Guest column by Kijana M. Kibisu
One question that has refused to go away is why the leader of the official opposition party would abandon his constitutional role to support the re-election of a sitting head of state. Historians tell us that this unprecedented action has already Uhuru a place in the Guinness Book of Records.
What historians forget to add is that Uhuru's move took months of negotiations with the current regime. In a series of meetings brokered by Central Province old guard, John Michuki, Njenga Karume and Kibaki's Muthaiga golf club friends, Uhuru was prevailed upon not only to abandon his plans of running for the top post in 2007 but also to reunite KANU by making peace with Nicholas Biwott's New KANU. Further, he was asked to keep a decent distance from Raila's Odinga's ODM. These discussions culminated in the signing of a secret MoU between Kibaki and Uhuru. So what was Uhuru promised in return?
By agreeing to support Kibaki's PNU, KANU was allowed the privilege of preserving its identity within the umbrella party. While other parties were being pressurized to accept joint nomination under PNU, KANU was exempted. The second part of the MoU dealt with campaign funds.
The president agreed to underwrite KANU's campaign costs in this year's elections (the party received 50m shillings just to participate in PNU's launch). The third and most important aspect of the MoU dealt with Kibaki succession plan. In this regard, Kibaki promised to use all state resources at his disposal to ensure Uhuru's victory in 2012 elections. For a while, Central Province leaders and strategists have focused their attention on a succession plan that would ensure retention of power in the region.
Although names like George Saitoti, Martha Karua, and Kiraitu Murungi have been bandied on and off, Uhuru is increasingly seen as the region's crème de la crème. Not only is he young, savvy and untainted by pervasive corruption, Uhuru comes from the well known Kenyatta family that has immense wealth. Kibaki's current and rather spirited campaign is therefore more than a just fight for a second five-year term. It is a battle to ensure that power is retained in Central Province until 2022, at least! This was, in essence, the MoU between Uhuru and Kibaki. Indeed, Uhuru has publicly admitted this strategy (without divulging its essential details) when he met with angry KANU supporters to try and assuage their anger over his unilateral decision to offer KANU's support to Kibaki.
In the meantime and even as Kenyans sing and dance their hearts out in support of their favourite political parties, Kibaki and his Central Province friends are busy selling off public assets to themselves at throw away prices. Hiding behind persistent calls for privatization by Bretton Woods's institutions, they are wasting no time at all in disposing of ALL public assets. By the time power passes into the hands of others in 2022 (but preferably later), nothing but 'bare bones' will be left. This is why the thought of this well thought out plan being disrupted by Raila and his ODM party evokes so much anger and panic in Central Kenya. The 'good work' that Kibaki started in 2002 is not done yet, you know. Another 5 (but preferably 15) years are needed to complete the work! What you may not know is that this good work is consolidation of both political and economic power in one region.
The concept of devolution of political and economic power away from the Centre (another name for Central Province), is clearly inimical to the grand plan referred to above. The idea is that once the plan is implemented, everybody else (mainly from Western, Coast, Rift Valley and NE provinces) could only be employees (not owners) of former public (but now private) companies owned by the new super rich elite. Millions of others would be tenants in Nairobi offices and houses owned by the same group. However, this plan would come a cropper if new economic centers (in Kakamega, Kwale, Busia, Garissa or Narok) were to spring up through the devolution or ugatuzi arrangement. Suddenly, property value in Nairobi might come tumbling down. Cheap labour, mainly from Western Kenya and parts of Eastern that keeps Nairobi's economy running would vanish overnight.
Why would someone from Sabatia take up an askari job and live in a mabati shack in Nairobi for just 200 shillings a day? It is also easy to imagine what might happen if devolved regional administrations decided to build or upgrade airports in Kisumu, Busia or build cold storage centers in North Eastern. Suddenly, horticultural and livestock produce from these regions would find their way into the same external markets that are currently dominated by Central Kenya farmers. To these folks, ugatuzi is clearly an idea whose time has not come.
This year's election is perhaps the most important election in Kenya's history. The outcome will determine whether or not the Grand Power Plan outlined above succeeds. By re-electing Kibaki, Kenyans can forget about any meaningful change for another 15-20 years.
Kijana M. Kibisu works for an international think tank in Nairobi.