Hard choices for Uhuru in Raila’s Azimio campaign

Written by on 11 April 2022

Top aides of President Uhuru Kenyatta are divided over whether the Head of State should hold public rallies to campaign for his Handshake partner Raila Odinga ahead of the August 9 presidential contest.

Those opposed to Uhuru folding up his sleeves to actively campaign for Raila say the outgoing President is likely to find himself in mudslinging and all sorts of negativity.

Opponents to the idea of the President launching an aggressive campaign for Raila, particularly in his Mt Kenya backyard where he has appeared to face hostility, say he is likely to be confronted with incidents of booing that could embarrass the Head of State.

“Chances are high you may not see the Head of State on a campaign trail for Raila as earlier anticipated. We do not wish to see a scenario where the President is heckled by crowds. It is also possible his involvement in campaigns will attract all sorts of embarrassing mudslinging from our rivals,” said a highly placed State House official who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Sources told People Daily some of the President’s handlers want him to avoid being caught at the centre of his succession undercurrents by not being engaged in aggressive campaigns for Raila.

Those in this school of thought are proposing that the President should resort to targeted town hall meetings in selected towns in Mt Kenya with increased reception of delegations at State House.

But Laikipia Governor Nderitu Muriithi, one of Uhuru’s close allies and the chairman of the Raila Odinga Presidential Campaign Secretariat Board, insists the President will be actively involved in the campaigns.

“Time is not yet ripe for the Head of State to come out strongly. He has already decided to support Raila and there is nothing that will stop him from pushing his candidate to the end,” says Muriithi.

Sources intimated that the fears by the President’s aides to let him engage in campaigns were informed by intelligence information that certain politicians from Central and the larger Mt Kenya region may have organised youth to heckle him at rallies.

The argument is augmented by an incident at Sagana State lodge on February 23 where a group of youth posing as Jubilee supporters caused chaos at the gate before they overpowered security officers and forced their way into the President’s meeting with opinion leaders from the region.

Notably, the youth did not have invitation cards but insisted on being allowed to access the venue while others forced their way into the compound through the fence.

“This was a well-choreographed incident by some leaders from the region for the youth to heckle the President at the State lodge. The same leaders have already hired youth, waiting to repeat the same thing at any rally held by the President in any part of Mt Kenya,” says the State House source.

Rude shock

Murithi says things would drastically change once the President enters the fray and starts campaigning for the Azimio la Umoja candidate.

“The people of Central Kenya are waiting for the President to give them direction which they will follow. Those thinking that the Mountain is pro-the Deputy President will be in for a rude shock when the President starts campaigns,” Muriithi says.

There are also fears that by holding public rallies to campaign for Raila, Uhuru could be “confirming” Deputy President William Ruto and his allies’ narrative that Raila is a “State Project.”

Pundits warn that joining the campaign trail for Raila could give the DP a chance to play the victim by painting himself as a self-made politician from a humble background who understands the needs of the poor majority.

Indeed, the DP has repeatedly painted himself as “a man from a simple background (hustler) out to challenge the dominance of the dynasties in the country.

State House forces

Ruto and his allies, Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi, Ford Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula, Rigathi Gachagua, Aden Duale and others have used the “puppet” tag to hammer Raila.

“The puppet label has not augured well for Raila. It is now the time the President left him to be his own man. Let Raila assert himself and chart his path without being seen as being remotely controlled by Uhuru,” says Prof Macharia Munene, a former lecturer at USIU-Africa and a political analyst.

Prof Munene says that by disengaging himself from active campaigns for his preferred successor, the President would also be sending a message that he “does not wish to be seen to be interfering too much in his succession politics.”

“That would be the right decision for both Raila and Uhuru, particularly for the former who has been seen as a weakling being controlled by some forces at State House. On the other hand, the President would have avoided the mudslinging that would come with his entry onto the campaign trail,” says Prof Munene.

The don says that President can still campaign for Raila indirectly by using development projects and closed-door meetings to influence voters.

In the event he overestimates his influence in Central and the larger Mt Kenya region, the President could occasion voter apathy that would work against his preferred pick, again putting him in a tricky corner, some analysts have also warned.

“It is quite a tricky situation for the President, but it is upon him to use his judgment and decide the right path to follow. After all, the President is an accomplished politician with a wide experience that he cannot get wrong,” says nominated Jubilee MP Maina Kamanda, one of the President’s allies.

The President had been scheduled to kick-off aggressive campaigns for Raila, particularly in his Mt Kenya backyard at the end of February, but decided to reschedule it for unknown reasons.

Uhuru had planned to tour several development projects and hold a series of rallies in the region beginning end of February all through to April, campaigning for Raila.

Uhuru, whose second and final term ends in August, has given clear signals he is keen to have Raila, and not Ruto, as his successor.

Despite Uhuru exiting the political scene after completing his 10-year constitutional term as the Head of State, Jubilee has agreed to have him steer the party in the 2022 General Election.

Ruto has intensified campaigns countrywide, often declaring his confidence in winning the election while dismissing the support Raila is getting from the ruling party and the government.

Central politics

Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru yesterday warned that the President “will be surprised that the mountain moved a long time ago and it’s solidly in the United Democratic Alliance (UDA)” by the time he attempts to join the campaigns.

“Let his advisers give him proper advice that he completely keeps off the campaigns. Mt Kenya region has already decided and there is nothing he can do to change that,” Waiguru says.

But proponents of the idea of Uhuru entering the campaign trail argue that failure to do that would depict him as being non-committed to his handshake partner.

Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu says the ground in Mt Kenya has greatly changed and that those thinking the region can turn hostile against the President in favour of Ruto do not understand the politics of the region well.

“They will be in for a big surprise when the President decides to move to the ground. Things will change as people listen to him as their leader,” says Wambugu.

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