has said he would not mind playing the role of a premier. It would not be a wonder if it were to happen, for extreme acts have taken place elsewhere in Africa.
In neighbouring states of Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, for example, current leaders have arm twisted and cajoled their respective Parliaments to extend their reigns by simply amending their country’s constitution. Proponents supporting Kenyatta’s bid to become a prime minister have a myriad of reasons as to why they think the move is unstoppable.
The Secretary-General of the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU), the premier labour organization in the country, Francis Atwoli was the first person to forward the idea of Kenyatta morphing into a prime minister after leaving the presidency.
“I said about three years ago that this country needs a constitutional amendment because those in leadership are still young to retire and a new law will accommodate them in leadership,” adding, “President Kenyatta is not leaving office as his predecessors Mwai Kibaki and Daniel Arap Moi. He is young and the country should not mind his staying around as long as it guarantees stability.”
While David Murathe, former Vice Chairman of the Jubilee Party says Kenyatta will remain in power as a prime minister after the 2022 General Election.
In an interview with the local Daily Nation, Murathe said that once a new political dispensation envisaged in BBI report comes into fruition, Kenyatta will have the right to vie for any post since he will remain the de facto leader of Jubilee Party, and could even claim the proposed post of Prime Minister.
He argues that the political alignments that will arise once the BBI proposals are implemented will see the leader of the majority party in the National Assembly form the government, in a coalition with other parties, and that this has the potential of ensuring President Kenyatta does not disappear from the radar after the 2022 polls.
While Moses Kuria, an MP allied to Ruto and conspicuously better known as the legislator representing Kenyatta’s ancestral home says those pushing Kenyatta to consider the premiership position are “talking on behalf of dark forces that have captured the state apparatus but not the President himself. I’m certain the President will not want to suffer the ignominy of sacrificing his legacy at the altar of such transient goals and I believe he will follow the footpath of Mr. Kibaki,”
All the while Ruto says rumors are behind the push to have Kenyatta fill the prime minister slot.
“It is brokers and political merchants who are peddling that rumor across the country,” he said. “We are progressives. President Kenyatta has a rich legacy that cannot be stained by the push for constitutional changes.” Ruto says.
Indeed the days ahead will tell who will blink first between the President and his ambitious Deputy.