Over the last two weeks Kenyans have seen the Jubilee political system at its worst. Jubilee MPs have thrown tantrums all over, and openly defied their coalition leader and President. They have taken to public podiums to castigate him with ultimatums. They have threatened his authority directly and told him that if he does not heed what they are saying ‘things will get worse’; basically that they will make his government’s work very difficult at best, or support an impeachment motion against him at worst.
Unfortunately what these MPs do not understand is that a ruling party’s MPs cannot challenge their government and presidency publicly, and not suffer politically. These Jubilee MPs do not realise that they are not operating in a vacuum. When you attack your own President in public, whatever your justification, you are telling the public that you no longer respect his authority over you. As you say this the ‘enemies’ of your government, both internal and external, are watching. They will use your own words against you … and your President.
First, I expect that CORD will capitalize on this. Our Opposition will now start telling Kenyans how this government, and President Uhuru Kenyatta, no longer have the trust of even their own loyalists. They will spin the rejection of the single issues the MPs are raising to look like the President’s own MPs have rejected his entire mandate. They will then use their political platforms and using the Jubilee MPs own words, and adding their own political venom, to insult the President in public. Essentially the Jubilee MPs have provided the Opposition with ammunition to fight and undermine the President and you can be sure CORD will do this with relish.
Second; the MPs have not profiled their coalition leader. Uhuru Kenyatta strikes me as a man who does not respond well to threats, and especially when such threats are made in public. We have seen how he responds when such threats come from the international community, the media or the Opposition. The MPs are daring the President to respond negatively against them. Unfortunately if he does they all lose.
Third; such battles weaken Jubilee’s hold on the ‘permanent’ public service. Let us assume that the President bows to the MPs pressure. They will have forced him to censure his senior-most security government official purely because his MPs do not like her. This will send a powerful message across the public service; his government’s employees will understand it to mean that any requests made by Jubilee MPs, no matter how outrageous, must be adhered to or the MPs will throw a tantrum against you and no matter how good your work is, the President will turn against you. At best this will have a devastating psychological effect on his government’s capacity to deliver to Kenyans. At worst this could lead to direct sabotage from the public service.
Fourth; the MPs have also not considered the effect this internal challenge on the Presidency will have on his political clout. The reason we have so much drama around Presidents; the hard-eyed men around, the motorcades; the long-lines waiting to greet him when he arrives; his speaking last; etc, is to create the impression of someone in control of his space. The minute there is a crack in this picture, even if it is just tripping down a stair as we saw with Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe; the political enemies of that Presidency step in to take advantage. The Jubilee MPs have cracked President’s Kenyatta’s picture of power, in coming days we will see all manner of political vultures circling the President for the kill.
Finally; Jubilee is giving this government’s external enemies new ideas. Anyone who has seen some of the recruitment videos Al Shabaab circulates on the Internet will confirm that part of their strategy against Kenya is to psychologically undermine the authority of the Head of the Kenyan State. How better to do this than to use the words of the President’s own MPs against him?
How can Jubilee recover from this?
One; the MPs must stand down immediately from their attacks on the Presidency and the Executive. They must accept that even if they win these battles, their direct and indirect rivals will use the win to ensure they lose the war in 2017 both as individual MPs in their constituencies, and as a Coalition nationally. They must leave attacks on the Presidency to the Opposition.
Two; the President must be magnanimous. When his MPs ‘blink first’ he cannot afford to fight them. He must let this rebellion pass. However he can let everyone understand that it cannot happen again. Three; an internal Jubilee political infrastructure must be established to facilitate internal dialogue to avoid scenarios where Jubilee MPs have to wash dirty linen in public, or throw tantrums, to get noticed by the President.
(Wambugu is a Director of Change Associates; a Politic Affairs Consultancy)