Under pressure from President Uhuru Kenyatta to forge a united front ahead of next year’s elections, opposition leaders are this week expected to hold a follow-up meeting, hot on the heels of the one hosted by the President in Mombasa last week. The President is not expected to attend, sources told the Sunday Nation yesterday.
But, whether Mr Kenyatta attends or not, the planned meeting will be a great move in a favourable direction to him, as it’d be an indicator that tensions are thawing in the opposition and the principles can once again share a table and thrash out their differences.
Why the President is so keen on this unity is not clear, but it is in no doubt that a united opposition front against Deputy President William Ruto would greatly dent his State House bid.
Other than President Kenyatta, the Mombasa meeting was attended by Raila Odinga (ODM), his deputy Wycliffe Oparanya, Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper), Musalia Mudavadi (ANC), Gideon Moi (Kanu) and Moses Wetang’ula (Ford-Kenya). A highly placed source in government told the Sunday Nation yesterday this week’s meeting is in line with a request the President made to the group to agree among themselves who will be the flag bearer next year if they harbour any thoughts of defeating Dr Ruto.
It will happen as leaders of the One Kenya Alliance (OKA) also head out to a retreat Naivasha to reflect on the President’s challenge and also fine-tune their coalition. The OKA leaders are Mr Musyoka, Mr Mudavadi, Mr Moi and Mr Wetang’ula.
Wiper Party vice chairman Mutula Kilonzo confirmed the plans for the follow-up meeting but said no date had been set yet, while ANC deputy party leader Ayub Savula said the meeting will discuss pressing national needs.
“They will meet again soon,” said Mr Savula. “The meetings are supposed to be held regularly to discuss national cohesion. We want to have a united country.”
Mr Musyoka, who has been in Turkey since Thursday, on Saturday confirmed that he will be back in the country latest today. His return will determine when the opposition principals meet, and also whether he makes it to the OKA meeting in Naivasha. It was not clear yesterday whether the Naivasha meeting can proceed without him. A member of the technical team told the Nation that they were already “laying the groundwork” ahead of the crucial meeting.
“We are working on many modalities and not just coming up with the coalition’s flagbearer,” said the technical committee member, who requested anonymity. He added that MPs allied to the political outfit are expected to arrive in Naivasha on Monday morning.
Various briefings from the Mombasa meeting have suggested that President Kenyatta, relying on data from intelligence agencies, had pressured the OKA leaders to drop their presidential bids in favour of Mr Odinga for the presidency in 2022.
Those briefings have spawned a new suspicion within the opposition rank and file and created a new flashpoint of tension after Mr Odinga. In the meeting OKA are said to have protested the presence of Mr Oparanya, arguing that the gathering was for party leaders only. Mr Oparanya is one of the ODM deputy party leaders, alongside Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho. Mr Oparanya is expected to attend this week’s meeting again, with Mr Odinga not budging to the protests by OKA leaders.
There were indications this week that Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula see the governor as Mr Odinga’s Trojan horse, the man he plans to use to entrench himself in Western, and thus carve out a third pillar in the region. But politics, guided by the populism it survives on, abhors competition, hence Mr Oparanya’s predicament.
While none of the three leaders responded to our questions yesterday regarding this matter, one of Mr Oparanya’s aides, who did not want to be named, confirmed that relations between Mr Mudavadi, Mr Wetang’ula and the Kakamega Governor have tensed up.
Mr Oparanya has himself downplayed the cold war, saying that because of its strength no one can ask ODM not to contest for the Presidency in favour of smaller parties.
“Nobody can ask ODM not to field a presidential candidate. Only members can do. Those angry with me, let them know I was representing the biggest political party in Kenya,” he told the Sunday Nation of the Mombasa meeting and the egos it bruised. “Even if Raila doesn’t want to go for it, they should know I will be waiting in the wings to seize the moment,” he added.
While the President has finally given a hint on the course he wants his succession to take, he has also, unwittingly, driven himself straight into the stubborn roadblocks that come with mistrust and suspicion that come with incumbents attempting to conduct the choir of their succession. Also, Mr Kenyatta appears to have waded into the thick murk of disorder, backstabbing and absolute chaos that have defined the concept of coalition building in Kenya for decades.
But why is he doing so? Why go to all the trouble and risk a bruised nose should Dr Ruto emerge stronger on the other end? Sources say the President is worried about the calibre of candidates lining to face the DP and he is keen to have a strong candidate who can beat Dr Ruto in the polls. Once close allies, the President and his deputy hardly see eye-to-eye these days and the latter has technically decamped from Jubilee to the United Democratic Alliance (UDA). He, with his allies, have also become the harshest critics of President Kenyatta.
Dr Ruto on his part has railed at the Mombasa meeting and subtly accused his boss, President Kenyatta, of welcoming people who campaigned against him at his expense.
“The opposition leaders are seeking the President’s support yet they have never voted for him. They have not campaigned for him, either. They are going to the President not to talk development but their selfish agenda to share power and positions,” Dr Ruto said on Thursday.
Although all the constituent parties of Nasa have given a public undertaking for the dissolution of the coalition, the issue reared its head at the meeting, with OKA leaders, who spoke through Mr Musyoka, insisting that parts of the agreement of the coalition must be honoured if they have to work with Mr Odinga again.
OKA leaders want Mr Odinga to relinquish his bid for the presidency in line with his promise that his bid in 2017 was the last. In the agreement, it was also agreed that ODM would not field a presidential candidate in 2022.
But at the Mombasa meeting, the OKA leaders were left with very little option, with the President firm on having Mr Odinga fly the opposition flag again in 2022. The OKA leaders have been livid over the matter and still insist that they are not willing to support Mr Odinga again.
“We are not going to fight or work against the President. We are going to assist him finish his term. But we want Raila to respect the One Kenya Alliance. We are not ready to endorse Raila again for presidency,” Mr Savula told the Sunday Nation yesterday.
The former Nasa principals also went into a long rage, accusing ODM members of being overbearing and abusive and precipitating a sense of mistrust in the coalition that was cobbled together in January 2017.
Mr Musyoka, who spoke on behalf of OKA, said he could not support Mr Odinga for the third time, and that time had come for the ODM leader to support one of them instead.
“There are no enemies in politics, just interests,” the source quoted Mr Wetang’ula as telling the meeting. “But we want to try a new candidate with new dynamics and a better trajectory so that we can achieve what has been elusive since 2013.”
By Nation Africa