In American political parlance, “second term blues” or “second term curse” is applied to a President’s shackled final tenure in office.
It is a period that generally bears depressed political and economic success, sometimes reducing a once powerful president to a lame duck who has lost authority over allies and opponents.
Slightly over one year since he was sworn in, and three years to the next election, President Uhuru Kenyatta has been forced to assert his authority.
Last week, in the face of grumbles from some perceived allies, most prominent among them Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, questioning his development record in the Mt Kenya region, the President told off the critics as washenzi(fools) and told them to let him continue with his ‘Big Four’ agenda across the country.
Quite unusually, Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri, an erstwhile ally of President Kenyatta and now aligned to Deputy President William Ruto, asked the President to resign if he was tired of leading the country before organising a demonstration against the “washenzi” remark.
Last October, Mr Kenyatta warned leaders in his base that he was not a lame duck president and would have a say on his succession despite the early 2022 campaigns.
President Kenyatta has only two experiences from his predecessors, Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki, to draw lessons from.
His father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, died while in office in 1978 at a time when there were no term limits for the presidency.
Except for the brazen defiance of Mr Ngunjiri and Mr Kuria, other politicians from the President’s backyard are playing their cards cautiously.
Mr Kuria has, however, since caved in to pressure and offered unreserved apologies to the President for publicly humiliating him.
Speaking on New Year’s Eve at Thika Stadium, the outspoken MP had sensationally claimed that Mt Kenya region had been marginalised.
He said the President was busy commissioning projects elsewhere but only issuing certificates to rehabilitated alcohol addicts when he visited Kiambu County.
Mr Kuria is not your ordinary legislator. He is MP of the current and first President’s constituency.
Ideally, Gatundu symbolises the seat of political power in Mt Kenya region and rebellion that originates from here is inconceivable and most embarrassing to the President.
This partly explains why Mr Kuria’s latest action has attracted a lot of fury among the President’s backers and the vocal politician’s resultant swift about-turn.
However, Mr Ngunjiri has maintained his stand.
The MP recently claimed the President had been misled by ODM leader Raila Odinga, with whom they buried the political hatchet in March last year.
Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu believes the Bahati legislator is acting out of political opportunism, “with the hope that (Dr) Ruto can help him to split the Kikuyu residing in Rift Valley from those in Central and thereby get crowned as kingpin of Rift Valley Kikuyu”.
Bahati is a cosmopolitan constituency within Nakuru Town in the wider Rift Valley region.
It therefore makes sense for Mr Ngunjiri, whose voters are multiethnic, to play the political tune of the region, which is currently Ruto-leaning.
Although they hail from Mt Kenya region, the ‘Diaspora Kikuyu’ residing in the Rift Valley have previously expressed the need to play politics in tune with their surroundings, and not necessarily alongside their kin in Central Kenya.
Mr Ngunjiri, who fashions himself as a Rift Valley politician, argues that his kinsmen in Central Kenya are insensitive to the special needs of the ‘Diaspora’.
The legislator notes that the peace enjoyed in the Rift Valley is a product of the good working relationship between President Kenyatta and Dr Ruto, a scenario that he will guard jealously to ensure the status quo remains.
But Mr Wambugu thinks otherwise: “My namesake (Bahati MP) is laying the ground to exit from the President’s wings. But he has miscalculated badly.
He and others are assuming that His Excellency’s (President Kenyatta’s) influence will wane, but they need to reflect on (Mr) Kuria’s apology this afternoon (Thursday) to realise just how wrong they all are.”
There may be other persuasions to the rebellion as suggested by Prof Peter Kagwanja, the chief executive of the Africa Policy Institute.
The radical shift in the political ideological alignments, says Prof Kagwanja, has given legs to the high-voltage propaganda blitz by the so-called Tanga Tanga squad around the theory of the ‘Ruto betrayal’.
“For many, the Tanga Tanga squad (which comprises MPs allied to the DP) is seen as Ruto’s war soldiers fighting their way into Uhuru’s Gema turf.
“But this group, which consists mainly of political greenhorns from Mount Kenyan region, is also a throwback to the old patron-client politics of the Kanu era based on handouts,” he says.
Former assistant minister Kilemi Mwiria interprets the ongoing developments as a strategy by the rebelling MPs to paint the President in bad light, and thereby “create an environment where he will no longer influence the political events in 2022”.
Political rebellion against the high office of the presidency — particularly for leaders serving their last term — is not uncommon in Kenya.
In his autobiography, Riding On A Tiger, former Vice President Moody Awori catalogues a series of embarrassing episodes that President Daniel arap Moi was subjected to during his last days in office.
The former Funyula MP was a key player of the group within Kanu which rebelled against Moi’s preferred successor, Mr Kenyatta in 2002.
Narrating details of a tensed scene at State House after being summoned by the President, Mr Awori explains the reaction of Mr Odinga, who had just been elected the Kanu secretary-general, was not entirely surprising.
However, the open defiance by Mr Moi’s then-Vice President George Saitoti and Cabinet minister Kalonzo Musyoka left Mr Moi dumbfounded.
“Kalonzo Musyoka spoke next, and there lay our biggest shock. Kalonzo had been one of Moi’s staunchest loyalists but on this day, he was in a fighting mood!
“He bravely faced the President and said: ‘Mzee, you should keep yourself out of succession politics. Leave us alone to direct the show’. That was a bolt out of the blue for all of us.
“We did not imagine Kalonzo could muster such guts! Moi could not believe what he was hearing either. He was flabbergasted. He made no rejoinder,” writes Awori.
The former VP notes that Mr Moi had never encountered such political revolt in his presidency and must have known that there was no point in further discussion.
Ten years later, the victim of this development, Mr Kenyatta, was again a subject of discussion at State House under the Mwai Kibaki presidency.
Mr Kenyatta was summoned by the President who, through a team of strategists, including Mr Kibaki’s private secretary Nick Wanjohi, reportedly asked the then-Deputy Prime Minister to let go his presidential ambitions on two grounds.
He was told his presidency (if he won) would complicate Kenya’s relations with the international community considering he was facing charges at the International Criminal Court at the moment and that Kenyans were not receptive to the idea of another President from the Central Kenya region, after his father (Jomo) and Kibaki.
Unlike Prof Saitoti and Mr Musyoka who exhibited open defiance, Mr Kenyatta left State House quietly promising to comply.
He even entered into a memorandum of understanding with fellow Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi, with whom he had been advised to “back for presidency” as a presidential candidate of his coalition, alongside Mr Ruto.
But a couple of days later, Mr Kenyatta quietly defied President Kibaki by bolting out of the deal with Mr Mudavadi, stating he had been misguided by “mashetani” (devils).
Now the shoe is on the other foot and it is time for President Kenyatta to taste his own medicine.
Second term blues for sitting presidents are ordinarily aggravated by rebelling allies, keen on realigning themselves with incoming powerhouses. This is partly the case with Mr Kenyatta.
But unless the political class has forgotten, the President had a powerful message to this effect last year, maintaining he will be actively involved in succession politics towards the end of his final term.
“They think because Uhuru is going home in 2022 he will not have a word on what will happen. I am telling them when the right time comes, I will have something to say.”
By Daily Nation