Political rivals give Uhuru dose of his own medicine

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Former President Uhuru Kenyatta who is also the Jubilee Party leader at the National Delegates Convention in Nairobi Ngong Racecourse on Monday May 22, 2023. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta has been paid with the same coin he used in dealing with his foes and allies while he presided over two former ruling parties.

In a remarkable parallel, Uhuru is encountering strikingly similar circumstances in two of his political parties at different points in time.

The sequence of events reflects a pattern of party infighting and realignments, akin to the former president’s strategy when he crafted a “ceasefire” with the opposition through the 2018 handshake. This subsequently led to taming of the opposition and its leader, Raila Odinga,  leaving the country without an active opposition.

He effectively neutered opposition from within as ODM aligned itself with the government in a move that brewed disaffection and saw some Jubilee officials sidelined.

In a historic turn of events that unfolded on November 29, 2006, Kanu, Kenya’s oldest and most dominant political party, found itself in the midst of a coup to eject Uhuru as the party leader.

The ousting of Uhuru, William Ruto as party secretary general and Henry Kosgey as vice chairman came as a direct consequence of the former president and his allies deciding to form an alliance with ODM.

At the time, the former Keiyo South MP Nicholas Biwott emerged as the new Kanu chairman, a position that marked a significant shift in the party’s leadership.

The government swiftly ratified the election of Biwott and his team of 19 officials, as confirmed in a letter issued by the Registrar of Societies.

Uhuru accused former President Mwai Kibaki and Cabinet Minister Martha Karua of orchestrating the unprocedural registration of the Biwott group as Kanu officials to weaken the opposition ahead of the 2007 General Election.

The fallout in Kanu followed Uhuru’s public declaration of support for ODM. The deepening divide between the two political figures further strained the relations. However, the Kanu coup led by Biwott and the subsequent reshuffling of leadership positions marked a new chapter in the party’s history.

Uhuru later warmed up to the government and made history of sorts when as the official opposition leader declined to contest the presidency in 2007 and instead supported Kibaki’s second stub at the presidency. He would later be rewarded with a post of a deputy prime minister and Cabinet docket in the grand coalition government that was formed after the disputed presidential election.

Fast forward, Uhuru has experienced a similar political setback within his Jubilee Party. The Political Parties Disputes Tribunal upheld the leadership changes by the Kanini Kega faction, effectively granting control of Jubilee to Ruto’s allies.

The changes now strip the former president and Azimio of significant leverage within Parliament where Ms Chege is the Deputy Minority Whip.

The events echo the party intrigues faced by Uhuru in the past. They underscore the dynamic nature of political alliances and the challenges faced in maintaining party cohesion.

The influence of Ruto within Azimio is reminiscent of Uhuru’s partnership with Raila Odinga and the move by Kibaki to engineer cracks in Kanu once it entered into partnership with ODM ahead of the 2007 polls.

However, if history is to repeat itself, this might not be the final blow to the former president’s grip on Jubilee. Despite Kanu take over in 2006, a defiant Uhuru vowed to retain his seat in Parliament as the Official Opposition Leader. His faction also refused to relinquish party positions.  

The defection of Jubilee MPs to Kenya Kwanza further illustrates the shifting political landscape, indicating the strategic moves by Ruto to consolidate his position and erode Uhuru’s support base and by extension that of Raila.

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