President Uhuru Kenyatta is not keen on arresting NASA leader Raila Odinga, despite pressure from some of his closest advisers.
Raila has said the State is after him, after it arrested and deported his ally Miguna Miguna to Canada and charged Ruaraka MP Tom Kajwang’ with treason for their role in the “swearing-in” event on January 30.
People close to the President told the Star yesterday that Uhuru believes arresting Raila will raise political tensions, which could adversely affect his development plans.
“All we are seeing now is nothing new. We have seen it before and even swearing-in himself means nothing: We have no crisis of any nature. President Kenyatta was dully elected and sworn in. He has a job to do and that is what he is focused on,” Jubilee Secretary General Raphael Tuju told the BBC’s HARDtalk programme.
Jubilee MPs have also been asked to keep off debate about Raila and his activities because “doing so will embolden the Opposition and fuel their agenda”.
Apart from Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, who, in the run-up to Raila’s oath-taking said they would undertake a male initiation ceremony in Uhuru Park on the day Raila swore himself in, Jubilee MPs, governors and MCAs have uncharacteristically been quiet.
“Politics ended once Uhuru was elected. Jubilee is now focussed on serving the people who elected them,” said Kuria.
Jubilee vice-chairman David Murage would not be drawn into discussing dialogue with the Opposition and the curious silence by Jubilee leaders.
“No comment,” he snapped.
Another group around the President believes that Raila is no longer a threat; so ignoring him would be the best option.
On a personal level, the President is reported to have a lot of time and respect for Raila.
In both official and personal interactions, the NASA leader and President Uhuru have always addressed each other as “Ndugu (Brother)”.
Even as Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in the Grand Coalition Government, Raila and Uhuru addressed official government letters and memos to each other as “Ndugu”, and not “Dear Sir, PM or DPM”.
There is a general understanding that the two leaders, now at the centre of major standoff on the national political stage, generally respect each other even as they differ politically.
But as Uhuru embarks on his second and final term as President and Raila pursues his final actions on the political stage that will have a huge impact on how Kenyans remember him, the question in the minds of most Kenyans is whether history will repeat itself between the Kenyatta and Odinga families.
When he took over in 2013, Uhuru is said to have been keen to end the decades-old animosity between his family and Raila’s, which has translated into a love-hate relationship between the Luo and the Kikuyu even in the three-million-person Diaspora.
This concern appeared to be shared by the Odingas and is said to be part of the reason Raila simply accepted the Supreme Court ruling that confirmed Uhuru’s win in 2013 and proceeded to wish the President well.
Five years ago, Raila is said to have been uncomfortable starting another prolonged contest with Uhuru, which risked widening the rifts between the two families and communities.
Raila has often stated that the differences between his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Uhuru’s father, Jomo Kenyatta, who were the Founding Vice President and President of Kenya, respectively, were ideological, not tribal or personal.
Observers however fear history is repeating itself as Raila and Uhuru retain a respectful personal relationship while they differ bitterly politically, with their differences leading even to loss of lives as was the case between their fathers.
When Jomo died in 1978, Jaramogi, his first Vice-President, with whom they had fallen out politically in 1966-69, attended the laying in state of the body at State House, Nairobi, and, standing next to the body, wept too after saying a prayer in Dholuo. After his loud dirge, which was broadcast by the State-owned Voice of Kenya Radio and TV, Jaramogi told the media he did not have fundamental differences with Kenyatta
The subject of whether the sons of the founders of the Kenyan nation will heal the wounds or keep digging is a sensitive one, even among the MPs allied to the respective leaders.
In Parliament however, a number of Luo MPs view Uhuru more favourably than his deputy, William Ruto.
Some say that, in any contest that happens to pit Uhuru’s interests against Ruto’s, they will back Uhuru because they think he is more respectful of Raila.
The MPs however feel the ongoing crackdown on NASA leaders is Uhuru’s doing and could undermine the favourable view. Uhuru’s people too think the recent self-coronation by Raila as ‘People’s President’ is the final affront on the mutual respect the two leaders have enjoyed over the years and could be a turning point.
Still, some of the leaders allied to Raila privately advise that he should tread with care.
“With the ‘People’s President’ title, he could just stick to promoting popular causes without further actions that provoke rivalry with Uhuru,” a former Senator said.
Raila too is said to be keen to retain the mutual respect with Uhuru and has often asked his team to refrain from attacking Uhuru personally.
It is said that some politicians and technocrats in the current regime and those drawn from the Grand Coalition days have been working behind the scenes to restore contacts between Uhuru and Raila in the hope it could mark the beginning of a solution to the political standoff.
The team had advised direct engagement with Raila and avoiding the use of traditional Raila rivals like Raphael Tuju and Dalmas Otieno, among others.
The team also advised that foreign diplomats take a back seat in the effort to resolve the current standoff and leave it to local leaders, including elders who understand its origins better.
The two leaders fear that if the rift between the Kenyatta and Odinga familes is not resolved by the two sons currently at the apex of national politics, it may never be resolved at all and could one day lead the country into a full-scale civil war.