Try as he might to assure supporters of his National Super Alliance (Nasa) that he is committed to opposition unity, Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka continues to attract speculation about his loyalty.
This week, in particular, speculation has been rife that Mr Musyoka recently held a night meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta in Mombasa to plot a pre-election pact with Jubilee. He was forced to issue a statement denying such a meeting. But it did not help matters that he presented his Wiper presidential nomination papers on Wednesday, something critics latched on even though co-principals Raila Odinga (ODM), Musalia Mudavadi (ANC) and Moses Wetang’ula (Ford Kenya) has each previously been fronted by his party as a candidate.
Mr Musyoka maintained that he was only fulfilling a legal requirement that he first gets the nod from his party before engaging his counterparts. Here again, he categorically maintained he was in Nasa “to stay”.
The experienced politician’s apparent wavering has occasionally earned him negative attributes, including being labelled a “watermelon”.
Former Bahari MP and close ally of Mr Musyoka, Mr Joe Khamisi, faulted the former Vice-President for his penchant for displaying mixed signals.
“Kalonzo has said many times that he is misunderstood. That may be true. And his lack of clarity on many issues appears to be contributing to that misunderstanding,” he said.
In 2002, for instance, then Vice-President George Saitoti and Mr Odinga, then Energy minister, led a mass walkout from the ruling party Kanu to form the National Rainbow Coalition ahead of the elections, Mr Musyoka stayed put, causing anxiety among colleagues, before defecting at the last minute.
Five years later, signs of Mr Musyoka’s exit plot from the opposition forces started showing on July 7, 2007 when, at a joint rally in Mombasa’s Khadija grounds, he was heckled by perceived supporters of Mr Odinga shouting “nyundo” (hammer in a play of words on Mr Odinga’s Hummer vehicle).
From then on, recalls Mr Khamisi, Mr Musyoka plotted to decamp and no amount of explanation or persuasion was convincing enough. And, despite sharing a platform with his colleagues thereafter in Nakuru and maintaining he would not quit, Mr Musyoka eventually decided to go it alone.
In his book, The Politics of Betrayal: Diary of a Kenyan Legislator, Mr Khamisi chronicles dramatic episodes and detailed manoeuvres that led to the exit and the role he played in sealing the deal with President Mwai Kibaki’s PNU that helped Mr Musyoka capture the vice- presidency.
Of the four Nasa presidential aspirants, Mr Musyoka has been in government longest since 1985 and been in opposition for just about six years – four years under President Kenyatta and two years under the Kibaki administration after he was fired following the government’s defeat in the 2005 referendum.
In a way, therefore, Mr Musyoka answers to the quote by German theoretical physicist Albert Einstein who famously observed that, “if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” In other words, some current criticisms against Mr Musyoka may be too harsh considering that he needs to be judged with a slightly different marking scheme.
Unlike Mr Odinga, for instance, whose primary backers have for decades fought political battles from the opposition, Mr Musyoka’s are just learning to put up with the “hazardous political weather” in the opposition.
In western Kenya, the voters are known to independently make up their mind and have twice dumped two vice-presidents as MPs – Mr Mudavadi in 2002 and Mr Moody Awori in 2007. Like Mr Odinga, therefore, Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula have no major task in asking their supporters to stay intact in Nasa.
But the ball game is different in Mr Musyoka’s case. He has an Herculean task in keeping his impatient supporters, largely in Ukambani, in one basket. This is why some like the Ford-Kenya leader say his colleague needs to be accorded more space to get his act together.
Mr Wetang’ula is convinced the Wiper leader will not leave Nasa: “I have known Kalonzo since 1985 and I can assure you he is not the wavering type. He has repeatedly said he is firmly in Nasa and questioning the same over and over is utter mischief.”
Some observers have stated that Mr Musyoka is only upping his game in order to favourably compete for the Nasa presidential ticket.
The former Prime Minister, whose Orange outfit is the largest parliamentary party and who leads Nasa competitors in approval ratings according to latest opinion polls, is Mr Musyoka’s most formidable challenger.
Yet there is another theory that Mr Mudavadi, and not Mr Odinga, may be the actual target of Mr Musyoka’s latest political moves. The reaction by Mr Mudavadi, on Wednesday, that those determined to jump ship “would be punished by the electorate”, almost confirms this notion.
A Wiper MP confided to the Sunday Nation that there is a feeling among Mr Musyoka’s supporters that Mr Odinga, who quickly embraced Mr Mudavadi’s Nasa, has a soft spot for the former Deputy Prime Minister. In 2007, the Raila-Mudavadi pair ran an electrifying campaign against President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity, in which many observers believe they won.
“Nobody is saying we are resigned to the Number Two slot. We are fighting for Kalonzo to fly the Nasa flag, but in this game you also do not leave anything to chance, just in the event the coveted position slips through our fingers,” said the second-term MP.
The situation is also being poisoned by aspirants for other positions. During a recent meeting with political party leaders within Ukambani, including Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana, former Cabinet ministers Charity Ngilu, Mutua Katuku and former Assistant Minister Wavinya Ndeti, they declared that Mr Musyoka must be handed the Nasa ticket.
The threats are reminiscent of the events within the original ODM-Kenya that led to Kalonzo’s eventual walkout in 2007.
The tough stance taken by the Ukambani leaders can logically achieve two goals – ensure the region votes as a bloc and separately generate a pro-Kalonzo wave, with which politicians can easily ride to Parliament.
Alternatively, the leaders may be persuaded by selfish reasons to impress upon the Wiper leader to hand them direct nomination tickets. In Ukambani’s instance, Kitui County governor’s slot presents the biggest headache for Mr Musyoka. Besides the incumbent, Dr Julius Malombe – whom he has been accused of attempting to hand a direct ticket – Ms Ngilu, the Narc party leader, and Wiper party chairman David Musila, are also eyeing the seat.
An ODM official from Nyanza region claims that Mr Musyoka may not even be aware that he has been joined by newcomers from other professions, who have been in close collaboration with State House, and whose primary aim could be to wreck the Nasa boat from within.
“He (Kalonzo) may have received these aspirants for elective seats with open arms thinking they will help him consolidate his support in his Ukambani backyard and ultimately clinch the Nasa presidential ticket, yet the Uhuru and Ruto associates have been tasked to tear Kalonzo from Raila, Mudavadi and Wetang’ula,” charges the vocal first-term legislator.
The resilient push by Wiper is also persuaded by two factors. According to Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana, the three Ukambani counties of Machakos, Makueni and Kitui have registered “more numbers” this time round, including in the “Ukambani diaspora”, a factor which he says boosts Kalonzo’s bargain for the top seat.
Separately, Minority Leader in the National Assembly Francis Nyenze cites a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2013 by Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka that apparently indicated the ODM leader would serve one term before his Wiper counterpart takes over. But Mr Odinga is on record describing the demand as impractical, “because we were not recognised to have won and so there is nothing to hand over to my brother”.
In the meantime, whether Mr Musyoka’s hard angling for the presidency is geared at consolidating support in his Ukambani backyard or upping his game with a view to clinching the Nasa flagbearer ticket, there is no denying the development is creating anxiety and perfect room for the rival Jubilee to exploit.
According to Khamisi, the previous Raila-Kalonzo breakup started on a much lighter and inconsequential note, but it quickly developed to a rift beyond repair.