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Why Kalonzo may hold the key to opposition’s rise to power

One only needs to envision a “Kalonzoless” National Super Alliance to appreciate the positive attributes that former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka brings to the new political outfit’s table. He is a highly prized team member without whom Nasa would lose face of being representative of the face of Kenya.

This partly explains why most presidential formulations being touted by opposition insiders revolve around the politician from Tseikuru in Kitui. Each presidential ticket being weighted and deemed reportedly features Mr Musyoka, either as the presidential candidate or running mate. Most combinations that exclude Kalonzo, for instance Musalia MudavadiMoses Wetang’ula, cannot fly.

This reality underscores Mr Musyoka’s crucial advantage over other aspirants, with regard to the geographical mapping of Kenyan politics. The Wiper leader hails from the Lower Eastern region while both Musalia and Wetang’ula are from the Western Kenya region. And although he has played his politics in Nairobi where he has been a Member of Parliament for 15 years, Raila Odinga enjoys the largest following in Nyanza region, which neighbours western.

These factors explain why Nasa’s Mr Musyoka is currently the most sought-after political bride in the country ahead of the August polls. Jubilee rivals, led by Deputy President William Ruto, have particularly been on a charm offensive well aware that winning over Mr Musyoka will kill off the presidential contest and expose Nasa as a largely regional outfit.

POLITICAL WOES

Mr Musyoka’s apparent indispensability is further boosted by the political woes of his perennial Ukambani rival, Charity Ngilu. Although a fiery politician and a good grassroots mobiliser, Mrs Ngilu is relatively not politically attractive this time around.

She was fired from her Cabinet post by the Jubilee administration over alleged improprieties committed in the Lands ministry, and it is unlikely that Nasa – which has been taunting Jubilee over rampant corruption – will be enthusiastic to have her in their amidst. Previously Mrs Ngilu and Mr Musyoka have been used interchangeably by rival political formations to deliver the Kamba vote.

Mr Musyoka seems well aware of his prized value and has been pushing hard for a better deal within Nasa. During Nasa’s unveiling at the Bomas of Kenya on January 11th, Kalonzo sent clear signals that he would do a very serious bidding for the presidency this time around: “I have since realised that one gets the top prize, not necessarily because they deserve it but rather because they have negotiated for it well”.

IS SERIOUS

Speaking to this writer recently, Mr Musyoka was categorical he was serious this time around. Stating he had sacrificed a lot for this country, particularly after joining opposition politics, he expressed optimism over clinching the Nasa ticket. But he could not grant a lengthy interview via phone: “This thing (presidential race) is serious, my friend. You must find me physically, enable me to interrogate and build trust in you, before I can open up”.

Much as recent opinion polls by Ipsos Synovate place former Prime Minister Raila Odinga as the most popular aspirant at the moment within Nasa, these findings do not in any way seal the fate of Mr Musyoka and other hopefuls. According to Dr Tom Wolf, a political analyst and lead researcher at Ipsos Synovate, Mr Odinga may be partly registering favourable results owing to the widely held perception that he is the chosen one already.

Some within Nasa believe, like Mr Musyoka who has publicly pronounced himself on this issue, that Kenyans may be fatigued by a Mr Odinga candidature. Those who agree with this notion single out Mr Musyoka as the fresh and surprise ticket that Nasa needs so badly.

‘BREATHES FRESHNESS’

To hide behind political analyst Barrack Muluka’s opinion: “The ticket that puts Kalonzo (and Musalia Mudavadi) on the ballot paper breathes freshness and excitement in the Nasa effort, regardless of who plays which role”.

But some of his strong points that work for him are the very ones that believably work against him. Appreciating that Mr Musyoka’s geographical location accords the Nasa outfit a national outlook. But a vocal politician from western Kenya regrets that this factor might not work in Mr Musyoka’s favour.

“The presidential ticket will go to either Mr Odinga or Mr Mudavadi, because Mr Musyoka would be a hard sale to our people,” said the MP who did not wish to be named for fear of being fingered for fueling internal fights within the umbrella coalition.

“It is bad enough to deny our people Mr Mudavadi or Mr Wetang’ula as the flag bearer, and if that happens they will not mind settling for the second best who is our neighbour (Mr Odinga). But edging out the three of them, who jointly command over 60 per cent of the Nasa support base, in support of our brother in Tseikuru will be unacceptable,” opined the legislator.

BEST PICK

Separately, there are a host of factors that work in favour of Mr Musyoka as Nasa’s best pick, including his long work experience, personal appeal and international connections courtesy of his long stint as Foreign Affairs minister in two separate governments.

Former Agriculture minister Kipruto arap Kirwa points out that Mr Musyoka, who first entered Parliament through a by-election in 1985, has actually been around longer in elective politics than been any of the three Nasa presidential hopefuls. His first attempt to join elective politics was actually in 1983 when he unsuccessfully vied for the Kitui North parliamentary seat.

“He has actually served in the Cabinet longer than any of us, starting off as an assistant minister in 1986 before serving in various ministries under Presidents Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki. But because of his charisma and style, so many of us still think that Mr Odinga has been in government and served in the Cabinet longer than anyone else within the opposition today,” says Kirwa of Mr Musyoka’s experience, which he considers a pointer to his ability to govern ably.

EXPANDED SPACE

Over the decades, Mr Musyoka has similarly expanded his political space and control over other regions outside the Ukambani region. When he ran for presidency in 2007, for instance, the Wiper party leader largely won parliamentary seats from his Ukambani backyard. In the last elections, his Wiper party won several seats across the country, including Alego-Usonga in Luo Nyanza.

At least two governors from outside Ukambani, Hassan Dado Tuneya (Tana River) and Nathif Jama Adan (Garissa) were elected on the Wiper party. And to date, Mr Musyoka’s party continues to spread its wings in areas previously perceived as strongholds of Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement.

On the campaign trail, he is impressive in his microphone-friendly voice and has quickly learnt to be hard-hitting. He is no longer a pro-system politician and government apologist, qualities initially attributed to him when he joined politics in the 1980s.

His backers also argue that unlike the ODM leader and Leader of Minority in the Senate Mr Wetang’ula, he attracts less hostility and resentment from residents in the perceived Jubilee strongholds in Rift Valley and Central Kenya. His candidature, according to this argument, is unlikely to attract a high voter-turnout – a prerequisite for Nasa’s win.

UKAMBANI SUPPORT

His positive attributes notwithstanding, Mr Musyoka poses a major headache to Nasa strategists. Unlike Mr Odinga, who has a relatively firm grip on his supporters and whom Dr Wolf says “can move them to support another candidate with ease”, Nasa risks losing out on some support in Ukambani if Mr Musyoka fails to clinch the presidential ticket.

The current opinion polls notwithstanding, the Ipsos Synovate researcher observers that Mr Musyoka has a realistic chance of clinching the Nasa ticket and winning the presidency altogether in August. The success of a Nasa candidate, says Dr Wolf, will depend on how he is packaged and the willingness of other aspirants to fully back the chosen one.

On Saturday, Mr Musyoka rubbished reports that he owns a secret foreign account, terming them a strategy by Jubilee to dent his chances of clinching the Nasa presidential ticket.

He said the Kalonzo Musyoka Foundation, which has so far assisted more than 2,000 students from underprivileged backgrounds throughout Kenya, operates above board.

“These people have just realised that Kalonzo is becoming more and more popular. This is just a strategy to derail my chances to be the Nasa presidential candidate. It is bound to fail,” Mr Musyoka said as he addressed public rallies he addressed at Kinna and Garba-Tulla trading centres in Isiolo.

He wondered why the reports were disseminated to the Press without him having been informed first.

“To prove their mischief, Jubilee decided to send the false report to the media to ensure bad publicity instead of the procedural process of serving the affected party first,” he said.

Additional reporting by Dennis Kavisu.

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