Bit­ter ri­vals’ em­brace shakes up Kenyan pol­i­tics

Kuwait Times - - Analysis -

Asur­prise hand­shake be­tween Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta and op­po­si­tion leader Raila Odinga has stirred up Kenyan pol­i­tics as the long-time ri­vals set their sights on the 2022 elec­tions. Less than a year since Keny­atta was re-elected to a sec­ond and fi­nal term in a vote that Odinga called a farce, the two shook hands on March 9 af­ter weeks of secret talks. A warm em­brace at a golf tour­na­ment fol­lowed later. They said their rap­proche­ment would mean an end to the vi­o­lence, bit­ter­ness and po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity that fol­lowed last year’s elec­tions.

But ob­servers say the hand­shake sig­nalled that Keny­atta and Odinga, who is also in the sun­set of his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, want to join forces so they can in­flu­ence what hap­pens next. They say that it may show that Keny­atta in­tends to ditch a deal to ap­point Wil­liam Ruto, who is his deputy pres­i­dent but comes from a dif­fer­ent eth­nic group, as his suc­ces­sor. Keny­atta has said he still backs Ruto.

For Odinga, it shows he feels he has more bar­gain­ing power for him­self and his Luo eth­nic group as Keny­atta’s part­ner. “Ev­ery­body has had to go back to their draw­ing board and de­cide how they are go­ing to run in 2022,” said Ngun­jiri Wam­bugu, a law­maker from Keny­atta’s Ju­bilee party, a po­lit­i­cal alliance be­tween his Kikuyu eth­nic group and Ruto’s Kalen­jin. “This pact be­tween Keny­atta and Odinga has re­de­fined the race.”

Po­lit­i­cal vic­tory in a coun­try of 45 mil­lion with 44 eth­nic groups is usu­ally forged through eth­nic al­liances. Since in­de­pen­dence in 1963, Kikuyu and Kalen­jin have dom­i­nated gov­ern­ment. The two groups clashed af­ter dis­puted elec­tions in 2007, in vi­o­lence in­volv­ing many tribes that left 1,200 Kenyans dead. They were united ahead of the 2013 vote by Keny­atta in his Ju­bilee alliance. The Luo and other groups have of­ten felt ex­cluded by cen­tral gov­ern­ment and made their own NASA alliance, led by Odinga.

Ten­sions be­tween the Kikuyu and Luo groups con­trib­uted to a dis­pute be­tween Keny­atta’s fa­ther and the found­ing pres­i­dent, Jomo Keny­atta, and his vice pres­i­dent and Odinga’s fa­ther Oginga Odinga, in 1969. That set the stage for years of bit­ter ri­valry be­tween the two pow­er­ful fam­i­lies. The last staged hand­shake be­tween Keny­atta and Odinga was shortly af­ter the 2013 elec­tion when Odinga ac­cepted de­feat.

Deep-seated ten­sions

For now, the rap­proche­ment has calmed frac­tured pol­i­tics that has also dis­rupted the econ­omy and put off in­vestors. Odinga called off a months-long boy­cott by op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers of all gov­ern­ment busi­ness, in­clud­ing vet­ting Keny­atta’s min­is­ters. When they shook hands last month, the men said they plan to set up a joint of­fice to be led by loy­al­ists from both sides to “preach rec­on­cil­i­a­tion” across Kenya.

But few ob­servers be­lieve the truce will re­solve the deep-seated eth­nic ten­sions as Keny­atta and Odinga have promised. “Un­less there is sub­stance put into the hand­shake, it’ll be a lost op­por­tu­nity,” said Maina Kiai, hu­man rights campaigner. “Anger in the coun­try has not been dealt with.” Cases linked to the vi­o­lence af­ter the 2007 elec­tion against Keny­atta and Ruto at the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court in The Hague col­lapsed.

The po­lice killings of op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers that marred both the Au­gust elec­tion and the re-run in Oc­to­ber that took place af­ter the Supreme Court an­nulled the ini­tial poll are also still fresh in Kenyan minds. The Ju­bilee alliance was also forged on the premise that the pop­u­lous Kikuyus and Kalen­jins would stick to­gether to lock out Odinga or other op­po­si­tion chal­lengers. The Kalen­jins may be up­set if Keny­atta does not let Ruto take the helm of the alliance with a view to the pres­i­dency in 2022.

Ruto de­clined re­quests for an in­ter­view but his al­lies dis­missed sug­ges­tions that his pres­i­den­tial prospects have taken a knock. “Those are peo­ple who don’t know Wil­liam Ruto. He is a very strate­gic and ex­pe­ri­enced politi­cian,” said na­tional assem­bly ma­jor­ity leader Aden Duale. The 73-year-old Odinga, a for­mer prime min­is­ter, has run un­suc­cess­fully for pres­i­dent four times and is not ex­pected to run again. A spokesman for Odinga de­clined to com­ment.

But bring­ing him closer to the cen­ter of power could cause up­set on both sides. “Ju­bilee should be cau­tious so that Raila does not mess it ahead of 2022,” Kithure Kindiki, Ju­bilee’s deputy speaker in the sen­ate, was quoted by lo­cal me­dia af­ter the hand­shake. Odinga’s fel­low op­po­si­tion coali­tion par­ties are also un­happy, with sev­eral ac­cus­ing him of be­trayal. If Odinga can bring Keny­atta the sup­port of his for­mi­da­ble po­lit­i­cal base, he may not be as re­liant on Ruto and can talk to other po­lit­i­cal lead­ers.

Keny­atta could also turn to Gideon Moi. The sea­soned politi­cian and se­na­tor from the size­able Kalen­jin com­mu­nity is the son of for­mer Pres­i­dent Daniel arap Moi, who made Keny­atta his pro­tege. “Keny­atta has pulled the clas­sic di­vide-and-rule move of the cun­ning pres­i­dent, cre­at­ing as many po­ten­tial al­liances as pos­si­ble in or­der to avoid em­pow­er­ing any one suc­ces­sor,” said Nic Cheese­man, pro­fes­sor of democ­racy at the Univer­sity of Birm­ing­ham. “This will help him to man­age Gideon Moi, Wil­liam Ruto and oth­ers with their own pres­i­den­tial am­bi­tions.” —Reuters

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