Kalonzo Musyoka: Could he be the next president?

As Kalonzo Musyoka engages high gear in his presidential campaign, questions linger:

- can he outsmart Raila Odinga in ODM

- What chances does he have to beat the incumbent President Mwai Kibaki

- Could he be rehearsing for 2012?

When he first contested for a parliamentary seat twenty four years ago, a local newspaper described him as “a little known Nairobi lawyer at best and a non-starter at worst.” The same could have been said in regard to his presidential ambitions five years ago when he first claimed stake in presidential nominations of then ruling party Kanu.

Today, as he seeks to be president on the opposition ODM-K ticket, only a person living in another country would refer to him as little known or a non-starter, for that matter. That Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka has since transformed into a serious presidential contender is no longer debatable.

What may be debatable today is how effectively he can mount and sustain an aggressive campaign to surmount other equally formidable contenders for the ultimate political prize in the country; the presidency.

Nevertheless, there is absolutely no doubt that Kalonzo has been causing more than his fair share of political ripples at the highest levels of the country’s political leadership.

Only last week, his minders were busy telling whoever cared to listen that Kalonzo is such a political threat that no lesser person than First Lady Lucy kibaki has found time to occasionally throw a jab at candidate Kalonzo which should confirm that he is the most potent threat to Kibaki in 2007. It is the same reasoning is offered every time Kalonzo’s rival within ODM, Raila Odinga, swings a veiled diatribe at the former.

On Tuesday last week the First lady issued a press statement in which she cautioned Kalonzo to refrain from attacking President Kibaki as “he had done nothing for his Mwingi North constituency in the 24 years he has been in parliament.”

It was in the same week when Raila sarcastically stated that “Mr. Steadman does not vote in Kenya” in reference to poll results by the Steadman research group which have consistently named Kalonzo the most popular candidate after the incumbent President Kibaki.

So what makes Kalonzo tick? Rather what is the trick that has made him such an important player in the presidential race, the man to beat in a relatively short period of just five years?

First is his good timing and having had the knack to make the right decision at the right time. Friend and foe agree that the best political decision Kalonzo ever made was to part ways with the then President Moi just before the 2002 election.

Kalonzo was in the group that walked out on Moi in Kanu when the then president insisted on imposing Uhuru Kenyatta as Kanu’s presidential nominee in that years’ election.

Had Kalonzo stuck in Kanu at a time when every politician worth his salt was bolting, chances are that today he would be a political nonentity and not the towering politician he has curved himself into.

Nevertheless Kalonzo may have placed himself in a strategic position for the big race but the tough job for him still lies ahead. And what happened within the next few months will be definitive in determining whether there will be President Kalonzo Musyoka come January 2008 or just Hon Kalonzo Musyoka, MP for Mwingi North.

Can Kalonzo outfox Raila Odinga in ODM?

As the clock ticks towards the 2007 general elections, one of the biggest challenges for Kalonzo will be figuring out how to deal with and ultimately tame the biggest and most immediate threat to his presidential bid in the form of the formidable Langata MP Raila Odinga.

Although on the surface the two give the impression that they are “best of friends”, it is clear that theirs is the kind of friendship where you do not need enemies as long as you have each other.

Between the two, Raila is the more experienced political operator having honed his skills in the trenches of political battles in the 80s. In a no-holds-barred fight, analysts believe that Raila has the capacity to leave Kalonzo thoroughly bruised politically if not vanquish him completely, never mind whether he uses a combination of fair and unfair means, orthodox and unorthodox tactics.

There is no doubt that Raila is famed for being a strategic and ruthlessly Machiavellian political bruiser. Recall how he dealt a fatal blow to Moi’s ambitions of installing Uhuru Kenyatta as his successor by converting his NDP-which had then joined up with Kanu-into a Trojan horse that ultimately brought down the ruling party?

Nevertheless, even the best of political fighters have their Achilles heel. In the case of Raila, he has over-exposed himself as a constant fighter and for this reason not many politicians outside his immediate sphere of influence find much to trust in him.

Kalonzo, on the other hand, has cultivated the image of a gentleman who can be trusted to keep his end of the bargain. This perception may or may not be true but it might come in handy for Kalonzo when it comes to the time for hard bargaining and horse-trading in ODM party. The trickiest issue however will be who among the two competitors has the upper hand in terms of controlling the party’s levers of power.

It is significant to note that the registered chairman of ODM-Kenya is one Daniel Maanzo, a city lawyer closely associated with the Kalonzo camp. What this means is that should push come to shove in ODM, Kalonzo may have the advantage of being close to the party chairman.

As cabinet minister Charity Ngilu has shown, having people closely allied to you take strategic positions in a party works like magic. Little wonder Ngilu’s powerful detractors in the Kibaki government have been unable to wrest Narc party from her despite having the government system on their side. Ngilu’s little trick? She had the party packed with her allies at its registration when everyone else was busy elsewhere.

Were a similar scenario to arise in ODM, chances are that Kalonzo could easily walk away with ODM-Kenya leaving Raila and those allied to him smarting to no avail. That the party chairman adopted Hnry Kosgey as chairman and Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o as secretary general with Larry Gumbe as interim executive director for political convenience without necessarily officially registering party officials, would have the upper hand.

Kalonzo versus Kibaki
Were Kalonzo to emerge, by some magical formula, the undisputed ODM presidential candidate, it would give him enough firepower to give President Kibaki not just a run for his money but a real life political scare.

Political analysts see Kalonzo as one candidate who, if he had the institutional support of ODM, could galvanise substantial share of voters against president Kibaki and easily make him an ignominious one-term president.

However, on the other hand, if ODM ship crashes spawning what one may baptize ODM-lets, chances of Kalonzo on his own putting together a team formidable enough to beat an incumbent will be rather slim. The same applies for all other ODM presidential candidates if they end up going it alone without the institutional umbrella of ODM.

Such a situation would be reminiscent of what happened to the opposition in 1992 when the opposition over-estimated the then president Moi’s vulnerability and went into war splintered only to be handed a humiliating defeat. The same story repeated itself again in 1997. But the opposition got a little wiser in 2002 (thanks to their corporate revulsion to a Uhuru presidency) and united under Mwai Kibaki to finally edge Kanu out of power.

The Moi factor in Kalonzo campaign
In the days when Kalonzo was president Moi’s trusted Foreign Affairs minister, the two had a chemistry that was the envy of many a politician save perhaps for the select few members of the president’s inner core team from the Rift Valley province.

Having caught Moi’s eye through the patronage of the then Ukambani Kanu supreme, the late Mulu Mutisya in the 80s, Kalonzo promptly got a vantage seat in the inner sanctum of the power structure of the Moi presidency.

Mulu Mutisya’s closeness to Moi easily rubbed off on Kalonzo and within no time, he too was enjoying close rapport with the then president. This rapport between the two continued up to that critical moment in 2002 at Kasarani when Moi declared his unequivocal preference for Uhuru Kenyatta as his chosen heir.

Kalonzo, who himself had started covertly nurturing presidential ambitions the moment it became clear that president Moi’s retirement was finally imminent joined hands with other prominent Kanu politicians Prof. George Saitoti, Raila Odinga, William Ole Ntimama, Joseph Kamotho and Musalia Mudavadi, to throw a most effective spanner in Moi’s works for Uhuru.

At the time, Kalonzo was viewed by many as the weakest link in the group-then calling itself the Rainbow Coalition- that had walked out on Moi over Uhuru. It was thus not surprising that Moi made several discreet attempts to woo back Kalonzo into the Kanu fold.

There were even reports that Moi had dangled the possibility of having Kalonzo as Uhuru’s running mate, never mind that Moi was himself retiring and therefore technically speaking he did not have a basis to make such an offer.

As it turned out, the weakest link in the Rainbow Coalition was Musalia Mudavadi who after a little pressure, traced his steps back to the Kanu fold only to lose even the parliamentary seat he had inherited from his father upon his death over a decade hence.

While a bit of bad blood appeared to have developed between Moi and Kalonzo after the latter ignored entreaties to return back to Kanu, the relations between the two seem to have warmed up in recent times.

However, although Moi himself has refrained from endorsing Kalonzo for the presidency (the former president recently stated that he backed president Kibaki’s bid for a second term), some of the prominent personalities in the Moi government-and who are still close to the former president-have openly declared their support for Kalonzo.

That Retired Gen. Lazarus Sumbeiywo has categorically stated that he supports Kalonzo’s bid for the top job is significant in several ways. First, Sumbeiywo is closely engaged with the Moi foundation.

For him to have come out openly to support Kalonzo although on another level his former boss, Moi, seems to prefer the incumbent could mean two things; that Moi and his former Army Commander may have decided to diversify their political investment with the former president supporting his successor while he (Moi) gets Sumbeiywo to back Kalonzo. Alternatively, Moi and his former aide may have differed on whom to back in the presidential race.

Another former key personality in the Moi government who had shown an inclination towards Kalonzo is former head of Public Service Dr Sally Kosgei. She has taken a detour to the William Ruto team but this could be strategic because apparently she is eyeing a parliamentary seat in the Rift Valley where today Ruto is king.

All factors put together, Kalonzo may be the person at the most vantage point in the forthcoming presidential race for unlike either Raila or President Kibaki, his is not a zero-sum game. With a good scheme and excellent networking, Kalonzo could upset the tables and come out tops in the race. If that happens, he obviously will be enthralled. If it does not, he could easily use the knowledge, experience, networks and resources gathered in the 2007 presidential race as his full dress rehearsal for 2012.

Kalonzo Musyoka at a glance
What works for him?

- viewed as amiable

- relatively youthful and thus can inspire the young voters

- Been in parliament for long and served as an assistant minister, deputy speaker and cabinet minister, Kanu organizing secretary……

- being a lawyer gives him a good professional background for politics

- does not appear to have been tainted by corruption

- professes to be a born-again Christian

- has structured a campaign on good family values base which resonates well with conservative Christians

- good looks and is telegenic

- he has been boosted by good ratings as a presidential candidate by independent opinion polls

- is not a hardline politician and cuts across as a suave and cosmopolitan operator

- Has useful foreign contacts gained in his days as foreign affairs minister and mediator in regional conflicts.

What works against him?

- viewed by others as a political coward

- others view his relative youthfulness as inexperience in the rough and tumble of competitive politics

- his opponents might view his service with the Kanu regime as a political assistant baggage from the Moi years

- has the smallest ethnic base among the top presidential contenders

- Is not considered particularly wealthy so may not have substantial personal resources fro his campaign.

- May be regarded as a religious hypocrite depending on how he reconciles his Christian ethics with the often unethical world of high stakes politics

- Moslems and other faiths may feel uncomfortable with him if he flaunts his Christian credentials too much

- He has a feeble voice and is not a particularly inspirational orator

- Viewed by some as not being a team player but rather a politician who wants to use others for his own ends

- Critics may view his apparent flexibility as a sign of political weakness

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2 Responses to Kalonzo Musyoka: Could he be the next president?

mulwaa said...

This is what i call classic political analysis. This is the man Kenya needs right now. Thumbs up man for that systematic breakdown of the pros and cons. If u can asses the others using the same scale, then everybody will see who has more strengths than who and vice-versa. Kalonzo is the best for Kenya followed by Uhuru and then Kibaki. Whether he canbecome president though only time will tell

Anonymous said...

peter said...

And let the truth be told.
This is the plainest truth and all kenyans should know the reality.
There are things you cant run away from....like this one.