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Uhuru's tough choices amid murky succession battles and Somalia puzzle

By Abuga Makori in Nairobi , Garowe Online

NAIROBI, Kenya - With just 35 months to his retirement, Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta has found himself in a quagmire that needs urgent and viable solutions.

In the middle of the president's predicament are dwindling economy, ethnic polarisation and Indian Ocean maritime dispute with Somalia among others.

But the ongoing murky succession battles between two rival groups threatens his race against time to save his diminishing fortunes, a move that could taint his legacy.

His union with opposition leader Raila Odinga has dramatically divided his Jubilee party, with the president now finding himself at loggerheads with his own deputy, William Ruto.

Already, the succession politics have eclipsed the president's quest to fix the country's hailing economy, a fact that he has noted in his last public addresses.

"I have no time for petty politics. Let us settle down and work for the people. If you think you can take my silence for granted, I will fire back at the right time," he told MPs from his Mt Kenya backyard.

Despite the president's warning, his unrelenting deputy and a platoon of his followers, have often dismissed the unity pact between him and Odinga.

To them, Odinga's presence is to create discord within the ruling coalition, with the Deputy President now taking on his Twitter account to publicly rebuke Odinga, a new comrade to the president.

"The president must stamp his authority, fire dissidents, within government and show that he's in charge. If this trend continues, he will retire as a failure," observes Didmus Mokua, a political analyst.

Besides the murky succession politics, Uhuru could have his relationship tested once the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report comes out. His deputy has already opposed the anticipated constitutional changes.

The BBI team was constituted after Uhuru's famous reconciliation with Odinga. With the team expected to recommend for change of government from presidential to parliamentary, already battle lines have been drawn.

While Odinga is for parliamentary, the DP is emphasizing the status quo, a move that leaves the president in the middle of two men, who are both indispensables in his quest for a good legacy.

The changes have brought about divided opinion, even causing rifts within DP William Ruto's camp. Majority Leader Aden Duale, a staunch supporter of Ruto, has already supported Odinga's camp.

"To end the ethnic antagonism, we must adopt a Parliamentary system. This is the only way marginalized communities can ascend to power and enjoy the same privileges as the rest."

With early campaigns now derailing his development agenda, the president is also grappling with ballooning debt levels and high unemployment rates. Most projects risk stalling.

Recently, the government's attempts to slash the Judiciary budget were met with resistance, further fueling tensions within the government.

Economist David Ndii opines that Uhuru's legacy may not be achieved given the government's appetite for debt and grand corruption.

"He's his own enemy. He borrows a lot, allows government mandarins to steal and the burden shifts to innocent taxpayers. He risks leaving as the worst president," he says on his Twitter.

Currently, Kenya's debt stands at $60 billion, the highest since its independence. Several companies have closed in the last year, rendering thousands jobless.

Already, China has pulled out funding Uhuru's Standard Gauge Railway project, which will now stall at Naivasha, a town with little economic impact. The US also canceled the planned construction of the Nairobi-Mombasa highway due to ballooning debt.

Apart from the myriad of internal challenges, Uhuru is also facing a standoff with neighboring Somalia, with the two nations now battling at the International Court of Justice over the Indian Ocean maritime dispute.

So sensitive has been the issue, that even the United Nations experts on Monday warned of dire consequences if it's not amicably solved.

While Uhuru is rooting for dialogue, President Mohamed Farmajo insists that Somalia is comfortable with ICJ arbitration'. The case is scheduled for June 2020.

The case standoff will shape Uhuru's legacy given the role Kenya has played for years in promoting peace and stability in Somalia. Over 4,000 KDF troops are in the Horn of Africa nation.

"The case matters because it can cause a diplomatic row. These two nations need each other in the fight against Al-Shabaab. Uhuru must be keen to find a lasting solution for the dispute," says Dr. Vincent Moracha of Kisii University.

Kenya has tentatively scheduled strategic exit of KDF troops from Somalia in 2021 but authorities in Somalia are keen to have them for a little longer period.

Constitutionally, Uhuru's term ends in 2022. He cannot extend further due to strict dictates and has often reminded the country that 'he's not interested to stay any longer'.