Uhuru’s risky bet in 2022 succession

President Kenyatta’s bid to influence his succession is a gamble that could end in triumphant power transfer like witnessed by his predecessor Mwai Kibaki or humiliation that his mentor President Moi endured.

Unlike President Kibaki, who avoided openly taking sides in the 2013 contest between Mr Kenyatta, then a deputy Prime Minister and then Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the president is conducting his own 2022 succession orchestra, whose decibels are high owing to the noisy fallout with his deputy William Ruto.

President Kenyatta, by opting for a route taken by President Moi, who took over the presidency from his father, Jomo Kenyatta, has, once again, a starring role in power transitions 20 years apart, and with a familiar cast.

In 2002, then President Moi juggled competing interests, as the Jubilee leader is doing now, until his ultimate pick of Mr Kenyatta as his preferred successor backfired spectacularly.


But the president now faces the greatest test yet. Like in 2002, the lead up to the 2022 presidential vote has President Kenyatta confronting his mentor’s dilemma given the numerous potential successors jostling for his endorsement.

The cast, which in 2002 played different roles to promote the Moi-Kenyatta Kanu cause or derail it through an opposition coalition that powered Narc’s Kibaki to the presidency, remains largely the same.

Mr Ruto and Mr Musalia Mudavadi – who stuck with the Moi project- as well as Mr Odinga and Mr Kalonzo Musyoka- who fled Kanu to the opposition coalition- are now scrambling for the president’s endorsement.

There could be newcomers, too, going by recent declarations by Governors Alfred Mutua and Kivutha Kibwana as well as United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) boss Mukhisa Kituyi.

But how the president plays out his succession card will influence the environment in which he will hand over power to his successor in August 2022- and by extension how he will be treated in retirement by the new administration.

His actions will influence whether his presence at the inauguration of Kenya’s fifth president will be before a receptive audience like that which witnessed President Kibaki’s hand over power to him in 2013; or whether he will endure a hostile crowd like the one that threw mud balls at outgoing President Moi during the inauguration of President Kibaki in 2002.

And the fallout with his deputy has raised the stakes in the succession politics although it is going the president’s way given his former opposition rivals are batting in his corner.

Preferred successor

The president’s former advisor on constitutional affairs Abdikadir Mohammed suggests that the president finds himself in a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ predicament with regard to picking his preferred successor.

Mr Abdikadir however argues that the president is a ‘political son’ of the late President Moi who ruled the country the longest and as such, it’s expected he will try to influence his succession.

“His politics is shaped more by Moi, even much more than his father (Jomo). He has very little in association with Kibaki. Therefore, he won’t keep quiet, he won’t sit on the side-lines,” Mr Abdikadir explains.

“Although he has indicated he will retire, he feels he has a stake in influencing who comes after him and the policies they will carry on with,” adds the former Mandera Central MP.

But Nyeri Town MP MP Ngunjiri Wambugu says there is a mistaken belief that President Kibaki let his succession unfold without interference, adding that “every president is interested in who takes over from them.”

“He (Kibaki) just planned his succession a lot more efficiently and over a longer period of time than Moi had,” Mr Wambugu argues.

He cites Mr Kibaki’s appointment of Mr Kenyatta as deputy prime minister in 2008 and the subsequent pronouncement by his trusted minister John Michuki that Mr Kenyatta was the leader of Gikuyu community.

“President Kibaki was very efficient and he was comfortable with the front runner who was Mr Kenyatta, so he didn’t have to make any public interventions. Kibaki’s government gave Uhuru indirect support,” Mr Wambugu says.

The MP reckons the president has the advantage of drawing from the lessons of 2002 and 2013 succession politics, and as head of state has intelligence and state machinery to inform his moves.

“Uhuru has learnt from badly managed transitions in 2002 and the one that was done well in 2013,” Mr Wambugu observes.

Jubilee Deputy Secretary General Caleb Kositany acknowledges the president has experience from the previous political transitions and “is alive to the power of the people.”

“As Kanu in 2002, some of us didn’t see we were losing because we were blinded by our position. I am sure in 2022 the president will do the right thing and let the people decide,” says Mr Kositany.

The Soy MP adds that Kenyans pride themselves in exercising their constitutional right to vote and frown upon any attempts to impose a “project” on them.

On the prospects of a deputy president, whom the president is perceived to be fighting, winning the presidency, and how they would relate thereafter, Mr Wambugu replies: “As a president you can’t afford to fight a deputy who you think can win. Uhuru has the intelligence, state machinery to advise him. Do you think he can make that mistake?”

To Mr Abdikadir, it’s a matter of when, not if, the president will show his hand. “The trick is in the timing. But the longer he waits, the more it will become problematic,” he suggests.

“Ruto and his group are already playing the sympathy card. And there is no counter-narrative from the president. If he waits for far too long, the other group will have gone way ahead and also the weight of his endorsement could be significantly reduced,” Mr Abdikadir argues.

Former Machakos senator Johnson Muthama asks the president not to interfere with succession politics and to allow fair play in the 2022 polls.

“We are telling the President to ensure that the country transits to the next government without any interference. We can see from his body language that he is not about to stop interfering with the leadership of the country even after his last term ends,” Mr Muthama says.

“Ruto has fast learnt that “kumi yangu, kumi yako” mantra won’t go far, so he is cleverly walking on the outer lane, and it is working – ignore him at your own loss. Victimhood is paying off,” former Mukurwe-ini MP Kabando wa Kabando cautions.

According to Mr Kabando, “UhuRuto was a poisoned chalice, but a necessity in the face of neo-colonial conspiracies.”

And the alternative, “the UhuRao bridge that some of us so passionately promoted has collapsed,” declares the former assistant minister, who was among a group of Mt Kenya leaders championing Mr Odinga’s presidency.

He reckons that “merchants of impunity and looting simply exchanged buttons. The relay has continued.”


Mr Abdikadir suggests the president’s Mt Kenya base appears to be lacking direction because of this state of affairs and the closer the elections get, the more lame duck the president will become.

But the ultimate decision will have consequences, reckons the former chairman of a parliamentary select committee that midwifed the Constitution in 2010.

“Whoever is hoping now will no longer be hoping,” Abdikadir notes.

“If that person is Ruto or Raila, you expect the one who is snubbed to rally their supporters to dig in for a fight,” he says.

“He will also have announced he is into the lame duck. Besides he will expose his preferred successor to an onslaught by opponents.”

Mr Kabando is of the view that those seeking endorsement by a retiring president “are betraying their lack of confidence.”

“None of the candidates is yet to offer unconventional, fresh ideas for radical reforms. Almost all who’ve declared are fearing speaking against Kenya’s worst enemy: corruption. They can’t dare rock the boat, yet that is exactly what majority aggrieved citizens want. So, the system won’t help anyone,” Mr Kabando argues.

He likens a Building Bridges Initiative-endorsed candidate to “a candidate for a collapsing bridge.”

In 2002, Mr Kabando explains, voters rejected Mr Uhuru because they were rejecting the rotten status quo.

“In 2013 we rejected Musalia because we were rejecting system mandarins, a project,” he reckons alluding to reports that Mr Mudavadi’s candidature in 2013 was backed by some elements within the then outgoing President Kibaki’s administration.

“Anyone perceived as a project in 2022 will flop badly,” Mr Kabando declares.

He argues that had the ruling Jubilee party been a juggernaut like South Africa’s ANC or Tanzania’s CCM, and the economy growing, “it then would be advisable for Uhuru to proudly endorse a successor.”

Kenya, in Mr Kabando’s view, is heading to a “2002 moment” – in which “a rainbow will be crafted, of new players and outsiders.”

“Whoever offers promise of radical change, inspiration for better times and captivates aspirations of economically wrecked masses will be the guy to beat,” he concludes.

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