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Kenya's Vice President Vies for the Top Job - 2002-08-20

Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi says the ruling KANU party remains united -- despite dissent over his preferred heir, Uhuru Kenyatta -- the son of former president Jomo Kenyatta. At least four other party members are seeking to lead KANU.

One of them is the current vice president, George Saitoti, a professor of mathematics. So far, Professor Saitoti -- who has served as vice president for the last thirteen years --has kept a low profile as the president campaigns for Uhuru Kenyatta. However, some like Mutahi Ngunyi believe the vice president – who has always had cordial relations with the president -- should not be counted out. Mr Ngunyi is a political scientist with Consult Africa, a Nairobi based think tank on African politics: "Constitutionally, Saitoti is the king-in-waiting should anything happen to Moi, God forbid, and Moi knows that fact, for sure. I think he is keeping him there as soft “Plan B” just in case the Uhuru project fails."

Professor Saitoti made it clear for the first time last Wednesday that he will run for the presidency, come what may. His political base is the Masai community in Rift Valley province. Though he may not have a lot of support among KANU, a considerable part of the opposition appreciates his diplomatic approach to politics. He could also bring the experience of several years of government service to the office of the President.

Giving his vision, Professor Saitoti said Kenya needs a good economic manager: "The position of the president of the Republic of Kenya is a highly demanding task and will require an individual who is totally dedicated to the nation and one who has the necessary tools and experience to govern. It will require a leader who can effectively negotiate with world leaders for the benefit of all Kenyans. My service to this country has prepared me to handle the challenges of leadership."

According to President Moi, Uhuru Kenyatta is the best candidate because he is ready to be guided, and is young and popular. Opinion is divided over why the president or his advisers do not want professor Saitoti to be the next president. Mr. Ngunyi believes that Mr. Moi would like to continue ruling through his hand-picked successor – but that that Mr. Saitoti would be harder to manipulate since he knows some of the president’s weaknesses: "When President Moi came to power he [got rid of] all the people who made him -- for instance [former attorney general in the Kenyatta government] Charles Njonjo and [former cabinet minister in the Kenyatta government] Joseph Kamotho. Professor Saitoti is likely to do that so that he can be seen to be disengaged from whatever ills this regime might have committed and that’s the only way he can emerge as a lean person and acceptable leader."

It’s not yet clear when the ruling KANU party will hold its presidential nominations. So far, the race includes presidential favorite Uhuru Kenyatta along with vice president professor George Saitoti, the party’s secretary general Raila Odinga and two vice-chairmen Musalia Mudavadi and Kalonzo Musyoka.