President Uhuru Kenyatta begins his last one year in the office tomorrow (Monday), ushering in a frenetic 12 months of pushing and shoving as those angling to succeed him hits crescendo.
Away from the politicking, a series of legal activities, which are guaranteed by the Constitution, are expected to kick in, including the laying of the final groundwork for the General Election, the coming to effect of a new elections financing framework, and the resignation of any government officers who harbour political ambitions.
This, then, is the beginning of an action-packed year, complete with political posturing, alignments and realignments, and punctuated every now and then with a spirited effort by the incumbent to only assert his power and authority, but also push through his legacy projects in a politically soiled environment.
On the governance stage, the next few weeks will see four new commissioners report to duty at the agency of the moment, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), after President Uhuru Kenyatta forwarded their names to the National Assembly for vetting and approval. Ms Juliana Cherera, Mr Francis Wanderi, Ms Irene Cherop and Mr Justus Nyang’aya will take up the positions left vacant following the resignations of Dr Roselyn Akombe, Ms Connie Maina, Ms Margaret Mwachanya and Dr Paul Kibiwott Kurgat.
Once appointed, they will have to be inducted so that they can gel with the three commissioners already in office, namely Chairman Wafula Chebukati, Boya Molu and Prof Abdi Guliye. The three have been around since 2017.
Also, it appears there will be no time to appoint a substantive CEO ahead of the elections and Marjan Hussein Marjan will continue acting in that capacity, or be eventually confirmed. Mr Marjan has been acting since April 2018 and attempts to appoint a substantive officer holder have often ended up in court.
Since the last effort aborted on the intervention of the courts, the commission has not attempted to recruit for the position again.
Even more important for the IEBC is the fact that there a number of pending legal reforms and budgetary shortfalls it has to contend with.
On outstanding electoral reforms, there is the issue of election campaign financing. The Election Campaign Financing (Amendment) Bill has been pending in parliament for over a year. Along with the amendment Bill is the Election Campaign Financing Regulations 2020, through which the commission seeks to put into practice the Election Campaign Financing Act, 2013.
The Act had been set to take effect for the first time in the 2017 elections but was suspended to 2022. Yet with the regulations still pending and the amendment Bill untouched, IEBC’s preparations could be hampered.
“They did not table it in good time,” says Mulle Musau, the National Coordinator of Elections Observation Group (ELOG).
“Nobody can say it is IEBC’s fault. But it will certainly affect IEBC’s activities.”
Though they do not directly impact on elections, there are also the Independent Electoral and Boundaries (Amendment) Bill and the Referendum Bill, both of which are still pending in Parliament.
Besides the legal reforms, there is the concern about budgetary allocation to the commission.
The IEBC, for instance, had asked to Sh40 billion in the current financial year but ended up getting Sh26 billion. Some of the money was directed to the Ministry of Interior to help with its own preparations for the elections.
In its Elections Operations Plan (EOP) there are activities the commission is expected to perform until the Election Day in August 2022. All of theme depend on the availability of adequate budget. Among them is the rollout of a mass voter registration campaign, possibly next month.
For President Kenyatta, this is déjà vu.
At such a time in 2017, the formation of the Jubilee Party was high on his agenda and the bromance he enjoyed with his Deputy, William Ruto, was at its best. That has since changed. The bromance is gone; the bonhomie stuff now resigned to a distant history. The cold war between the two is no longer secret and Dr Ruto has started staring his boss directly in the eye.
For ODM leader Raila Odinga, these could be scary times.
Scary, but also promising. At around the same time in 2016, his focus was on ensuring President Kenyatta didn’t annihilate the opposition, which he led. Now he is deep in the Kenyatta camp, enjoying trappings of power but also quite aware that while one of his feet is inside State House, the other isn’t. How he manages to get both his feet there depends on how he aligns his cards in the coming months, and, crucially, how he navigates the murky swamp of his associations with the incumbency through the Handshake.
And, for Jubilee Secretary-General Raphael Tuju, staying at the helm of a tattered, battered political outfit and maintaining his trademark cool will be his ultimate test. For now, however, his loyalties are channelled to party leader Uhuru Kenyatta, whom he says will keep preaching the unity gospel until his last day in office.
“There is still a lot of work to be done by the Jubilee government and the President is very much focused on that,” says Tuju, deftly deflecting our focus from the politics of the moment to the President’s unity agenda.
“Elections will come and go but the future of the country is much more important.”
While Deputy President William Ruto leads the pack among those who have declared interest in the coveted seat, Mr Odinga is expected to officially join the fray later this month. Another candidate, or candidates, could come from One Kenya Alliance (OKA) comprising mainly Wiper Democratic Movement leader Kalonzo Musyoka and Amani National Congress’ Musalia Mudavadi. Both Mr Musyoka and Mr Mudavadi have promised their supporters that they will be on the ballot in 2022, while also vowing not to support Mr Odinga again after the spectacular collapse of their National Supper Alliance coalition earlier in the week.
Ruto, Uhuru falling-out
Dr Ruto is banking on the President’s Central Kenya backyard for support to become the country’s next chief executive, but his falling-out with Mr Kenyatta means he might work overtime to win meaningful support. Without a strong backing from the region, he would be forced to work even harder to sway the rest of the country, bar Rift Valley, from the Kenyatta’s, Odinga’s, Kalonzo’s and Mudavadi’s grip. His strategists say he can win as much as 80 per cent of the votes there, but, as elections have shown in recent days, there is a big difference between ambition and reality.
Starting Monday the focus will also shift to how the country finances its campaigns, especially on the thorny matter of alliance building that often sees the aspirant with deeper pockets lording it over the rest.
Both Mr Odinga and the DP have activated their networks in the country and beyond as part of the preparations to hit the campaign trail. It is expected that, because they bring the financial muscle, they will get the automatic tickets to vie for the presidency.
The season will also see civil servants quit to hit the campaign trail. Some in President Kenyatta’s Cabinet will not be spared the jostling as ministers who are keen to run for elective offices are sending word about their intention to quit early next year.
The ongoing alignments and realignments mean that those who have identified with a political grouping still have the time and space to change their minds, especially for self-preservation. Laikipia Woman Representative Cate Waruguru so far holds the trophy in this category. Initially on the side of Dr Ruto, she defected to Mr Kenyatta’s Kieleweke before heading back to Dr Ruto. Ms Waruguru wants to run for the Laikipia East parliamentary seat and the local political dynamics is such that she cannot afford to antagonise the DP, who enjoys considerable support there. Hers, therefore, is a political dance of self-preservation.
Major parties are also making preparations for party primaries, with some members calling on the IEBC to oversee the exercise to avert the disastrous falling out that characterises such exercises.
In their boardroom negotiations for new alliances, leading presidential contenders are inspired by how they can attain the Constitutional requirement of 50 per cent plus one vote in the first round of voting, in what has meant that potential partners must have sufficient voting blocks solidly behind them. While he says he is shopping for other partners, Mr Odinga’s handlers say re-uniting with his Nasa colleagues is not an impossibility.
And politics being the art of the possible, some suggest the channel with DP Ruto, who backed the former Prime Minister in the 2007 presidential election, remains open. This would, however, only happen as plan B or C, and especially when if mountain decides to coalesce around someone else for the top job other than the duo.
And then there is the matter of the coronavirus. Covid-19 is putting to test the conventional way of engaging potential voters and the 2022 polls will likely be conducted under very different circumstances.
The government has banned large public gatherings, including political rallies, which has restricted the opportunities for politicians to interact with voters, even though many have been disregarding the directive. As such, politicians are heavily investing in online campaign tools.
Livestreaming of party events has become the in-thing, with aspirants at different levels retaining online armies to propagate their agenda, a phenomenon that will make these elections different from the previous ones.
While tribal equations will no doubt remain a key determining factor in the polls, debate on the high cost of living, which is largely being advanced by Dr Ruto and Mr Mudavadi, will feature prominently, given the alarming poverty levels exacerbated by the pandemic.
By Nation Africa