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GG Kariuki’s seven rules of high-stakes political play

When, towards the end of his administration, President Daniel arap Moi actively began to court opposition leader Raila Odinga, I happened to have breakfast with politician GG Kariuki.

Except for two interludes, the latter was my MP since I was a small boy, and a personal friendship had developed over the years.

At the table we got into a discussion about trends in politics at the time.

The three younger men present — I, his son Jimmy and his personal assistant Bernard Mwaura — were of the opinion President Moi was playing a losing card because Raila wouldn’t accept to play ball.

“You’re wrong in your analysis,” veteran GG had cut in.

“You young men should be asking me some of these things. Moi and Raila will cut a deal. I won’t be surprised if Raila is appointed cabinet minister sooner than later.” It happened.

MWAI KIBAKI
Such was vintage GG. When it came to politics, he could smell from a distance what others couldn’t, or were in denial, that it could come to pass.

Not long after the breakfast in his house, we had lunch at the Intercontinental Hotel.

This time round we told him it was unlikely the Leader of Official Opposition Mwai Kibaki would succeed President Moi because he never worked hard at it and many people thought he was laid-back and a fence-sitter.

Once again the old man disagreed with us and said: “It is true the Kibaki I know has never worked hard to get any prize. B

“But somehow things work out such that he gets the prize anyway. Even this time round I see circumstances working out by themselves and he will be the next President after Moi.” Again it came to pass.

JOMO’S SUCCESSOR
Much earlier, I remember GG telling us as we ate goat meat at his rural home in Rumuruti, Laikipia County, that in the 1970s just before President Jomo Kenyatta died, he had told a cabinet minister who never thought much of Daniel arap Moi that the latter would likely be Kenyatta’s successor.

The cabinet minister had laughed it off and said: “How on earth! That man is too wet to be president of anything!”

Three years later, Moi was sworn in to succeed old Jomo — and stayed on for all of 24 years!

Sorry for the digression. I was meant to write about lessons in practical politics: Course 101.

The trio of Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula could have learnt from the departed political guru to avoid the rotten egg on their face today.

From my many conversations with GG, I will crystallise the lessons as Seven Rules of high-stakes political play.

RULE NO. ONE

The one with numbers is always the boss.

Kalonzo, Wetang’ula and Musalia see themselves as equals with Raila. But politics is a game of numbers.

In Nasa, Raila’s ODM party has 98 members in both the National Assembly and the Senate.

The combined total of MPs and Senators from Kalonzo’s Wiper, Wetang’ula’s Ford-Kenya, and Mudavadi’s ANC is 58, less than two-thirds of what Raila alone has put on the table!

Our geography teacher told us that it is tributaries that flow into a river not the other way round. Here Raila is the river.

In the Senate where Wetang’ula was the minority leader, he can’t even be called a tributary.

He is merely a stream being the only senator from his Ford-K party in the Senate, when ODM has 20 out of the 28 combined Nasa members in the Senate!

For the Nasa trio to imagine Raila is not the boss in Nasa, veteran GG would have said they are suffering from “Illusion of power”, the title GG gave to his autobiography published 16 years ago.

RULE NO. TWO

Whenever an unenforceable MoU deceives you that you’re equal to the boss, always refer to rule No. 1

In the past I have heard Kalonzo say that Raila must endorse his presidential candidacy on the strength of some MoU they signed somewhere.

But so what if they signed an MoU? It is not binding on the voters in the Republic of Kenya!

Another strange reasoning by Kalonzo as to why he must be endorsed as presidential candidate is that in the past he has “sacrificed” his ambitions for others to go for the high office.

But, surely, can Bwana Kalonzo “sacrifice” what he doesn’t have in the first place? Truth is Kalonzo has no numbers. Here I am not talking tribal numbers. I am talking about a national following that can propel one to State House.

In Nasa, only Raila can talk about a national following while looking at you in the face!

RULE NO. THREE
When running with the boss, always keep a safe distance and at a guarded speed.

Otherwise the boss may suddenly cut a corner and leave you to hit the wall

I have never been a politician but I was amazed to hear the Nasa trio whine that they, like all of us, were taken by surprise by the Harambee House shaking of hands by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga.

I can’t believe they never learnt anything from the January 30 “swearing-in”.

If the version of events as narrated on national television by my friend Barrack Muluka, who is Mudavadi’s ANC secretary-general, is to be believed — and I have no good reason to doubt Barrack — then the Nasa trio are either too trusting or politically naive, if not worse.

HOODWINKED
According to Muluka, on the eve of the “swearing-in”, Mr Boss instructed his “co-principals” to be at a common “joint” the following morning; switch off their phones, and wait for his call on “a Nigerian line” to tell them where to meet before proceeding to Uhuru Park.

According to Muluka, Kalonzo, a lawyer of repute, had not seen the wording of the oath he was to take.

But here is the “ni kama ndrama ni kama vindeo”.

The next thing the Nasa trio saw or heard about is that Raila had been to Uhuru Park, hurriedly taken the “oath” and left.

By the way, how were they to communicate with the Boss, even on the “Nigerian line”, when their phones were switched off?

Were they to hear a voice from a burning bush as did the biblical Moses?

RULE NO. FOUR

The Boss will always act in his best interest.

Politics isn’t a game of the saints. There is no mother to breastfeed you.

When Raila said “Kibaki Tosha (sufficient)” in 2002, it wasn’t out of his love for Kibaki.

In the previous elections in 1997, Kibaki was the runners-up to President Moi with about 1.8 million votes.

Raila was a distant third with less than half a million votes.

In terms of numbers, Kibaki was head and shoulders above Raila.

CAMPAIGN

At the time there were fears of Kibaki votes getting diluted by Moi’s “Project Uhuru’s”, but Raila, the pragmatic politician, saw the solution.

The main reason Raila said “Kibaki Tosha” was because he knew the latter had the numbers.

Importantly, too, Kibaki was the only presidential candidate at the time with a capacity to mobilise enough resources to mount a national presidential campaign against a Moi and Kenyatta family-funded campaign.

The morning before Raila walked to Uhuru Park to make the “Kibaki Tosha” declaration, he had been in a meeting with the Muthaiga Group, the loose name of the Kibaki presidential campaign fund-mobilisers since the 1992 first multiparty presidential derby.

The meeting was presided over by a Kibaki friend who owns almost one-third of real estate investments in Nairobi’s Upper Hill area.

KANU
Earlier when Raila had agreed to a merger with Moi’s Kanu, it is because he was keen on inheriting the enormous political infrastructure Kanu had on the ground as Moi was about to make his exit.

When Moi made to outwit him in the deal, he one-upped him by breaking up the Jogoo party and transferring the goodwill to Kibaki.

Don’t be cheated. Even now Raila isn’t doing it for love of Uhuru Kenyatta.

He wants to scoop all the goodwill he can from the Uhuru incumbency and use it to his advantage come 2022.

President Kenyatta, too, needs Raila for him to have a calm exit, a legacy and achieve his “Big Four Agenda”.

RULE NO. FIVE

Never make a threat you can’t carry out; less so one for which your bluff can be called.

In the past few days, the Nasa trio and their field commanders have issued statements that imply they can eject from Nasa the ODM and its party leader, Raila.

Most likely they are still in denial. Nasa is ODM and ODM is Raila.

Without Raila and ODM in Nasa come 2022, hardly will Kenyan voters remember such a name existed. Believe me on that.

Who recalls once upon a time there was a political formation called PNU, Cord, Ford Asili, and several others which come up only as utility vehicles but disappear as soon as the election season is over!

RULE NO. SIX
When the master’s dog charges on you; you’d be a fool not to know who has set it on you.

Hearing Nasa “co-principals” cry betrayal, one wonders whether they heard what ODM secretary-general, Edwin Sifuna, has said in the last two weeks.

For avoidance of doubt, I will quote him verbatim: “We will no longer be forced to walk on our knees so that our short friends can feel better about themselves…We encourage them to fill the divorce papers.”

RULE NO. SEVEN

Never trust what the Boss tells you in person or says in your presence. What he says away from your earshot is what matters.

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