Mr Prime Cabinet Secretary,
For the longest time, you’ve been referred to as the gentleman of Kenyan politics, mostly because of your candour and demeanour. From the time you went into competitive politics and straight into Cabinet in 1989 aged 29, you’ve managed to escape the first trap most Kenyan politicians fall into, that of possessing a sharp divisive tongue, buttressed by mostly empty braggadocio and chest thumping, a combination which always attracts a sad ending.
But beyond your mien and mannerisms, you’ve also found yourself at the centre of political action when Kenya has faced serious crises. In 1992, still fresh in politics, you became finance minister at a time when the Goldenberg scandal and the activities of the Youth for KANU 1992 (YK’92) were threatening to completely cripple the Kenyan economy, with donors keeping off because of the KANU regime’s abuse of human rights and assault on democracy.
Swimming with the sharks, you kept your head down, and with a raft of changes, including in the political sphere, the economy started making a comeback to the straight and narrow even if it didn’t fully recover to where it was before KANU’s misadventures. You did the same as minister of finance when you faced a hostile parliament during the reading of the budget in 1997, with opposition legislators pushing to disrupt the session with their ‘no reforms no elections’ clarion call. Again, you kept your head down, and did the same when Moi made you vice president on the eve of the 2002 general election where you lost your parliamentary seat.
You aren’t an angel, but you’ve always kept your head down so far.
In 2007, when Kenya was burning after the post-election violence, you were among those who mediated a truce, standing in for Raila Odinga, who was your principal. In 2013, you gave the presidency a shot after being shortchanged by Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, who were to back you for the presidency. You didn’t take this to heart. In 2017, you were back with Raila Odinga, whose unsuccessful bid resulted in you siding with William Ruto in 2022.
And now, Mr Prime Cabinet Secretary, you find yourself in the tightest spot.
At 62, and having served in the highest ministerial positions and been a vice president and later on a deputy prime minister, you are now an elder statesman (much as some may have reservations calling you this), who can no longer afford to keep his head down as Kenya and Kenyans yearn for leadership. What puts you in an even tighter spot is the fact that of the top three leaders of the Executive, you are the eldest, the President being 56 and his deputy 58.
When during the 2022 presidential campaign you christened your act of joining William Ruto a political earthquake, critics felt you’d made a miscalculation, but being the experienced hand that you are, having won, lost and won elections, you must’ve known what you were getting yourself into. You certainly knew the economy was in a tight spot, and was definitely aware that the 2022 campaigns were divisive, meaning the country needed a lot of healing and uniting. More importantly, you must have been aware of those you would govern with – their mannerisms, their beliefs, their histories, their temperaments, their tones, and everything else they brought with them. You now had to govern together, for better or for worse.
Today, as Kenya grapples with fear and uncertainty due to dire economic circumstances and a polarised political environment – your colleagues in government have completely ignored your calls to tone down on the divisive rhetoric while the opposition, your erstwhile partners, have given your pleas to abandon protests a wide berth – you now find yourself in a place where you must act, for the good of Kenya. Will you, at this juncture, stay mum while inside a government which has some of the sharpest tongues, and will you, having worked for long with all the leading lights within the opposition, sit back and watch them paralyse the state?
Whether you will be the voice of reason within government and persuade your colleagues into changing their ways – reduce the vitriol against those who didn’t vote for you and serve all Kenyans as their oaths of office dictate; or be the bridge through which the government and the opposition will make peace and pursue alternative routes in resolving the prevailing stalemate, history has today bestowed upon you a task which you mustn’t abscond from.
The clock, Mr Prime Cabinet Secretary, is ticking.