There are two dilemmas that rattle the human skull: How do you hang on to someone who won’t stay? And how do you get rid of someone who won’t go?” This dilemma, as famously captured by America’s renowned filmmaker Danny DeVito, may well be President Uhuru Kenyatta’s political agony of the moment.
On the one hand is a loyal Deputy President and on the other a bitter political opponent turned ally — all keen at guaranteeing his last term in office is smooth and successful.
Unfortunately for the President, the rivalry between Deputy President William Ruto and Opposition leader Raila Odinga runs so deep that its recent eruption should not come as a surprise.
Mr Ruto accuses Mr Odinga of engineering political manoeuvres aimed at undermining him and destroying the ruling Jubilee Party. The ODM party leader and his allies have responded with similar vitriol, accusing Mr Ruto of undermining the handshake between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.
Plainly put, these are two valuable players that the President will need delicate balancing skills to have them both on one side. Similarly, falling out with either of them just one year into his term is an unattractive option.
Conceding the President would be happier if Mr Ruto and Mr Odinga got along well, Jubilee vice chairman David Murathe nonetheless says the President is more focused on delivering his Big Four Agenda to secure his legacy.
“Contrary to the fears of some, the President has no headache or dilemma whatsoever from or over the two gentlemen. Through the historic handshake, Raila has accorded the President an opportunity to peacefully execute his development agenda and shape his legacy, while Ruto is helping in the day-to-day running of government,” says Mr Murathe, a close ally of the President.
Nonetheless, the allies of Mr Odinga and Mr Ruto have a less rosy outlook. National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohamed is categorical that the Deputy President is frustrating the handshake and disrupting Mr Kenyatta’s development agenda.
Last week, the Suna East MP exclusively told Sunday Nation that the Deputy President was behind attempts to block the passage of the President’s memorandum amending the Finance Bill 2018 during a chaotic House sitting last month.
The aim, claimed the ODM MP, was to show that the DP had control of Parliament and frustrate the deal between the President and the opposition leader. Mr Ruto and his allies have since accused Mr Odinga of working to wreck Jubilee.
According to Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot, it is unlikely that the dilemma faced by President will fizzle “as long as Raila continues to hide behind the handshake to cause rifts within our party”. The Jubilee senator says before the Orange party leader surfaced, the ruling party had a clear succession plan.
No amount of negotiations or mediations, says Mr Cheruiyot, will convince some in Jubilee to embrace Mr Odinga, “unless he stops undermining the Deputy President”.
Claiming the initial plan was to offer the opposition leader “some senior position in government”, the senator wonders why Mr Odinga did not take up the job “instead of causing trouble”.
Asked about the position Mr Odinga was offered, Mr Cheruiyot responded curtly, “nenda mmuulize, yeye mwenyewe anajua (he is best placed to tell you, go and ask him)”
However, Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu says outbursts over Mr Odinga’s alleged “political conmanship” are meant to show the public that the President made a mistake in striking a deal with the Orange party leader. “They are saying that Uhuru doesn’t know what he’s doing. It’s all meant to undermine the President by showing that he made a decision that was wrong,” says the MP, adding that this stand is linked to Mr Ruto’s 2022 ambitions.
According to Mr Wambugu, the DP’s camp believes Mr Kenyatta made their work harder by making peace with Mr Odinga. “It’s easier to rally support, especially from the huge Mt Kenya bloc, when you are fighting a figure as divisive as Raila,” says the MP.
Mr Murathe appears to share similar sentiments, although he maintains the succession politics is not a source of the President’s troubles: “As he journeys across the country, William (Ruto) seems to be the only competitor in the ring (in the 2022 presidential race), and that can be a very lonely affair. It is only natural for him to taunt Tinga (Mr Odinga) so as to appear to have an opponent and to spice up the upcoming contest. This is understandable and the President is not having a headache over that.”
Dr Edward Kisiang’ani, a commentator on political affairs, agrees with Mr Murathe — that Mr Kenyatta is not in a dilemma over the Ruto-Raila squabbles. According to the Kenyatta university lecturer, the President may not openly endorse or campaign for Mr Ruto’s candidature in the near future but will just sit back and let things evolve.
However, Dr Kisiang’ani says apparent public disinterest does not mean inactivity in private. “Everything he has done lately, and every move he has made, has been against the interest of his deputy. And Ruto and his supporters have publicly protested at this.”
The history and political science lecturer points out at the lifestyle audit initiated by the President, fight against corruption, renewed evictions of local communities from the Mau forest and his stern warning over apparent mismanagement of funds meant for maize farmers, mostly in the Rift Valley region.
Dr Kisiang’ani’s take is that State House operatives are trying to build a case ahead of 2022 by exposing the Deputy President’s perceived ills before the public — and in the long run punch holes in his candidature.
The don believes that for Mr Odinga, the mission is to leave a statesmanlike legacy as one who united the country through the Building Bridges initiative with President Kenyatta, but also one who blocked Mr Ruto from the presidency. “He (Mr Ruto) has twice denied Mr Odinga that chance and for a politician, this would a very fulfilling revenge.”
But noting that Mr Odinga and Mr Ruto have previously worked together, Mr Murathe does not rule out a possibility of the two politicians teaming up in future. It is a scenario that could be a dream come true for Mr Kenyatta — or maybe not.