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Citizen Weekly

Sunday 31 August 2014


President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Amolo Odinga’s encounter at the funeral service of the late Njoroge Mungai was not a random or unplanned event.

A great deal of networking on both sides had gone into the works, resulting in the dramatic face to face encounter as strictest protocol norms were agreed well in advance far behind tightly closed doors in the corridors of power as a number of elites came into play.

Protocol number one was the seating arrangements in the VIP section at the PCEA Church of the Torch at Thogoto, Kikuyu, Kiambu county.

Raila would not be seated next to Uhuru and First Lady Margaret but between former First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta and former President Mwai Kibaki. The two seats of VIPs were separated by a red-carpeted aisle.
Protocol number two was that Raila would not talk politics.

Also planned far in advance were the president’s own words and the flavour of his remarks. Kenyatta told Raila that he was ready to work with him. Analysts instantly interpreted this to mean that it was extending an olive branch and reaching out to Raila to broker peace.

Said Uhuru: “I can see my brother Raila here and I can assure him that I have no problem. I look forward to working with him and I believe that is what the Kenyan people want of us: To pull together like past leaders.”

But Raila, who spoke before the president, made history for the first time in his life by not talking politics when given the chance to speak at the funeral service. Instead, he gave Mungai what appeared to be a heartfelt eulogy. Raila’s praises of one of the founding powerbrokers of modern Kenya, a man who played the power game with ruthlessness, cunning and divide-and-rule schemes stunned many Kenyans.

Mungai was one of the  founding Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s biggest political enemies and one of the three principals tasked to frustrate the elder Odinga’s political wing – the  Kenya People’s Union – the country’s first post-independence political party between 1966, when it was founded, and 1969, when it was proscribed.

But Raila eulogised  Mungai as a giant of the independence struggle, champion of education for Kenyans and post-independence entrepreneurship.
These were the amazing scenes to those who could remember the huge struggle between Mungai and Kanu founder secretary general, Tom Mboya on one side (the first government) and Odinga and Bildad Kaggia of Murang’a in the opposition.

Also intriguing were Kibaki’s remarks, when he, like Raila, spoke before Uhuru. Kibaki told both the president and the former PM: “There is too much quarrelling between ourselves but let us respect the life of Dr Mungai by making Kenya prosperous because fighting among yourselves, you will not achieve much by quarrelling”. Mungai and Kibaki were in different camps during the Kenyatta succession era. These were not random, off-the-cuff remarks made for the moment either.

Perceptive observers have started to see that there was more than meets the eye, or ear, at Mungai’s funeral service. The funeral of one of the foremost operatives, who engineered the post-independence, falling-out between the Kikuyu and the Luo that has lasted for more than 50 years was interesting for it happened at a time when a second Odinga is leading the opposition and giving a second Kenyatta who is again at State House sleepless nights.

The impression behind-the-scenes of those caucusing between friends and networkers of all three sides, the retired President’s and the incumbent’s and of relatives, friends and strategists of Raila’s is indeed overwhelming.

Something is happening somewhere far behind the scenes and it is major.
A day later at another venue and occasion, Uhuru again reached out to Raila. This time it was at the official opening of the Huduma Centre in Mombasa. The president for the second time urged Raila to join hands with the government to deliver services.

He said party affiliation and religious beliefs should not divide Kenyans adding that if there is a problem, leaders should sit at a round table and dialogue. He told the people of the Coast, a region that voted overwhelmingly for Raila at the March 4 2013 presidential poll, that politics should not cause enmity between them.

This time, the president spoke explicitly of the Cord referendum campaign, saying “Mimi na Tinga hatuna shida”. I am telling him to continue with his referendum dance while I carry on with my development dance. He can meet the people; tell them his agenda and go back home. Kenyans have a right to listen to him and make their own independent decision”.
However, in a live interview on TV, Raila expressed uncertainty over whether Uhuru’s entreaties could stand the test of time.

Raila also addressed another moot issue on TV, a proposed constitutional amendment locking out candidates aged 65 years old and over from joining future presidential races. In his usual fashion of playing to his excitable core constituencies, Raila, who will be 72 in 2017, declared that nothing would shut him out of the race. If he is indeed able to vie, Raila will be participating in the fourth presidential race of his political career and the third consecutive one.

The president does not want a referendum timed on the midpoint of his first term and Raila very badly wants to gather momentum and traction for 2017, the last great battle of his life whatever happens thereafter. Both men have a lot to gain, the president, a second term that secures his legacy and Raila at least, a first term if he finally wins that crowns his long time desire to occupy the throne. Both men also have everything to lose if they play their cards wrong.

Sitting between them is Deputy President William Ruto, a man who for now cannot stand Raila. The sentiment is mutual, because the only way Raila would ever work with Ruto again is if he was not only his senior but also his superior.

The impending end of Uhuru’s case at the ICC could bring about dramatic new changes in his demeanour, actions, outreach, networking and partnering. It is being quietly said that a new Uhuru with new priorities could emerge if the prosecution case at The Hague collapses.

The most frequent comparison being made is to President Daniel arap Moi after the August 1 1982, coup attempt by disgruntled members of the Kenya Air Force. Raila and his father were deeply involved in that attempt. The coup attempt saw a rejuvenated Moi who dramatically changed his modus operandi.

Also watching the scene carefully is DP Ruto, who has his own case at the ICC. If both the Kenyan cases at the ICC involving members of the presidency collapse, dramatic new things could begin happening in Kenya.   There are three key prospective scenarios – either Uhuru and Ruto bond even more, politically speaking, after the disappearance of the ICC cases, or the two begin behaving as if The Hague factor was the superglue or waterproof cement that had held them together all along and without it, they will pursue separate agendas for 2017.

The third scenario is the president’s case collapsing without, effectively, ever having started, but the DP’s takes more time to resolve, in which case Uhuru begins revising his 2017 options.
Political strategists and handlers on all sides and their networks in the corporate and diplomatic sectors are keenly aware of all these metrics and are scrutinising every move.

In the matter of Uhuru reaching out to Raila twice in one week, in Kiambu and in Mombasa, it is clear that he is taking the advice of a number of Kikuyu tycoons who believe that the safest way to protect and grow investment in the long run is to defuse political tensions and long-term enmities.

Kenya is on the threshold of economic take-off with the continuing discovery of hydrocarbon national resources, the Lapsset project and a growing middle class in all regions. The classic Kenyan political template of Kenyatta versus Odinga and Odinga versus Kenyatta may have suited the country before the prosperity take-off but now it looks increasingly like an impediment not an enabler of the prosperity agenda.

Those who are about to graduate from being Kenyan shilling billionaires to achieving trillionaire status do not want the Kenyan national boat rocked by old school political rivalry.
Among the older people pushing Uhuru to find a working formula with Raila without either of them losing face (Kenyatta as incumbent President and Odinga to his highly expectant extended Cord political constituency) is Charles Njonjo, aged 94, but still going strong, and Stanley Githunguri, 74, both of whom did very well for themselves under the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Joe Wanjui, a former chancellor of Nairobi university and a man of means who is also involved.

Younger but still substantial Kikuyu tycoons who would like to see the dangerous Kikuyu-Luo divide sealed once and for all and the coming prosperity boom shared in a more enlightened manner than was the case before the discovery of natural resources everywhere include Equity Bank Group managing director James Mwangi and Royal Media Services proprietor SK Macharia. Njonjo and Githunguri have also had banking interests and investments in their long careers.

Among the young shakers and movers with an eye fixed firmly on the coming age of a multi-trillion-shilling national budget and countless opportunities in the counties is businessman Jimmy Wanjigi. He moves seamlessly between Raila and Uhuru.

In Raila’s innermost inner circle, his elder brother Oburu Odinga, who worked with Uhuru when the latter was minister at the Treasury, is perceived as pushing for a rapprochement with the incumbent president. Raila’s cousin Jakoyo Midiwo is in the game. In parliament, Midiwo was reconciliatory when addressing referendum talks.

According to Midiwo, Raila and Kibaki were in agreement during the campaigns for the 2010 referendum that 20pc of the constitution was faulty and that it would be finetuned once it was passed. If only MPs could become sober, Midiwo said as he presented one of his most lucid arguments ever in parliament, there would be no need for a referendum as then the amendments could be done on the floor.

When Midiwo talks on certain matters, some say, it is Raila’s voice coming out through Midiwo’s mouth. Could it be that it Raila had on this occasion borrowed Midiwo’s mouth? The answer, Kenyans will not have to wait for long.

Also being reached out to influence the truce is Raila’s spiritual adviser, self-proclaimed Prophet Edward Owuor. Raila is said to have a lot of respect for the ‘prophet’ who baptised him ahead of his third stab at the presidency.

The president’s side would do anything not to be engaged in a referendum scenario where victory is not assured. Raila’s side would do anything to remain relevant, but it is not certain that they can backtrack on the referendum without losing credibility big time and opening the path for a new generation of opposition leaders that would shunt them aside and then fail miserably to deliver the kind of voter numbers that Raila has delivered in two consecutive presidential polls, 2007 and 2013 – almost 10 million combined.       

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