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Friday, June 20, 2008

The Quiet Rise And Rise Of Amos Kimunya That Kenyans Still Ignore

“Blind-side winger” gunning for the presidency?


I love the game of soccer, but I think I love rugby more.

Amos Muhinga Kimunya the current Finance Minister and a Kibaki insider, was once a student at the Nairobi University and he no doubt used to watch the wildly popular varsity rugby team, Mean Machine in action. One of the most devastating tactics in the game of rugby (which Mean Machine has occasionally employed for years) is the use of a blind side winger. The game generally flows in the opposite direction to where the blind side winger is positioned (well-hidden) somewhere behind the crowded scrum. It is only at the very last split second when the direction is switched and usually a long pass is hurled in the opposite direction and by the time the opposition team get to see the winger coming in at a terribly high speed on the blind side, it is too late for them to do much and he easily scores.

Finance minister Amos Kimunya reminds me of some of the great blind side wingers I had the pleasure of both watching in action and playing with. On the political front this guy nobody had heard of as late as 2002 is coming in on the blind side at a terribly high speed and the crazy thing is that nobody has seen him yet.

This is more than a little surprising because at the height of the political crisis over the disputed presidential elections, early this year, Amos Kimunya's name popped up a little too frequently in intelligence reports circulating amongst Western powers who were critically weighing their dwindling options as the country threatened to degenerate into another Somalia. At the time I must admit that I was fairly puzzled and wondered why there was no mention of stronger and more prominent PNU faces that would be possible successors to Kibaki like George Saitoti or Uhuru Kenyatta. I have since wizened up.

But let us tell this tale chronologically for better clarity.

When the still unresolved Anglo-Leasing scum rocked the Kibaki government in 2006 and forced the then unprecedented move where Finance Minister Daudi Mwiraria resigned, very few people would have guessed that he would be replaced by the little known Lands and Settlement Minister, Amos Kimunya. It is no secret that Mwiraria and the president have always been very close and there are those who still say that the entire “brains” behind Mwiraria’s tenure at the Treasury was the president himself. Hardly surprising when you consider that the President is a world renowned economist and a man whom historians consider to have been the most successful Kenyan finance minister, both under founding father President Jomo Kenyatta and then briefly in President Moi’s government. Indeed it is now emerging that Kibaki had some very firm text book ideas in mind about how he was going to handle the economy as he took over as president and so what he required most in the finance portfolio was a person who could take instructions more than anything else.

This explains why Kimunya ended up in pole position to take over the Finance docket. Between 2002 and 2006 the shrewd Kimunya had wormed his way into the president’s side and amerged as one of his most trusted errand boys. Those close to the president say that he hates nothing more than to be second guessed or given alternative suggestions when his mind has already been made up about something and is known for very rude retorts which many insiders dread.

Kimunya is now in the position that the prophet Elisha was in as the cup bearer to Prophet Elijah towards the end of his tenure in the holy Bible. Only that the prophet Elijah, in this case the president, has already been convinced that the mantle will be in the best hands handed over to one Amos Kimunya.

Any careful observer of recent political events in the country will quickly realize that Kimunya, the blind-side winger in the Kibaki succession has already quietly launched his clever campaign that will see him end up as the PNU candidate for the presidency in 2012. Little wonder that intelligence reports during the political crisis early this year brought up his name as a possible successor to President Kibaki but warned that his political leanings may not be conducive to peace and stability in Kenya.

Incidentally one of Mr Kimunya’s closest advisors and confidants is a lawyer called Gichira Kibara whom I happened to know extremely well. To those who are observant, you will already know that Mr Kibara was one of the PNU lawyers during the negotiated Kofi Anan settlements that ended up in the current grand coalition government. The two have been laying down some very careful plans that have so far met with little resistance. But as I have always said there is such a thing as a plan that is so brilliant that it fails.

The recently read budget was more than anything else a campaign platform for Kimunya. Some analysts called it the first people-friendly budget in over 10 years and it included a countrywide soccer program fully budgeted for and targeted at the country’s multitudes of jobless and idle youths (who are also a powerful bloc of voters) as well as the removal of VAT on various essential goods in the hope that prices would fall for low bracket consumers. One newspaper headline even screamed shortly after the budget that Kimunya was set to create 250,000 jobs. What only one newspaper (The EastAfrican) has boldly put in the headlines is the deepening budget deficit even as Kimunya continues to borrow heavily from our great grand children to finance today’s political games.)

But by far the most telling move by the Finance Minister so far towards his ambitions has to be the highly popular (to the public) move to tax allowances of Members of parliament and holders of other constitutional offices. The finance minister was simply using the budget to play politics and get himself in pole position for the presidency in 2012.

Ask yourself why both PNU and ODM went to great lengths in consensus-building efforts amongst their troops when it came to passing through parliament the crucial Kofi Anan Bills but failed to do the same when it came to crucial budget proposals that the minister is heavily relying on to balance his sums. In fact with such a bloated cabinet as we have in the current grand coalition government getting support for such a move would have been very easy.

The answer is simple. The shrewd Kimunya and his backers knew very well that it is easier for a hungry Tana River Crocodile to ignore the easy prey of an unprotected child fetching water on the banks of the river than it is for the proposals of taxing legislators to be passed by the same legislators. The real intention of the move was with one master stroke to position Amos Kimunya and PNU and it’s partners for the presidency in the rapidly approaching Kibaki succession showdown. Already the public is being made aware of many key figures within PNU (potential opponents to Kimunya as he seeks the PNU ticket for president) who are strongly opposed to MPs allowances being taxed. In fact their laughable reason is that they usually use their high remuneration to develop their constituencies.

I am aware that I have plenty of extremely emotional readers who are fond of analyzing politics in Kenya with their hearts rather than their brains. However if we were to carefully analyze the numbers, then it becomes fairly clear that PNU as a party only needs to ensure that just a few cracks emerge within ODM to win the next polls easily and more importantly to win the presidency. Already they have made their intentions clear when Kiraitu Murungi announced a new “partnership” between Eastern province and Central province for 2012. This is in a backdrop where inroads are already being made by the never-say-die retired President Moi right into the base of ODM support in the Rift Valley. The main vehicle he is using is turning Kanu into a tribal war ship that will consist of mostly of Kalenjins with his own son Gideon Moi taking over as chairman of the party from Uhuru Kenyatta. Any statistician will tell you that a shift of even 30% of the Rift valley, politically is enough to cause a major change in any election outcome. Whether Moi will succeed or not is another issue altogether but my point is it is not prudent to ignore what the ex-president is doing, no matter how many times he has failed in the recent past. Incidentally it is worth noting that the constituency (Kipipiri) that Kimunya represents is NOT in Central but is in fact in Rift Valley province.

My whole point is that recent political developments in the country have clearly proved that PNU is not the spent force so many analysts thought it was. I need not remind you of the party’s showing in the recent by-elections where they outmaneuvered ODM to snatch the strategically treasured Embakasi seat.

Many readers have written to me recently with many kind words about the predictions I have made in the past that have ended up being spot on. I take this opportunity to thank them for their nice emails. And to avoid disappointing them, let me dive again into the murky waters of trying to tell in advance the direction where this magnanimous struggle for power will end. I am a great believer in looking to the past to understand the future. Kenya has changed presidents twice so far and both times the strategy that Mr Kimunya is pursuing has failed miserably despite looking like a sure winner up to the very last minute. That is why after Kenyatta we did NOT see President Njoroge Mungai as the authoritative Time magazine so confidently predicted. And after Moi we did not see President George Saitoti. Will it then be third time lucky with President Amos Kimunya? I highly doubt it.

(Written by Chris with some research input from Oscar)

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