Noah Cheploen and Seth Onyango @PeopleDailyKe
As 2022 succession politics gathers momentum, Baringo Senator Gideon Moi—often seen as elitist and out of touch with ordinary Kenyans—appears keen to change his brand.
Lately, a politically-outgoing and outspoken Moi has been engaging in a series of manoeuvres that pundits believe are geared up to casting him into the national limelight as a serious presidential contender.
To observers, his political metamorphosis includes shedding off his rumpled demeanour as the favourite and girded son of retired President Daniel Moi and carve out his own clout.
By setting up Deputy President William Ruto as his main foil, Moi hopes that will elevate him to presidential stature; and not just as a man who rides on his father’s name.
Gideon has in recent months been assembling a political architecture to counter Ruto’s popularity, especially in the Rift Valley and western regions.
Paradoxically, he has converted his father’s Kabarak Home in Nakuru county into a pilgrimage destination of sorts for leaders from the Nyayo-era and former Kanu politicians.
Among leaders hosted in Kabarak for a meeting with the elder Moi is Opposition chief Raila Odinga, former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka as well as Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho.
Suspiciously, however, Ruto’s attempt to see the retired president in May was blocked in what was believed to be on the instructions of his son, Gideon.
“We did not know he was coming. A visit like this one is normally organised properly through Mzee’s aides and members of the family, especially Gideon, who was not present,” said an aide of the retired president’s aide. Others hosted at Kabarak are Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) secretary general Francis Atwoli, Devolution Cabionet secretary Eugene Wamalwa and State House Comptroller Kinuthia Mbugua.
Although the highly-publicised visits have been disguised as “courtesy calls” to the former Head of State, the timing and type of visitors have not been lost to political observers.
In June, Gideon visited Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua, who is also nursing presidential ambitions, at his Machakos office.
Mutua in turn visited the senator in Kabarak more than twice.
According to analyst Kissinger Kakai, Gideon is riding on the expansive networks of his father, who served as president for 24 years and 11 years as VP.
“We must not forget Gideon is the son of the former president so he has the networks to mount a fierce campaign machinery.
He will be keen to use the networks his father established in his tenure,” he argued.
“The senator has enjoyed power for the 35 years his father was at the Presidency. This makes him a prince compared to President Uhuru Kenyatta whose father Jomo ruled for 15 years.”
Speaking to People Daily on phone, Kakai said when President Moi was in power he extended favours to many politicians, including some key current political players such as Kalonzo and Amani National Congress(ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi, and they may want to reciprocate.
“Gideon goes into 2022 with networks while Ruto on the other hand has none…and he will have the oldest party which he will use to solicit support and take a stab at the presidency,” he said.
And in a bid to expand is base, Gideon has visited Marsabit, Mombasa, Tana River, Kilifi, Murang’a, Homa Bay, Nyeri, Kitui and Kakamega counties in the last six months alone. And going by the visits and increased interactions with wananchi, it appears Gideon is determined to shed off the dynasty and opulence tag.
For instance, on November 23, Gideon arrived at a church in Muringa village in Kiharu constituency for the funeral service of Washington Kamaku, the father to Kasarani legislator Mercy Gakuya riding on a boda boda.
He would later explain that boda boda riders offered to carry him to function after his vehicles failed to arrive on time after he flew to the area in a chopper. They were supposed to pick him up from where his chopper had landed.
And last weekend, the Kanu leader is said to have “woken up from the home” of his childhood friend, Philip Arunga, a younger brother to former Khwisero MP Julius Arunga in Mulwanda in Khwisero sub-county, and went to visit the humble and needy in the neighbourhood.
According to media reports, villagers were surprised when they found out in the morning that Senator Moi had slept in their village— and in appreciation, they gathered and instantly started singing old and patriotic Kanu songs.
Yesterday, Gideon’s personal assistant Peter Chelang’a downplayed the ongoing political activities saying: “We’ve been doing that but I don’t know why people are seeing it now.
We have been meeting friends and engaging Kenyans across the country,” he said.
“You’ll see more of that going forward,” said Chelang’a hinting that a series of events lined up.
However, being Moi’s heir apparent, Gideon has often been ridiculed by his critics for allegedly failing to get out of the shadow of his father, who straddled the political scene like a colossus.
Speculation has been rife that Gideon overhauled his team of advisers and injected it with fresh blood, including engaging the services of a public relations firm to give him a “presidential face”.
Some of the advisers he appears to have let go is Kanu secretary general and former Bomet MP Nick Salat — an ever present face in Gideon’s meetings in the past.
The ‘bromance’ between Salat and Gideon stretches back to the days of their fathers: Salat appears to have followed in the footsteps of his father Isaac Kipkorir Salat, who was also the MP for Bomet during the Moi era. The senior Salat struck a good relationship with President Moi and this friendship trickled down to their children.
After the acrimonious 2017 presidential election, it was rumoured that Salat was destined to the Cabinet as part of the political deal Kanu entered with President Uhuru, but this was not to be.
In fact, he openly expressed his disappointment after Uhuru announced his Cabinet, saying Kanu had been given a raw deal.
“As Kanu we are and shall continue being loyal to Jubilee even if we were forgotten in the Cabinet slots,” he said.
Little has been heard of Salat since then. Former Mt Elgon MP Joseph Kimkung has also been missing in action.
Whether the absence of the two veteran politicians is by design or mere coincidence is hard to tell at this moment. Efforts to reach Salat proved futile as our phone calls went unanswered.
However, Tiaty MP William Kamket, now a key ally of the senator, dismissed claims that Gideon had overhauled his advisers.
Confirming that Gideon will be vying for the presidency in 2022, Kamket urged Kenyans not to read a lot from his countrywide tours.
“He is just reaching out to Kenyans but these are early days, time will come,” he said.
Regarding the heightened activities at Gideon’s camp, the first term legislator said: “Initially, he restricted himself to Baringo county but you will now see him other parts of the country because he is going for a bigger seat.”
According to former Roads minister Franklin Bett, the senator is playing to a well-laid-out plan, saying the visits— to either Kabarak by high profile politicians or his forays into regions outside the Rift Valley carry huge political connotations adding that one cannot afford to ignore him.
He said Mt Kenya, Ukambani and Luo Nyanza were already were already tilting towards Gideon.
“You cannot ignore him because he is doing things differently and people perceive him as a better alternative.”
“But, like it or not DP Ruto has the upper hand in the Rift Valley, but he should never underrate his opponents because the underdogs can sometimes pull a surprise just like in a football match,” added Bett. “I would advise them to be humble because no war is won in division. No matter the degree of their differences they must come together”.
Bett says Gideon is gaining clout because he enjoys the goodwill of Uhuru, Raila and other top political figures. He notes that the senator only needs 30 per cent of the Kalenjin vote to outdo Ruto.
“Things have been unfolding and strong signals have been sent. It is no longer a guarantee that Jubilee Party is going to have Ruto as its presidential candidate because the handshake has changed a lot of things,” said Bett.
In Kakamega last week, Gideonwas tellingly hosted by area Senator Cleophas Malala and Siaya’s James Orengo, who delivered Raila’s message. “We’re going back to the referendum and that’s a matter of fact,” said Orengo.
Allies of DP Ruto have dismissed referendum talks saying it is meant to frustrate his bid to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta by introducing other positions at the top. “2022 is still far but when that time comes the people of Kenya will decide,” he added.
According political analyst Andrew Yatich, Gideon will not be a pushover because has the advantage of the grassroots networks that his father laid out during his long political career. “He is the man to watch. He is going to be very formidable because he has few enemies.”