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Focus on Africa: Kenyatta-Odinga alliance casts dark shadow over Ruto’s presidential ambitions

media Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) and Opposition leader Raila Odinga shake hands in a show of harmony during the annual prayer breakfast in Nairobi on May 31, 2018 Evans Ouma AFP

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta and his long-time political rival Raila Odinga are reportedly working to convert their famous handshake into a grand alliance, which could blow the 2022 presidential race wide open.

The Daily Nation reported on Monday that Kenyatta’s wing of the ruling Jubilee party and Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement are about to announce a high profile Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), aimed at fostering peace and unity in the country.

Political gamble

According to the newspaper, the long-time rivals who plan to submit their proposal to reunite the ethnically polarized country to a national referendum, have enlisted the support of the country’s main opposition parties.

These reportedly include Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper Democratic Movement, Musalia Mudavadi’s Amani National Congress, Moses Wetang’ula’s Ford-Kenya, and Gideon Moi’s Kenyan African National Union.

Meanwhile the Standard  says that after more than a year of listening to Kenyans, the BBI team has wound up its countywide visits and is now planning to go on a retreat to write its report.

It quotes BBI vice chairman Adams Oloo, as saying that it will take the team under two months to release its findings.

According to the Standard, it is not surprising that even before the report is written, the BBI already has the Jubilee party divided into two factions - allies to Deputy President William Ruto voicing their opposition to the single seven-year term presidency proposed by Raila’s ODM.

The other Jubilee camp is allegedly reading from the same script as the Orange Democratic Movement, which also wants the creation of the position of Executive Prime Minister.

“The report is expected to be presented to the two leaders in September and the referendum in March next year”, says Lucas Basara, author of the front-page investigative article published by Daily Nation.

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition arrives to attend a church service in Kawangware slums in Nairobi, Kenya October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

New grand coalition

But as Basara observes, the referendum question appears driven by the new front’s desire to change the dynamics of Kenyatta’s succession, come the 2022 Presidential elections, more than anything else.

Deputy President Ruto who sees himself as President Kenyatta’s heir apparent hasn’t yet declared his support for BBI and is said to be currently weighing his options.

“Having opposed Kenyatta and Odinga coming together, Ruto could get isolated if he doesn’t support the initiative”, the journalist warns.

Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto file.jpg

Toothless president?

He points to a clamour from the Kieleweke Embrace Movement of women aligned the pro-Kenyatta faction of Jubilee for the creation of the position of Prime minister and two deputy premiers as the clearest indication yet of how the referendum question could read.

Rumours that the BBI report includes a proposal for a single 7-year presidential mandate is also fueling angry reactions from Ruto supporters.

Trimming the powers currently enjoyed by Kenyatta might be seen as directly or indirectly targeting the Deputy President”, argues Patrick Gathara, a Kenyan journalist, cartoonist, blogger, and writer based in Nairobi.

Looming power struggle

According to Gathara, if that is what is in the BBI proposal, then you will have a political fight in parliament over whether or not to pass it.

“If we are holding the referendum next year, according to rumours we are hearing, then you will have at least two years of a government that is really set against itself”, said the award-winning Kenyan cartoonist and blogger.

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