Eight months to the General Election, President Uhuru Kenyatta seemingly still wields influence on the choosing of his successor, given the clamour for his endorsement by top presidential contenders.
Unlike his predecessor, Mr Mwai Kibaki, who eschewed openly dabbling in succession politics less than a year to the elections, President Kenyatta appears to have defied the lame duck phase.
His active involvement in succession politics, including hosting meetings to reunite opposition leaders reportedly to craft a broad coalition and the fact that top presidential aspirants seem to be jostling for his attention underscores his influence.
Even with the bitter fallout with his boss, Deputy President William Ruto and his camp often relish photo opportunities between the two that seem to rekindle their camaraderie, for instance, the reception at Parliament Buildings last week and during Mashujaa Day celebrations in Kirinyaga.
Some argue that Mr Kenyatta is emulating his political mentor, President Moi, who picked him as his preferred successor in 2022, triggering an implosion in Kanu and formation of the National Super Alliance (Narc) that swept Kibaki to power.
Such is President Kenyatta’s anticipated hand that Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga’s planned unity convention on Friday, at which he is expected to declare his presidential candidacy, is expected to draw attendance from representatives of the president’s party, which is working a pre-election coalition deal with ODM.
Jubilee’s National Delegates Conference (NDC), whose agenda includes the ouster of DP Ruto and his allies, who have rebelled against the ruling party, is another pointer to the President’s decisive step to direct his succession.
Wiper Democratic Movement vice chairman Mutula Kilonzo Jnr told the Nation that President Kenyatta had followed the same route taken by former President Moi in 2002.
“History is repeating itself. This is 2002 phenomenon. I call it the incumbency curse. Good order would dictate that the President guides the process rather than choosing his preferred successor using state resources,” he said.
And the President’s recent statements, such as the remark in Nakuru last week that old age cannot disadvantage one from running for president, viewed as reference to Mr Odinga, has drawn reactions from other hopefuls.
Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi responded that the youth were eager to take the leadership mantle and that it was time for the old guard to give way.
“If people are worried that the young people are running very fast, then they must wake up to the reality that the young people are tired of us going too slowly,” Mr Mudavadi said. Prof Macharia Munene, a lecturer at the United States International University said that, unlike Mr Kibaki, President Kenyatta remains a major player in the 2022 election.
“He does not enjoy the idea of being out of the picture or being thought of as lame duck. Since he is a major player, leading candidates do not wish to cross his path,” said Prof Munene.
Political analyst Herman Manyora said the 2018 truce between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, his main challenger in the disputed 2017 elections, was a clear indicator of the President’s intent to manage his succession.
“The plan has entered the phase where he must now come out openly in support of Raila. And he will do so with skill, but he will also need to show that he is tough and equal to the task,” Mr Manyora argued. ANC deputy party leader Ayub Savula concurred that it was clear that President Kenyatta was making attempts to shape his succession.
“There are some indicators that he is focused on Tinga (Mr Odinga) but once Tinga becomes a difficult product to sell in Mt Kenya, I’m sure Musalia will be the alternative,” Mr Savula told Nation.
ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna however dismissed suggestions that President Kenyatta had endorsed Mr Odinga.
“The President did not name anyone in his speech,” Mr Sifuna said of last Wednesday’s remarks in Nakuru. “However, our destiny as Kenyans is shared so that no single person should be precluded from having a say in the Country’s future,” Mr Sifuna added.
Nyeri Town MP Wambugu Ngunjiri said President Kenyatta was keen on shaping his legacy hence must ensure the “right person” takes the mantle from him.
But the DP’s allies including MPs Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu), Nelson Koech (Belgut) and Irungu Kang’ata (Murang’a Senator), insisted that whereas the president can give his views on his succession, the ultimate decision lies with Kenyans.
“It is within his rights as an individual to support whoever he desires. But he must also know that no state sponsored project has ever succeeded in an election,” Mr Ichung’wa said.
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