Will new appointment make or break Kalonzo’s career?

Seth Onyango @SethManex

His political obituary has been written several times before, but Wiper Democratic Movement leader Kalonzo Musyoka, the self-styled “mtu wa kupita katikati yao”  has somehow managed to limp on.

Previous political stumbles ─ one as a presidential candidate and the other as a running mate in successive elections have left him bruised ─ but it is last year’s general election that now seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

To analysts who gave it a less than charitable interpretation, Kalonzo’s recent pronounced willingness to be President Uhuru Kenyatta’s “mtu wa mkono” (errand boy) provides a glimpse into the disposition of a man hanging on a thin thread of political relevance.

Errand boy

The ‘errand boy’ remarks during the funeral of his father, Peter Musyoka Mairu, last Friday has sparked outrage among some within his Wiper party.

It has not escaped critics that Kalonzo made the remarks ahead of his appointment as the new head of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) on peace in South Sudan.

Observers have been looking for a hidden message in the pronouncements that might provide clues about the Ukambani kingpin’s political designs.

Political analyst Kissinger Kakai says a series of events that have bruised the former vice president may have pushed him into accepting to work with Uhuru.

Kakai’s argues that apart from defeat in successive presidential polls, Kalonzo has been beset by personal struggles, including his wife Pauline’s long battle and eventual triumph over cancer and the recent loss of his father.

“Kalonzo is a man who has had a series of misfortunes, some at a personal level like what was happening with his wife…therefore accepting the envoy job is part of his political survival,” he told People Daily by phone.

Kakai argues that the essence of politics is relevance and the South Sudan job offers the former VP   something to latch on to ahead of the 2022 presidential election.

“This is about political survival and Kalonzo has realised that if you are not in the limelight, you will be forgotten…in terms of jobs, he wants to earn a living and maintain relevance,” said Kakai.

A section of his political bedrock is, however, not amused by his cooperation with the Jubilee administration and see it as a betrayal.

Tellingly, it is one of Kalonzo’s key confidants Makueni Governor Kivutha Kiwbana who is leading the criticism of the party leader over the ‘errand boy’ remarks.

Kibwana, who is also the Wiper chairman, has accused Kalonzo of “demeaning” his status and questioned his commitment to his 2022 presidential bid.

“Yuyu mutongoi wa andu atwika mundu wa mukono, namo andu ala ma ivalo mamutumie mesani ya nthi makatwika kyau? (When a leader of the people becomes an errand boy, what becomes of the followers who have elevated him to the negotiation table?”), Kibwana wondered.

Also to pour cold water on Kalonzo’s move is former Machakos Senator Johnstone Muthama, an influential Wiper leader and financier, who accused his party leader of making the decision without consulting widely.

“We are still waiting for Kalonzo to explain to Kenyans and his followers what the appointment means to them and what he meant with the words that he is now Uhuru’s errand boy,” Muthama said.

Follow blindly

The controversial ex-senator said Kalonzo and Nasa leader Raila Odinga (the latter has also been appointed to an AU job that deals with infrastructure) should not think Kenyans will follow them blindly whatever road they take.

“Do they think that they are so wise that we Kenyans will always follow them, even when they are headed to the grave?” Muthama said.

Speaking to People Daily by telephone, Muthama said Kalonzo had made himself a laughing stock

Other speculations are that Kalonzo ─ who has struggled in opposition politics ─ might have finally found a gateway back into government, which he finds a comfort zone. 

According to Prof Macharia Munene who teaches International Diplomacy at the USIU, Kalonzo is hoping the diplomatic assignment will renew his statesman image that he could use as a springboard to broker political deals in 2022.

“As opposition leader Raila Odinga tells us, you know I am an engineer and I provided roads for Africa and Kalonzo will be talking about being a peacemaker who brokered peace in South Sudan,” Munene said.

But both Kakai and Munene agree that the former vice president may have run into headwinds keeping his Ukambani base energised compared to Raila who enjoys fanatical base support.

Also causing Kalonzo political butterflies in the stomach is Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua who has been encroaching into his Ukambani base with his slogan of rapid transformative agenda.   

Munene cautions that, unlike Raila who has a surer base, Kalonzo’s move could prove a challenge as he will be forced to juggle his diplomatic assignment and local politics but will be saddled by a personal trait of being less assertive politically.

Depending on the level of involvement in his diplomatic duties, the former VP might find it hard bouncing back into Uhuru’s succession politics.

But Munune says Kalonzo could still use the diplomatic appointment to rebrand politically. 

Kalonzo’s 2022 plans could, however, be complicated by the inroads that Deputy President William Ruto has been making in opposition strongholds including Ukambani.

“Ruto’s strategy has superseded Raila and Kalonzo’s and they have now realised that instead of waiting for positions that may never exist…let’s take what is available,” Munene observed. 

However, some of Kalonzo’s supporters accuse the critics of his recent move as political hypocrites.

According to Mwingi Central MP Gideon Mulyungi, Kalonzo has not abandoned his journey to State House, saying the party leader is in the National Super Alliance (Nasa), on whose ticket Wiper leader will run on the 2022 poll.

“ We gave the party leader the mandate to reach out to like-minded leaders. As a member of the National Executive Council, the party position remains that Kalonzo will vie for the 2022 seat,” he said.

Matungulu MP Stephen Mule dared Kalonzo critics to face him instead of issuing statements that, he said, do not reflect the wishes of the community. He said the former VP is a patriot who is working with President Uhuru Kenyatta to help him fight graft and realise the Big Four agenda.

The MP said the community had unanimously resolved to back Kalonzo’s 2022 presidency bid and allowed him to work with Jubilee during a meeting attended by all community leaders in Machakos, and those who think otherwise should try to convene theirs to revisit the issue.

Kathiani MP Robert Mbui said Kalonzo’s decision to work with Uhuru was not made out of the blues, adding that he took the move after wide consultations.

In June, Kalonzo declared that he will be in the presidential race in the 2022 General Election and ruled out the possibility of backing another candidate.

The party leadership also endorsed his candidature and pledged to reach out to every corner of the country to rally support.

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