By Benja Imende
Six months to the polls, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s mega Jubilee Party is in turmoil and key allies are regretting the merger of 11 smaller parties.
Six months after JP’s celebrated formation as the saviour of Kenyan democracy and unity, there are numerous defections, bitter infighting, distrust and claims of weak internal structures.
Uhuru’s close advisers are rethinking strategy.
Details of disarray emerged as the newly energised National Super Alliance, NASA, holds mammoth rallies in real and perceived Jubilee strongholds.
However, JP secretary general Veronica Maina dismissed reports of discord as false.
“Everything is on course and our focus is winning the elections, which we will,” Maina said on the phone yesterday.
The Star pieced together this picture of the troubled party based on numerous interviews with JP operatives, Uhuru’s close advisers, JP politicians and dismayed officials of smaller parties.
Discontent reflects divisions among Uhuru aides and close allies who say people behind the mega party — launched on September 9 last year — do not grasp the convoluted political landscape.
Some of the President’s key allies say he does not appear to have a campaign diary, weakening strategies and giving rivals an advantage.
Trouble deepened over the weekend after Meru Senator Kiraitu Murungi, who spearheaded the merger, publicly admitted it had backfired.
“The idea was and remains noble — to unite Kenyans into one political vehicle. But Kenyans are not ready for such a big party,” Kiraitu said.
He said small parties outside Jubilee — Maendeleo Chap Chap, Chama Cha Mashinani, Kanu, PNU, among others — are bleeding Jubilee of its strong members.
This is because Jubilee members feel they will lose nominations and say they are marginalised within the huge outfit and intimidated by the ‘big boys’ who claim to be close to Uhuru.
It has been established that nine small parties on the powerful Jubilee Advisory Council are deeply dismayed and considering bolting and forming a new outfit. There is talks of joining another party, strengthening it and threatening Jubilee in its strongholds.
Officials of former parties say the new party structure has made them redundant.
“At times we are asked why they need us when someone else can do our work, even after we dissolved our parties,” former Republican Congress chairperson Said Ali said. His old party was led by Tourism CS Najib Balala.
“There is no hierarchy. Head of secretariat Raphael Tuju reports directly to the President because chairman Nelson Dzuya is nowhere in the structure. They brought in new people who were not part of our plans,” Ali said.
For two consecutive days, NASA’s four principals have received heroic welcomes in the perceived Jubilee strongholds of Meru and Eldoret. It’s not clear whether surging crowds signal a shift in allegiance away from Jubilee or just curiosity.
There are also complaints JP brass ignored the structures of former parties, which were to be adopted as part of the binding merger deal. New people are coming on board, violating the agreement, they say.
“We are in darkness since our last meeting with Uhuru when we dissolved our parties. We don’t get any support or communication from the party,” former Kibwezi MP Kalembe Ndile said.
Meantime, a section of Ford People members urgently wants the court to reverse the decision to fold up. They say the merger was illegal.
Edward Onyancha and seven others want the Registrar of Political Parties to rescind a decision dissolving their party.
JP has suffered an exodus of candidates to smaller parties allied to Uhuru such as PNU, MCC and Kanu.
The mass defections have come as a shocker, prompting Tuju to disown small outfits supporting Uhuru’s reelection but sapping JP members and competing against it.
“I categorically state JP does not have a memorandum with so-called friendly parties because we will field our own candidates. Those decamping should look for better reasons to leave but not blame nominations,” Tuju said last week.
Those ditching JP for MCC include Embu Senator Lenny Kivuti, who is running for governor; nominated Senator Emma Mbura; Uhuru’s adviser Kilemi Mwiria; Embu Deputy Governor Dorothy Nditi, who is running for woman representative; Mbeere North MP Muriuki Njagagua and many other aspirants.
PNU, led by Meru Governor Peter Munya, has also received JP defectors who want its ticket.
Embu Governor hopeful Kithinji Kiragu, who lost narrowly to Martin Wambora in 2013, has moved to PNU.
Political observers say the President is too entangled in party activities when the country is grappling with crises — doctors’ strike, lecturers’ strike, drought, famine and deadly violence in several counties.
This is fodder for the opposition.
Analyst Javas Bigambo said Uhuru’s focus on politics gives the impression he’s ignoring burning issues of insecurity, tribalism, hunger and unemployment.
Uhuru and DP William Ruto have spent a lot of time on primaries, the botched nomination of new officials, party recruitment drive and management.
“I don’t know what’s really happening, but we cannot win this way,” former Kibwezi MP Ndile said.
“We no longer meet the President and we are even informed he is visiting our strongholds through county commissioners,” he said.
Ndile says edging out former TNA boss Onyango Oloo was a bad idea. Oloo has joined ODM and is running for Kisumu Central MP.
In 2013, Uhuru’s campaign was efficiently coordinated by Team Uhuru working closely with Ruto and Jomo Gechaga, Uhuru’s chief of staff and personal secretary.
This time round, it’s different.