Last Wednesday, Mr Kipruto arap Kirwa sat pensively through the official signing ceremony of the National Super Alliance (Nasa) pact in Lavington, Nairobi. For the former Agriculture minister, it was a reminder of the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) that ended the independence party’s four-decade long rule in 2002.
“The events at Lavington quickly transported me to the momentous events of 2002 when we hammered out a political pact that eventually swept Kanu out of power. The mood was the same on Wednesday just like the will of the Kenyan people now,” Mr Kirwa told the Nation.
On Wednesday, though, Mr Kirwa sat in deep thought, almost lonely and unnoticed by many as one of the 2002 opposition heroes. Unlike his colleagues at the time Mr Raila Odinga and Mr Kalonzo Musyoka, Mr Kirwa was not among the four Nasa principals on the high table.
The only other Narc leaders absent from the Nasa formation are former President Mwai Kibaki and former Vice-President Moody Awori, who have since retired from elective politics and former Lands Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu. One-time vice-presidents Michael Kijana Wamalwa and George Saitoti, who complete the list of the NARC-8, have since died.
There are, indeed, a number of similarities between the 2002 and 2017 scenarios. All were politically active Narc principals – Mr Odinga, Mr Musyoka and Mr Kirwa – while Mrs Ngilu, who was fired by President Uhuru Kenyatta over corruption allegations, has been leaning towards the opposition after dissociating herself from Jubilee.
Similarly, this year’s elections – pitting the same political teams – are in a way a replica of the 2002 contest. The Nasa brigade is coming up against the same candidate. In 2002, Mr Kenyatta was presidential candidate of then ruling party, Kanu, with William Ruto as one of his key lieutenants. The two now carry the Jubilee re-election ticket.
And, just like 15 years ago, the Nasa campaign mainly rides on the theme of change – advocacy on national reconciliation and resolving of historical injustices. In fact the seven campaign pillars unveiled by Nasa have a striking similarity with those of Narc.
Nasa, just like Narc, says it plans to transform governance structures, fight corruption, eradicate poverty and address the unemployment question. Unlike Nasa, though, which does not offer projection figures on the latter, Narc manifesto gave a figure of 500,000 jobs a year.
This is how Prof Saitoti summed up Narc’s goals: “Thus the critical task of a Narc government will be to deliver better education and health care, safer streets and better roads, jobs, power and a system of government that prevents abuse and corruption.”
But there are also differences, in terms of composition, between Narc and Nasa. Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi, who teamed up with Mr Kenyatta in 2002, is now in the opposition.
Another notable addition to the team is Siaya Senator James Orengo, who unsuccessfully vied for the presidency in 2002 on a Social Democratic Party ticket.
The lawyer played a central role in the preparation of the legal paperwork and overseeing the signing of the Nasa pact, a role played by current Supreme Court Judge Njoki Ndung’u during a similar ceremony for Narc.
Since the success story of Narc, coalitions of various forms have become part of Kenya’s political culture. These formations have revolved around party or regional political leaders pulling together.
From, “leading lights” under Narc in 2002, “the Pentagon” under ODM in 2007 and “principals” within PNU, Cord and Jubilee in 2007 and 2013, key leaders of the coalitions have been referred to differently each time.
Last year, Jubilee moved two bring its main affiliates – TNA and URP – and at least 10 others into one party, but it is still perceived to revolve around an arrangement between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto.
Nonetheless, the coalitions have had their fair share of challenges, especially with regard to signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoU).
Despite registering a historic win against the independence party, for instance, unity among Narc leaders collapsed almost immediately after Mr Kibaki trashed the MoU once he was in power. The MoU had, among other provisions, the appointment of Mr Odinga as Prime Minister and Prof Saitoti as Deputy PM.
Historian and political analyst Macharia Munene says that the Nasa arrangement is cosmetic and quite slippery. According to him, Nasa might be faced with a big challenge of holding together once it names a presidential candidate.
Prof Munene singles out Mr Musyoka as the politician who is most likely “to walk out, get wooed by the rival Jubilee or lose support” in his Ukambani backyard if he fails to clinch the Nasa presidential ticket.
However, Mr Kirwa dismisses such a possibility: “I want to disagree with the notion that there is a weaker or exceptionally stronger candidate among the four principals. They are all experienced politicians who have the capacity to lead this country better than the two guys in power now. Besides, Nasa is not fronting a one-man leadership arrangement but rather a partnership where we shall all be players.”
The ANC deputy party leader also believes that, unlike the gentleman’s agreement he signed alongside seven other Narc “leading lights”, the one signed on Wednesday is anchored on law and details of the same have been deposited with the Registrar of Political Parties.
However, Nasa has an uphill task to dethrone Jubilee who, besides enjoying incumbency, have a huge support base and political leaders who are resilient and schemers par excellence.