A resurgent DPM has extricated himself from an extremely awkward corner in one deft move, by seeing his barely-six-month-old TNA win six far-flung by-elections against very heavy odds, including being sidelined in the presidential stakes by the outgoing President's own handlers.
He also appears to be breaking free of the Mt Kenya power elite's peculiar pecking orders and hierarchies, and finally making a move as his own man, the better to face his political nemesis, the versatile PM, in what promises to be the ultimate two-horse race for State House.
It was one of the most stunning 'Comeback Kid' moments of Kenyan politics. Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta's The National Alliance party's sweep of the parliamentary and civic by-elections on Monday September 17 in which the TNA took two of the three constituency seats on offer and four of the 15 council seats, for a tally of six out of 18, is the stuff that stamping an imprimatur on a national electoral stage, less than six months to a general election, is made of - anywhere.
The political term 'Comeback Kid' was coined for Candidate Bill Clinton by American media in 1992, when he suffered a series of setbacks in his campaign for the White House but overcame all of them, culminating in his resounding victory in New City, where he finally shed his image as a regional candidate and became transformed into the consensus candidate.
Uhuru remains in even more trouble than Clinton ever was in - but more about that later in this commentary. In one fell swoop this week, DPM Uhuru and TNA completely trounced all other factors in Central Kenya politics, taking the Kangema constituency and the Kajiado North constituency seats by landslides.
Martha Karua of the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), Peter Kenneth of the Kenya National Congress (KNC), the assorted worthies of the Party of National Unity (PNU) Alliance, the Alliance Party of Kenya, Agano, and Maina Njenga and his Mkenya Solidarity Movement (MSM), looked on mouths wide open. They could barely see the winners for the dust they raised upfront, even in low turn-out by-elections.
They were not alone. Deputy Prime Minister Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi, his handlers and his United Democratic Front (UDF,) had egg all over their faces by the dozen. The TNA candidate in Kangema, Tirus Ngahu, buried the UDF candidate, Simon Mwangi, 13,752 votes against 2,981, a veritable avalanche. And this came, mind you, the very same weekend that the multimedia political punditocracy was all atwitter about the implications for the presidential succession of Mudavadi and President Mwai Kibaki going to the UN General Assembly together to the exclusion of all other frontline contenders.
Where's Mudavadi's Drawing Board? Mudavadi's handlers must be whispering into his ear from all directions about having to go back to the drawing board. What they are not really telling him is that, in all probability, at the Kangema and Kajiado North rate, with the general election less than six months away, there is no drawing board to go back to anymore.
For Njenga, it was the political equivalent of a flying kick in the teeth. The distance between Ngahu's 13,752 and Njenga's MSM candidate John Gathogo's 400 in a low-turnout by-election said it all - terminal humiliation. Despite a massive campaign rally in Kangema and heavy hints to the effect that the ex-Mungiki boss' networks could well organise a disciplined, large turn-out youth vote, MSM could barely muster a number greater than a good Nairobi nightclub's end-of-the-month attendance.
Karua and Kenneth did not field candidates in the Kangema by-election, but Narc-Kenya lost Mutira Ward in its Kirinyaga backyard and the writing is now clearly on the wall in his native Murang'a for Kenneth. In the Rift Valley, the TNA struck right in the heart of United Republican Party (URP) William Ruto's Eldoret North constituency, taking the Market Ward civic seat.
In ODM stronghold Nyanza, TNA took Nyaramba/Nyagaga ward. In other words, TNA won two civic seats in Uhuru's presidential rivals' political heartlands. ODM retained Ndhiwa and won a whopping seven civic seats, but then the Movement has been around much longer than the brand-new Alliance. Among its civic catches, ODM netted the Bukura Ward seat deep in what ought to be Mudavadi/UDF territory.
Uhuru's achievement in Kangema came against great odds. Although the immediate former MP, the late John Michuki, who was the Minister for the Environment at the time of his death, was a diehard Uhuru booster, the signal had come from on-high in the Mt Kenya power elite surrounding Kibaki to the effect that the DPM was no longer the preferred candidate for Fourth President of Kenya.
In Kajiado North, the TNA candidate, Moses ole Sakuda, garnered 26,387 votes, 56% of votes cast, against closest opponent Peter ole Mositet of the Orange Democratic Movement's (ODM) 13,996.
Uhuru's performance in Kajiado was impressive indeed. The late Prof George Saitoti, the immediate former Minister for Internal Security and PNU Alliance presidential candidate, was no friend of the Uhuru factor.
And yet the DPM was able to take his spanking-new party into the complex and cosmopolitan constituency and erase the Saitoti factor as well as keep ODM at bay, despite Prime Minister Raila Odinga's passionate campaigning in the area on behalf of ole Mositet.
Both Uhuru and Raila had camped in the multi-ethnic constituency during the by-election campaign and both had made passionate pitches for their candidates. Uhuru had also camped, much more, in Kangema. On Wednesday, dramatic reports emerged to the effect that the Democratic Party (DP) presidential candidate, the Reverend Mutava Musyimi, had copped out of the ticket on the eve of the official launch of his candidature and was knocking vigorously on TNA's door.
Contacted by The Star about all the talk of his defection, Musyimi, a one-time National Council of Churches of Kenya Secretary-general, would only say, "I cannot confirm or deny, but I would rather the party itself makes that pronouncement. Once they have done so, then let's talk".
Uhuru's Strategic Kisumu Visit Uhuru's visit to Kisumu, ostensibly to campaign for the TNA candidate for the Ndhiwa constituency by-election occasioned by the death in the same helicopter crash as Saitoti of area MP and Assistant Minister for Internal Security Joshua Orwa Ojode, was a masterstroke of political theatre and brinkmanship (and the latter was not aimed at the PM).
TNA candidate Rosemary Rumo performed even more poorly than MSM's Gathogo in Kangema - attracting only 216 votes. But Uhuru's trip to Raila's political backyard was never about Ms Rumo. And the message that he took to Kisumu was not about the candidate either. Everything Uhuru did and said in Kisumu was aimed directly at those of the President's handlers who have dropped him like a hot potato in the matter of the Kibaki succession and given the signal that he is fair game for anyone who wants to snipe at him in the Mt Kenya region, politically speaking.
Uhuru had not been to Raila's backyard for ages, even skipping Ojode's funeral amid leaked Intelligence reports that there had been a plot to single him out for concerted heckling. When he finally went to Kisumu, everything about the trip was superbly choreographed, from the elaborate but unobtrusive security arrangements to the unusually warm reception everywhere he went, including the flashpoints of Bunge la Wananchi, Kondele, Manyatta, Obunga, Nyalenda, and Tivoli.
He addressed rallies at Othoro, Misambi, Kadongo, Ringa, and Mikai market centres and in Homa Bay county. He went on a relaxed walkabout from Nyadendi to Oyugis town, leaving his fleet of high-end limousines and SUVs trailing behind, with hundreds of chanting youth in tow showering him with impromptu praise songs.
And then he made a ringing declaration from deep within the PM's political backyard: "I assure Kenyans that I do not have bad blood with Raila. If he beats me in the race, I will support his presidency. And if I beat him, I will ask him to support me too!" Two days later, Raila travelled to Kangema and responded in the same resonant terms, saying whatever the outcome of the 2013 presidential race he was prepared to work with Uhuru.
Deep inside the President's half of the Grand Coalition regime, where his management of his own transition, legacy and succession takes place, there were baleful eyes monitoring every move, utterance, nuance and twitch of body language - and reaching their own complex conclusions, none of them comfortable.
The Kisumu visit and the TNA by-election victories are easily the points of no return at which Uhuru has emerged from the long shadow of the ageing faithful retainers of the outgoing Kibaki's innermost court. Moving Out of One More Old Man's Shadow For decades in this country, the Jomo Kenyatta brand of politics was associated with override authoritativeness, a Teflon-like aura, with stunning serial success, outmaneuvering all other political factions and formations, a seemingly permanent upper hand.
In the Mt. Kenya region, Jomo Kenyatta's word was law. And then the patriarch died and the years went by. When his first son by his last wife joined politics, he was beaten in his own father's former constituency in Gatundu. When he made his first stab at the Presidency, against Kibaki in 2002, Uhuru was thrashed so thoroughly that he issued the fastest and most comprehensive concession speech in the history of Kenyan presidential elections.
Compared to the patriarch's, the Kenyatta Jnr brand of politics over the past 20 years was restricted to moving in the long shadow of ageing presidents and their retinues' increasingly short-sighted, even blinkered, worldviews.
Uhuru had never flexed his political muscles, preferring, instead, to play understudy to two consecutive presidents in their 80s, who happen to have been his great father's protégés half-a-century, and a world, ago.
But now all signs now are that this son of an old-man father (Jomo was at least 71 when Uhuru was born in 1961), has both been shoved - and then pulled himself - out of the shadow of another outward-bound old man of State House and done so just in the nick of time. He has amply demonstrated his hold on the Mt. Kenya-and-like-minded-areas vote bloc, and, unlike anyone else coalescing around Kibaki with a view to becoming Fourth President of Kenya, he has the financial independence to make his bid without the outgoing Head of State and all his works.
In other words, Uhuru is finally becoming his own man, and being seen to be doing so, at the precise moment when his fellow DPM, Mudavadi, is diving headlong into begging the moot question of whether he can ever be his own man. By seeking to transplant Uhuru in the affections and political sentimentalities of the outgoing power elite, Mudavadi could well be broiling his own goose.
This is a defining moment for Uhuru and the Mt. Kenya vote bloc that has been at Kibaki's beck and call for 15 consecutive years of the 20-year-long multi-party era. It would appear that the Mountain's vote bloc, despite its phenomenal and cohesive loyalty to the Kibaki brand of politics, is not Kibaki's to gift and distribute as he wishes. In Kangema and Kajiado North, elements of this vote in microcosm have already voted with their feet this week - in Uhuru's direction.
When Uhuru launched TNA on May 20 in the Kenyatta International Conference Centre grounds and announced that it was high time Kenya's youth took over the leadership mantle from old-guard and Old School politicians, many toted this up to just more highfalutin' pre-campaign rhetoric.
And when Uhuru called for a paradigm shift in Kenyan party politics at the same launch, saying that parties should no longer belong to politicians as it was politicians who should belong to parties, many just harrumphed and shrugged their shoulders.
TNA's slogan, "I Believe" and party symbol of a dove were also sneered at in some quarters. At the end of this week, none of the doubters are complacent any more. Uhuru's inner-core strategists, men like former presidential aide Alfred Getonga, lawyer Njee Muturi, former MP David Wakairu Murathe and the youthful Jomo Gecaga, son of his half-sister Jeni Gecaga, have a new spring in their step now and a determined glint in their eye.
And Now the Hard Work Begins. At midweek, Nairobi Metropolitan Minister Jamleck Kamau, an Uhuru ally, declared: "This is a clear statement Uhuru continues to enjoy massive support in Central Kenya. The results indicate that the region has chosen to solely remain behind Uhuru and it is a clear message to those doubting his strength."
However, this is precisely where the really hard work begins for Uhuru. As Mudavadi appears to be diving headlong into another five-year limbo such as the one he suffered after the first presidential transition contest in 2002, Uhuru appears to be entering the arena of the ultimate presidential race in Kenya - a contest against Raila.
The Prime Minister was quick to assert that ODM's and TNA'S success stories of this week were the surest sign yet that the 2013 race is a two-horse race and that the thoroughbreds are the Son of Jomo and the Son of Jaramogi.
An Odinga versus Kenyatta contest in the Golden Jubilee year of Independence would be an extraordinary event, steeped in history, unfinished business, political baggage, and dividing the country right down the middle. It would be the closest thing that Kenya could have to a genuinely ideological contest.
If the Central Kenya vote is truly Uhuru's, despite and in spite of all his prospective troubles with the crimes-against-humanity case awaiting him at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, Kenya could fast be approaching a point in the campaign for the Fourth President that the contest in America between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney reached this week.
In the United States, barely three months before the presidential election, Romney has dismissed 47% of Americans as basically non-taxpaying, government-dependent ne'er-do-wells who have a bloated sense of entitlement to the national cake and form Obama's vote bloc. Romney was secretly videotaped making these disparaging remarks at a private fund-raising event attended by wealthy Republican donors to his campaign.
When the news leaked, Obama appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, a leading talk-show host, and told Americans that his experience as President was that one is at the White House on behalf of all Americans, not one's voters only. He drew huge applause from the studio audience and no doubt farther afield. A day later, an unapologetic Romney returned to his theme and even refined it, saying that in America there are 'wealth makers' and 'wealth takers' and the 'makers' were his constituency and would lead him to a 50-plus-1 victory over Obama.
Romney's figures are, of course, nonsensical, and news to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the world's most thoroughgoing and draconian income-tax collection agency. In the US, 60% of tax collections are from payroll taxes, meaning that they are levied on people with jobs.
But a 'Makers versus Takers' paradigm is just the sort of emotive politicking that energizes vote blocs the nearer a general election gets. Another paradigm has it that the top 1% of America's super-wealthy own more than 42.2% of the nation's total financial wealth. This was the mantra of the Occupy Wall Street movement and is statistically more sound than Romney's 53% 'makers' versus 47% 'takers'.
The point is fast approaching in the Kenyan general election campaign, too, when one of the two-horse candidates will be seen to take the Romney option and declare that a very large percentage of the electorate is of no consequence and will not produce the Fourth President.
He will most likely do this for the simple reason that he knows he can make no headway in that segment of the electorate. But the practice of being seen to give up large swathes of an electorate anywhere as a lost cause can be self-defeating in the extreme.
An electorate is not massed like two opposing medieval armies on some great plain facing off against each other, even in Kenya, even in a an Odinga versus Kenyatta face off in 2013. As the by-elections in Kenya this week amply demonstrated, it has many overlaps, including geographical, and many other complex, even imponderable, dispositions, including complete surprises.
Not all Republicans are 'makers' and Romney's arrogant rich-man's slur could well lose him a great many votes on his own side of what passes for America's internal ideological divide. The divide the coming two-horse race, which the PM appears to relish much more openly than the DPM, will cause in this country promises to be every bit as dramatic as the Obama-Romney face-off - and much more ferocious.