Uhuru’s time of reckoning. Is it a make or break?

From left, Kalonzo Musyoka, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Musalia Mudavadi during the burial service of Mama Hannah Mudavadi. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

With his term ending in 17 months, President Uhuru Kenyatta is facing a time of reckoning as he steers the country in the remaining critical period.

Politicians, including those in his inner circle, have already started to chart their paths away from him.

From his deputy William Ruto who has started distancing himself from the party that put them in power, to his Handshake partner Raila Odinga who has said he should not be associated with Jubilee failures, Kenyatta finds himself in an unenviable position.

A restive leadership in the National Assembly and the Senate has not made the situation any better.

On Friday, Ruto’s allies left no doubt that they were on the verge of shipping out of President Kenyatta’s party and have started associating with the newly-revamped United Democratic Alliance (UDA) formerly Party for Democracy and Reforms (PDR).

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The disembarking of the DP’s allies is likely to injure the stature of the Jubilee Party and affect its performance in Parliament.

Kenyatta’s party had a majority of 213 MPs in the National Assembly, 20 legislators shy of the absolute two-thirds majority.

But since they were re-elected to office in 2017, Ruto has been on charm offensive, which on many occasions has infuriated Kenyatta’s allies.

“The problem with Ruto is that he has no patience, he started campaigning for the presidency three years ago despite the fact that there is a president on the seat. Which Head of State would entertain that?” said Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu.

Deputy President William Ruto

At one time in an event in Embakasi East Constituency, Kenyatta said Ruto is (tangatanga) loitering around and told residents the DP would come to inspect projects.

Initially seen as derogatory term, Ruto’s allies used the remark to build a team now popularly known as Tangatanga.

Ruto has started charting his path with UDA, leaving President Kenyatta alone to defend a government in which they were both elected to serve.

Exit from Jubilee

Ruto’s ‘exit’ from Jubilee happens at a time Raila and his ODM party insist they will not share the blame for the failures of the government despite the fact that they currently have a working relationship with Jubilee.

“We are not part of Jubilee failures, our working relationship with the president is about uniting Kenyans but the government remains for the Jubilee government. So those in the ruling government should not shy away from the blame,” Raila said.

The opposition leader shook hands with President Kenyatta on March 9, 2018 and since then, Raila has worked closely with the head of state.

But in the last few weeks, there seems to be changes in the working relationship with the ruling party.

Opiyo Wandayi, the ODM director of political affairs, says Ruto is now busy in the “shenanigans” of another party but is wholly part of the Jubilee mess and should not attempt to run away from the ruling party’s glaring failures.

Which begs the question, is President Kenyatta witnessing the start of his lame duck phase?

“Amos Kimunya (National Assembly majority leader) has criticised the president’s rail project to Naivasha, calling it SGR to nowhere. He has also faulted the president for poorly thought-out electricity projects.

“Irungu Kang’ata (Senate Chief Whip) and Kimunya’s behaviour can only signal one thing, the president is slowly becoming a lame duck,” Kipchumba Murkomen, the Elgeyo Marakwet senator, tweeted on Tuesday.

Kimunya, who was elevated last year after the fall of Garissa Township MP Aden Duale, surprised many when he appeared to criticise some major projects.

“If you ask me, surely, I wouldn’t have done the component of SGR from Nairobi to Naivasha. It is Sh160 billion, we could have put that money elsewhere. There isn’t any economic activity on that railway to guarantee return on investment in the foreseeable future,” he said in a TV interview. “I don’t know what happened because I was not there, I wish I were there because I could have advised otherwise. There are lots of populist issues that were brought in that are costing us and that increased the debt burden.”

Like the Kikuyu saying goes, every mongoose to its hole, political players are engaged in some rearrangements as they angle for a future without President Kenyatta by distancing themselves from Jubilee’s infractions.

Kimunya’s remarks on his government came in the wake of a letter by Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata to Kenyatta, warning him that Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) referendum push was stillborn.

Kang’ata, who replaced Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika during the purge on Ruto’s allies in Parliament, had been brought in as an ally of Kenyatta who would push the president’s business.

After Raila’s statement distancing himself from Jubilee failures, he also disowned his earlier position on the ongoing medics’ strike and asking the government to yield to their demands.

With the president remaining silent on major political issues that are being talked about, political analysts predict that the eve of the 2022 General Election will be characterised by high octane politics if recent happenings are anything to go by.

Political hemorrhage

University lecturer Gitile Naituli says it is unlikely that the political temperatures will cool as the country gears towards the next elections where Kenyatta will not be a contestant.

Prof Naituli says there is a possibility of the Jubilee government suffering serious political hemorrhage, having performed dismally on the economic front.

“The Jubilee government has not performed very well in managing the economy or addressing issues affecting the common mwananchi. That is why everyone is running away from them. Nobody wants to be associated with failure,” he says.

He says time is running out for the Jubilee government to salvage its legacy “having spent nearly half of the second term wrangling and shelving the Big Four agenda.”

“I think Ruto should be very happy that he was edged out of the inner circle since much of the blame is now going to Raila yet he is not officially in government. These are strange things that happen in politics,” he says.

Former Subukia MP Koigi wa Wamwere says political insiders trying to run away from government policies are acknowledging failures of the Jubilee regime. Political analyst Martin Andati says Kenyatta’s influence is diminishing and he is being isolated in his last days in office, but he will still influence the choosing of his successor.

[Additional reporting by Jacob Ng’etich]