Endorsement of Mariga by Uhuru leaves all guessing
By Oscar Obonyo
Wednesday evening’s endorsement of Jubilee party’s candidate for the Kibra by-election, MacDonald Mariga, by President Uhuru Kenyatta, has stirred up political intrigues, suspicions and mistrust in Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and the ruling party.
While the meeting at State House would ordinarily not raise eyebrows, given that the Uhuru is Jubilee leader, the pre-poll hype by some ruling party members had given the impression that the President was either indifferent about the by-election or that he would support the ODM candidate, Imran Okoth.
The President’s “harmless” gesture on Wednesday, therefore, elicited excitement, shock and disapproval in the two rival Jubilee factions—Kieleweke, which is allied to the President and Tanga Tanga, which is reportedly pro Deputy President William Ruto. And even some Raila backers were caught off-guard by the State House event.
Attempts to decode Uhuru’s intentions were further compounded by what is now his carrot and stick— or at times, ambivalent— approach to issues.
On the same day, he gave the Jubilee Kibra campaign team a major boost by not only hosting and endorsing Mariga, the President cancelled the Kimwarer Dam project in Elgeyo Marakwet county attracting furious reaction from leaders allied to DP Ruto.
“Elgeyo Marakwet county has been denied the rightful share of national projects in a deliberate act of discrimination. We’re consulting as people of Elgeyo Marakwet and we shall do everything to ensure that justice is done,” said Senate Leader of Majority, Kipchumba Murkomen. The President ordered the immediate cancellation of the Sh22 billion project on grounds that it was not financially and technically viable.
And yesterday, more confusion reigned when one of the President’s key allies, Nominated MP Maina Kamanda, defied his party boss’ call by declaring his support for the ODM candidate in the Kibra race. Pointedly, Kamanda made the declaration at a press conference at Raila’s private office in Upper Hill, Nairobi. The ODM leader was in attendance.
The People Daily has reliably established that Kamanda was on a mission to “mend” the delicate Uhuru-Raila ties, which may have been jolted by his unexpected public support for Mariga. To ODM, Mariga is not really the issue, but rather the bigger issue of the President’s trust and believability, following the Handshake deal of March 9, 2018.
To underscore the delicate nature of the Handshake, one Orange allied MP from Western Kenya, who did not wish to be quoted for fear of being victimised, warned that the President’s public support for Mariga was demonstration enough that he was “a politician anyway, like any other, who cannot not be trusted, and this should serve as a warning shot to Raila”.
However, ODM chairman, John Mbadi, denied suggestions that Raila is playing into Uhuru’s net. He said the reception accorded to Mariga by the President has absolutely nothing to do with the Handshake.
He added that the relationship between the President and former Premier is grounded on solid foundation, out of a common understanding to heal and unite the nation.
“If he went to campaign in Kibra for Mariga and said something about my party leader or the Handshake, then that would get me very concerned, if not agitated,” said Mbadi, who is Leader of Minority in the National Assembly.
Nonetheless, there was excitement among Jubilee MPs, particularly those allied to the DP, following Mariga’s endorsement by Uhuru. The move was a big plus, particularly to Ruto, who is alleged to have solely pushed through his “project” – Mariga.
In a way, therefore, Uhuru endorsement served to take away the Ruto project tag. And the DP could not hide his excitement: “Now that Mariga Jubilee’s Kibra candidate was cleared by IEBC and formally unveiled today by our Party leader, it is all systems go. The ball is squarely in the court of all of us leaders serving under President Uhuru Kenyatta, party members and supporters to deliver the seat. Twende kazi jameni,” he tweeted.
And congratulating the President for unveiling Mariga as the party’s candidate in Kibra, Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, a key member of the anti-Ruto Kieleweke outfit, maintained that the ex-international soccer star was a Ruto candidate: “It is also clear that Mariga is a stress-test on how strong the Handshake is. But - it is also clear that Tanga Tanga have had to accept that if Mariga was to go to Kibra as a ‘Ruto candidate’ he would lose embarrassingly. This is why they had to do everything possible to have Uhuru unveil him as a Jubilee candidate”.
However, Jubilee’s deputy secretary general, Caleb Kositany, maintained the President was fully behind Mariga’s candidature. According to the Soy MP, the President’s diary was too full through the week to receive Mariga.
But Mbadi said: “This guy was taken to him (President) and being the leader of Jubilee party, he had no choice but meet him. Or did you expect Kenyatta to kick Mariga out of State House?”
The furore caused by Mariga’s reception at State House notwithstanding, history indicates the President has anyway been receiving candidates from his party ahead of by-elections during his second term in office.