Kenya’s 2022 election: Kalonzo Musyoka limps to the ballot box

By Son Gatitu
Posted on Thursday, 27 January 2022 21:08, updated on Friday, 28 January 2022 15:18

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, the presidential candidate of the National Super Alliance coalition, and his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka attend their campaign rally at the Kamukunji grounds in Nairobi
Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, the presidential candidate of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition, and his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka attend their campaign rally at the Kamukunji grounds in Nairobi, Kenya, July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Kenya’s former vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka is at crossroads of his political career as the August presidential election fast approaches.

For a man who enjoyed the trappings of power just a decade ago, he has been repeatedly abandoned by his political allies.

On 23 January, Kalonzo’s chances of staging a credible presidential bid took a hit when two of his key allies – Musalia Mudavadi (Amani National Congress, ANC) and Moses Wetangula (Forum for the Restoration of Democracy–Kenya) – ditched him for deputy president William Ruto. This is despite them having spent more than a year setting up the One Kenya Alliance (OKA) with Kalonzo and Gideon Moi (Kenya African National Union).

Kalonzo had already declared that he was in the Statehouse race. “The time is now. This is the time,” he told supporters at his Machakos County home. “On the 23rd of this month [January], we will join our brother Musalia and members of ANC as he gets endorsed [for the presidency] … and I know that we are going to agree on our flag bearer […].”

However, when Mudavadi turned up at the Bomas of Kenya tourism village on that day, he was in the company of Ruto and more than 100 elected leaders allied to Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party. Kalonzo and Moi walked out in protest.

OKA spokesperson Fred Okango later released a statement to the press saying: “Unfortunately, we have to part ways since some of his [Mudavadi’s] friends are not our friends, and we are unsafe with them.”

Kalonzo, the man

To understand Kalonzo’s situation, it helps to look at his past.

In 1985, when he was first elected to parliament, he was only 32. At the time, Kenya was a single-party state. Kalonzo won a spot on the ruling party’s ticket and won at the polls. For 28 years, Kalonzo knew no political defeat, serving in different capacities as a minister and deputy speaker of parliament.

Following the end of then president Daniel arap Moi’s tenure in 2002, Kalonzo broke ranks with the former head of state and his political mentor, who had instead picked Uhuru Kenyatta – a political novice at the time to succeed him.

I will pass between them and they won’t see me.

Kalonzo then teamed up with opposition chief Raila Odinga, under the Liberal Democratic Party, and together they joined hands with Mwai Kibaki to deal Kenyatta a historical defeat. Kibaki garnered 62% of the vote against Kenyatta’s 31%.

Kalonzo’s ambition grew, and by 2007, he had fallen out with Odinga, who established the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). Kalonzo set up a faction named ODM-Kenya, which he later rebranded as the Wiper Democratic Movement.

That year’s election saw Kalonzo come in third in a race about which he had said: “I will pass between them and they won’t see me.”

Following the post-election violence, Kalonzo jumped into a coalition with Kibaki, who had controversially been sworn in as president. By February 2008, violence had ripped the country so badly apart, forcing a coalition government with Kibaki and Odinga. Kalonzo became a mere assistant to Kibaki, with Odinga as prime minister.

Burden of perception

Fast-forward to the 2013 general election. In months preceding the poll, Kalonzo frequently defended Kenyatta and Ruto at campaign rallies. At the time, the duo face trials at the International Criminal Court over the 2007/2008 post-election violence.

Kenyatta would later say that some politicians were hanging around like hyenas “waiting for the hanging hand to fall”. It was argued that he was referring to Kalonzo, who had hoped the alliance with the duo would herald an endorsement to run for the presidency as a compromise candidate.

A jilted Kalonzo abandoned the Kenyatta-Ruto grouping and returned to his old ally, Odinga, to form the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy. However, they again lost the election and were in the opposition for five years.

Veteran running mate

In March 2017, Kalonzo was expected to take another stab at the presidency after he told a Wiper meeting: “At 63 years of age, why would I delay the decision to become president, why? […] I want one person to convince me.”

It is unthinkable that one Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka will support Raila Amollo Odinga for the third time.

However, he would later sign up for the race as Odinga’s running mate under the National Super Alliance. They lost again in the polls, and he later resolved to quit the coalition.

Life of twists and turns

In January 2021, Kalonzo again declared his State House bid for the next election. “It is unthinkable that one Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka will support Raila Amollo Odinga for the third time,” he told NTV-Kenya. “I’d rather go to Tseikuru, […] that’s an option”. Tseikuru is Kalonzo’s birthplace in Kitui County.

“I would be [the] most stupid fellow [on] earth to go and support [for] the third time a presidential candidate without a measure of reciprocity.”

The assertion appeared to bolster the hopes and aspirations of his support base in Ukambani region. As of November 2021, the region – comprising Machakos, Makueni and Kitui counties – had 1.6 million registered voters.

In the past two elections, Kalonzo has used this vote to negotiate for the position of a presidential running mate. This time round however, that may not work.

End of the line?

Ruto and Odinga have been canvassing the vote-rich Mount Kenya region. There’s a high probability that they will each pick a presidential running mate from there.

With Mudavadi and Wetangula gravitating towards Ruto, Kalonzo has been left trying to save face. “[The ANC event] has cleared the way,” he told a political meeting in Kitui on 24 January. “I think my other friends were causing ‘traffic jam’. The ‘jam’ is no more, now we go direct[ly] to State House.”

Corruption would be the order of the day […]. It would be the most corrupt regime. It would be a corruption-led administration.

He only has a few options left: to soldier on and run for presidency, either on his own or with Gideon Moi; to join hands – once again – with Odinga under the newly formed Azimio la Umoja movement; to join Ruto; or to drop out.

However, he is on record having disparaged Ruto’s candidacy. “Corruption would be the order of the day […]. It would be the most corrupt regime. It would be a corruption-led administration,” he said.

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