June 27th 2017

Top Stories / 2017 Elections

Like Uhuru in 2007, Kenneth bows out of presidential race to plan 2022 comeback

His joining the Jubilee coalition rekindled history of President Uhuru's own defection from his role as opposition leader to President Kibaki's supporter, which placed him in line of succession in Central Kenya.

By Phillip MuleeSunday, 23 Oct 2016 18:50 EAT

President Uhuru Kenyatta in a past picture with former President Mwai Kibaki and former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth.

Today's announcement by former presidential candidate Peter Kenneth that he will support President Uhuru Kenyatta's re-election in 2017 and is considering running for the Nairobi governor's seat caught top Nairobi Jubilee politicians unawares. Mr Kenneth said early today that voters in three counties - Nairobi, Muranga and Nakuru - had asked him to run for the governor's position in those regions and he was consulting widely on all the options before making up his mind.

While he did not announce outright his intention to run for the Nairobi governorship, political analysts contacted by the Kenya Free Press saw this as a foregone conclusion, judging by recent events in the Jubilee Party. The former Gatanga MP also cemented the perception with a public meeting in Eastleigh, Nairobi, which some analysts saw as the unofficial launch of his campaign for the tightly-fought position.

The frontrunner for the Jubilee Party's nomination for Nairobi governorship, current senator Mike Sonko, reacted swiftly to Mr Kenneth's announcement, welcoming the former Gatanga MP to the Jubilee Party and the race for Nairobi. “I am ready to work with the former Gatanga MP if he joins Jubilee Party and participates in the free and fair Jubilee party nominations,” stated Senator Sonko.

Mr Kenneth has been linked to the Murang’a governorship contest for much of the period since 2013 elections, but he had previously denied the reports, insisting that he was focused on the presidency and nothing else. For the past few months, Mr Kenneth has come to public limelight through occasional barbs at the government and opposition.

However, two months ago, he made appearances at some state functions and the funeral of former First Lady Lucy Kibaki in Nyeri, taking prominent positions with President Uhuru and Uhuru's predecessor Mwai Kibaki. His joining the Jubilee coalition rekindled history of President Uhuru's own defection from his role as opposition leader to President Kibaki's supporter, which placed him in line of succession in Central Kenya.

The race for the Nairobi governorship is already crowded. On the opposition side, incumbent Evans Kidero faces little challenge from within his party ODM, but a new super alliance that would bring in Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi into the CORD coalition has put Mr Kidero's re-election at stake, with the post being earmarked for Mr Mudavadi.

On the Jubilee side, Senator Sonko is the undisputed frontrunner in a five-way race that also includes Dagoretti South MP Dennis Waweru, Water and Irrigation Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, Nominated MP Johnson Sakaja and former MP Margaret Wanjiru. The former legal affairs adviser to Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Mr Miguna Miguna, is running as an independent. Mr Kenneth's entry into Jubilee will complicate the party's nomination which was already giving President Uhuru's side sleepless nights.

Senator Sonko, an outsider distrusted by the Nairobi business community, was seen as the first casualty of Mr Kenneth's switching base to Nairobi. The senator's statement was aimed to dissociate himself from a planned heckling of Mr Kenneth at the St. Teresa's Catholic Church in Eastleigh, where the former presidential aspirant was expected to announce his bid for Nairobi governorship.

Mr Sonko's statement said he had nothing to do with an alleged plan to heckle Mr Kenneth. “I wish to dissociate myself with the planned activity since I am ready for competition in Jubilee Party for the Nairobi Governor’s seat race," Mr Sonko said in his statement. The senator added, "I am also appealing to all Nairobi residents to welcome and accommodate other aspirants who will declare their bid for the Nairobi Governor’s seat since our ultimate goal as Jubilee Party is to win the seat and make Nairobi better again.”

An ally of Senator Sonko told the Kenya Free Press that the senator and some Nairobi politicians were caught unawares by Mr Kenneth's move, which he predicted would make it difficult for Jubilee Party to conduct free and fair nominations for the seat. "The message it sends is that Peter Kenneth is the candidate of powerful forces," the source said.

Mr Kenneth enjoys an urbane, technocratic reputation among middle class Kenyans and was favoured for the Nairobi governorship position in 2013, but he opted to run for the presidency. His announcement today had been preceded by an apparently coordinated campaign by social media users pressing for his running in Nairobi.

The hashtag #IwantPK4Nairobi trended early last month but many analysts did not see it as part of a grand scheme by Mr Kenneth's constituency to switch his political base to Nairobi.

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