With only six members in the National Assembly and three senators in the Senate – including the party Chairman Gideon Moi, it is fair to say that independence party the Kenya National African Union (KANU) has lost its national aura. Having dominated Kenyan politics for close to four decades, KANU’s glory days are indeed behind them. With the increasing popularity of parties forging political alliances in Kenya, KANU despite its ambivalence and dilly dallying with the two largest political coalitions last week decided to pledge loyalty to the ruling Jubilee coalition. It should be recalled that during the last election, KANU supported the Amani National Congress (ANC) led by Musalia Mudavadi.

Unlike many of the political parties in Kenya, KANU has been able to maintain its structure and leadership for a long time. Political parties and indeed coalitions in Kenya in the past three elections have been mere ethnic vehicles for political power. For example, Mwai Kibaki won the elections in 2002 under the NARC coalition banner but in the 2007 elections he ran under the Party of National Unity (PNU) ticket. In the 2013 elections President Uhuru Kenyatta ran on The National Alliance (TNA) party under the Jubilee Coalition beating his closest rival Raila Odinga who ran on the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party under the Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD). With the 2017 elections approaching, the political party and coalition terrain has changed. The parties that were in the Jubilee Coalition including the two major ones – TNA and the United Republican Party (URP) of the Deputy President Willian Ruto agreed to dissolve their parties and form the Jubilee Alliance Party (JAP) which will be used by President Uhuru Kenyatta to seek reelection in August 2017. CORD is also in the process of winding up with the National Super Alliance (NASA) its replacement. Musalia Mudavadi coined NASA late in 2016 with a vision to unite the opposition. Since then, Musalia Mudavadi’s ANC and CORD have agreed in principle to come together under the NASA coalition.

JAP and NASA: Same KANU faces

A closer look at the top leaders in both NASA and JAP shows their previous association to KANU. President Uhuru Kenyatta was KANU’s presidential candidate in 2002 coming second in the elections. He was catapulted into the limelight by former President Daniel Arap Moi having been nominated as MP in 2001 and soon after made Minister for Local Government. He was later dabbed as President Moi’s “project”. Uhuru Kenyatta’s Deputy William Ruto is another who came through KANU ranks. He emerged in the 1992 elections with other young turks like Cyrus Jirongo where he was the Organizing Secretary of Youth for KANU in 1992. Musalia Mudavadi on the other hand was also a strong KANU stalwart having inherited his late father’s Sabatia Constituency seat in 1989. He was close to President Moi and in 2002 was appointed Vice President – going in history as the shortest serving VP. He also Uhuru Kenyatta’s running mate in 2002. Kalonzo Musyoka, yet another NASA/CORD co-principal was a strong stalwart of KANU. He represented both the Kitui North and Mwingi South constituency with KANU party for close to three decades. He also served as Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Minister for a long time and was a leading contender for the KANU presidential ticket in 2002 before President Moi gave it to Uhuru Kenyatta. Raila Odinga is also associated with KANU having led his NDP party into a merger with KANU in 2002 before abandoning KANU with reasons similar to Kalonzo Musyoka. Moses Wetangula, now of FORD-Kenya was also first nominated into parliament on the KANU party ticket in 1992.

KANU Choices

In January 2017 when NASA was being officially unveiled in Bomas, KANU Secretary General Nick Salat was present and went on record stating that KANU was going to be part of NASA. After the 2013 elections, KANU remained ambivalent often showing signs that it was siding with the Jubilee coalition. It should be recalled KANU’s strongest support base is in the Rift Valley where its current Chairman Gideon Moi, who is the son of former President Moi comes from. Nick Salat is also from Bomet in Rift Valley. During the Kericho senatorial by-elections in March 2106 KANU went head to head with JAP in what was a battle between Jubilee Coalition and CORD (which supported KANU). JAP’s candidate Aaron Cheruiyot beat KANU’s Paul Sang although KANU cried foul. It was the beginning of a close relationship between KANU and CORD which also included URP/Jubilee rebel Governor Isaac Ruto of Bomet. Governor Ruto has been a close associate of the CORD coalition and a strong critic of Deputy President William Ruto. During the protest rallies against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) organized by CORD, KANU also joined leading to the ouster of IEBC Chairman Ahmed Issack Hassan and his Commissioners late 2016.

KANU’s love-hate relationship with Jubilee was witnessed during the funeral of KANU stalwart Mark Too on 10 January 2017. Gideon Moi and William Ruto had a public spat in what was believed to be battle for supremacy between the two in the Rift Valley region. A day later, on 11 January 2017 Nick Salat told a jubilant NASA crowd at Bomas in January 2017 that “KANU iko ndani ndani ndani ya NASA” meaning that KANU was fully in NASA only to later retract and pledge support to Jubilee.  This came after images of former President Moi meeting with Uhuru Kenyatta and his mother Mama Ngina Kenyatta at his Kabarak home on separate occasions. The meeting was seen as Moi trying to lure KANU back to Jubilee although other believe they discussed Gideon Moi’s 2022 presidential ambitions. However, after deliberations within the party’s national executive council, KANU announced it would support President Kenyatta’s reelection.

Political Pragmatism

KANU’s decision to side with Jubilee ahead of the General Elections in August 2017 make a lot of political sense. Firstly, as a political party, KANU understands that it needs to be in a position of political influence, and since it will not field a presidential candidate they would want to enhance their chances through a coalition which can form the next government. It is thus political prudence on KANU’s part, due to their geographical base to back President Uhuru Kenyatta who enjoys support in the Rift Valley due to his association with DP William Ruto. Secondly, KANU understands that in order to appeal to potential candidates at different electoral positions it needs to be seen to support Jubilee especially in the Rift Valley and some areas of Pokot. KANU is now supporting Jubilee out of political expediency and could change positions if NASA goes ahead and wins the elections in August 2017.