Op-Ed: Jubilee, Kanu formalise coalition as internal battles rage in Kenya

By Louw Nel – Political Analyst

Divisions within the ruling Jubilee Party have seemingly given way to an all-out battle for control with the realignment of the party and the purging of senior officials.

A coalition deal has been formalised between Jubilee and the once-powerful Kenya African National Union (Kanu) – they notified the Registrar of Political Parties, Anne Nderitu, on May 4.

An agreement was entered into prior to the 2017 elections but was never formalised.

However, several senior Jubilee members have lodged a dispute with the registrar, saying that Secretary General Raphael Tuju and acting Chairperson Nelson Dzuya do not have the authority to engage Jubilee, as the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) never passed a resolution on the matter. The Political Parties Dispute Tribunal (PPDT) is expected to consider the matter on Thursday, May 21.

Meanwhile, President Uhuru Kenyatta has seemingly set about purging Jubilee of members aligned to his deputy, William Ruto: both Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen and Majority Whip Susan Kihika were removed on May 11. Mr Murkomen and Ms Kihika have both been outspoken public critics of the president.

In addition, five nominated senators aligned to Mr Ruto’s so-called Tangatanga faction appeared before a party disciplinary committee on Wednesday, May 20, over their failure to attend the parliamentary group meeting at State House on May 11.

According to reports, several chairs of senate committees are also expected to be replaced imminently and a Cabinet reshuffle is under discussion as Mr Kenyatta’s Kieleweke faction seizes the initiative.

More background to the development is Mr Kenyatta’s rapprochement with Raila Odinga, leader of the main opposition, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). Messrs Kenyatta and Odinga have joined forces in promoting the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), with Mr Odinga championing calls for a referendum on the BBI’s final recommendations.

Mr Ruto’s attitude to the BBI has oscillated between ambivalence and hostility, notably to its recommended creation of a prime minister position.

It is increasingly clear that the relationship between Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto has broken down irretrievably, and that the battle over Jubilee is set to grow acrimonious as opposition to the latter’s 2022 succession bid grows.

Many shots have been fired in recent months, including calls by Jubilee and opposition MPs for Mr Ruto to resign on March 11 and Mr Ruto’s social media tirade against the “fraudulent changes” to Jubilee’s NEC by “political rejects, conmen & fraudsters” in early April.

The coalition agreement between Jubilee and Kanu is certain to antagonise Mr Ruto, as his adversarial relationship with Kanu leader and fellow Kalenjin, Gideon Moi, is well documented.

The possibility of the ODM or the Wiper Democratic Movement – Kenya (WDM – K) entering into coalition talks with Jubilee-Kanu cannot be dismissed, especially as Wiper leader, Kalonzo Musyoka, stated on May 11 that his party was exploring the possibility despite being a member of the National Super Alliance (Nasa) alongside the ODM.

The dissolution/reconstitution of Jubilee does not necessarily portend political instability in Kenya, as parties are generally viewed as election vehicles rather than institutions in their own right.

Indeed, political development and democratic consolidation in the country are held back by the absence of durable political parties that are based on principles rather than ethnic ‘big men’ or election strategies.

Recent developments seem to suggest that this isn’t about to change.

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