A year after President Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected for his second — and final — term, Kenya is in the throes of yet another round of campaigns that could impact his legacy, and his March 9, 2018 “handshake” deal with opposition leader Raila Odinga.
In a country used to protracted electioneering paralysis, this is not entirely new. But it has somewhat imploded in the ruling party Jubilee, threatening a split between the president’s and the deputy president’s sides.
At the heart of the row is the presidential succession, with Deputy President William Ruto and his allies hoping for a handover of the baton. But some of the president’s allies are trying to block Mr Ruto, a move that has deeply divided President Kenyatta’s support base in central Kenya.
The furore, triggered by Jubilee’s then vice chairman David Murathe on December 27, 2018, when he attended a cultural event in western Kenya, has left the party on life support, with legitimate concerns that a split is imminent. Mr Murathe resigned on Sunday.
At the event, Mr Murathe disowned Mr Ruto’s bid to succeed his boss, arguing that the Jubilee Party would not hand him a ticket in 2022.
In addition to declaring the DP unsuited to hold the office of president, Mr Murathe also promised to file a case in a constitutional court seeking a declaration that a person who has served as a deputy president for two terms cannot contest the presidency.
Mr Murathe, who once served as an MP, insists the party is intact.
“There is no crisis in the party. The party is intact because it was never about an individual,” he said.
Party secretary general Raphael Tuju also insists that the party is united behind the president and Mr Ruto, arguing that the ongoing war of words is a sign of internal democracy.
“That is part and parcel of politics anywhere in the world, where people enjoy freedom of speech and expression. It is provided for in our Constitution, and is an aspect of the country that we should cherish and defend,” Mr Tuju said.
“It is not our intention to vilify such groupings as it has been part of our political DNA. Instead, we at Jubilee will endeavour to implement programmes of constructive engagement to persuade all who live in this geographic area called Kenya that our destiny is intertwined and our viability as a modern, stable and peaceful country is only possible and sustainable within the context of inclusivity and shared prosperity and by embracing each other as children of one God,” he added.
While there is no written agreement between President Kenyatta and Mr Ruto on what should happen at the end of their term in office, the deputy president’s allies are clinging to a public pronouncement made by the president in 2014 in which he promised to rule for 10 years and then support Mr Ruto to rule for the next 10.
“It was a public undertaking the president made and he must pay back by declaring Mr Ruto as his preferred successor,” said Simon Mbugua, an East African Legislative Assembly MP and an ally of Mr Ruto.
The president has refused to be drawn into the 2022 succession debate and insists that his focus is on the handshake with Mr Odinga, and their push to unite the country through their Building Bridges Initiative.
“We have never talked about 2022 politics with Mr Odinga. We are focussed on the next generation. We are talking about things we believe that if we fix will lead to peaceful election in 2022 and ensure that generations after generations live in harmony,” he said.