The Manchurian Candidate is a 1959 novel by Richard Condon, in which a US soldier is brainwashed into unwittingly becoming a sleeper agent for communist conspiracies when he returns home.
He was part of a platoon that had been captured by Soviet commandos during the Korean War.
Younger souls will more likely remember the 2004 film adaptation of the same, starring Denzel Washington and Liev Shreiber, in which the latter, playing the role of Sergeant Raymond Shaw, who gets awarded for saving the lives of his unit during the Gulf War, and rises through the ranks and in politics, to become a vice-presidential candidate.
Soldier Bennett Marco, played by Denzel Washington, however, doubts that the incident ever took place, leading to an investigation that reveals Shaw is an agent of foreign powers.
In modern times “Manchurian candidate” has been widely accepted as someone who works for, or becomes a puppet of enemy powers within his country or organisation.
In fact, the Cambridge online dictionary defines it as “a person who is not loyal to, or who harms their own country or political party, because they are under the control or influence of another country or political party”.
Let us borrow this concept and localise it in regard to the declaration by businessman Jimi Wanjigi that he will run for president.
For a long time, Wanjigi has been one of the few top Kikuyu personalities close to ODM chief Raila Odinga.
Indeed, he is a self-confessed life member of the ODM party. Not many will forget the vicious raid by police at his Nairobi home when the law enforcers broke through doors and barriers as if looking for something really important.
Urban myths and fertile street imaginations hilariously went live with the rumour that Wanjigi may have been hiding the presidential ceremonial sword for the transition, apparently entrusted to him by the then tight duo of President Uhuru Kenyatta and DP William Ruto, who at that time were staring at a difficult repeat election following the Supreme Court’s nullification of the August 2017 poll.
The Nasa brigade led by the alliance candidate Odinga, at that time Wanjigi’s new buddies after his falling out with the Jubilee pair, promptly arrived at his house and camped.
And since Mr Odinga generally does not forget his friends, he stayed there all day and night, until the drama ended. That loyalty was generously praised by Wanjigi at his doorstep when he finally appeared to talk to the press.
Wanjigi has often been touted as one of the top ODM financiers.
I generally take this phrase with a pinch of salt, because my experience is that most top businessmen and millionaires usually believed to fund parties, do so only in name, and often are behind the rumour itself, as a way of spreading out their political bets.
Be that as it may, Wanjigi’s close association with Raila is in the public domain.
This is why, in the middle of Uhuru’s attempts to market the ODM boss as a viable leader and safe pair of hands in his Central Kenya backyard, I would have expected Wanjigi to jump into the driver’s seat, as the most prominent Kikuyu face around the ODM leader, in cementing the Handshake and Raila as a future president, in the Mt Kenya region.
By choosing instead to go for the seat himself, while not denouncing ODM or his association with Raila, is Wanjigi the Manchurian Candidate, helping Raila’s opponents erode any gains the latter and the president have made around the mountain?
To be fair, Wanjigi has probably scanned the Mt Kenya political landscape and noticed that the worst kept secret in that region is the absence of a big and credible political player who can fit into Uhuru’s shoes after 2022.
Like every political schemer, he probably realises that he carries less baggage compared to all current elected leaders.
I dare say that the caravan of Central Kenya leaders heading to the Karen residence and getting larger by the day is the biggest testimony to the dearth of charismatic leaders and uniting figures, post-Uhuru.
Wanjigi has also admitted in the past that the Jubilee coalition was actually created in his house, the one he feels the same leaders desecrated by sending police to break into.
On that score, one could say Wanjigi already knows the inner workings of statecraft and the intrigues it takes to create a winning coalition. He, therefore, comes prepared for the political rough and tumble ahead.
In a way, his long association with Raila and ODM also makes him the one Central Kenya figure who could be sold to the Raila base outside Central.
There is, however, one more angle to look at Wanjigi’s run.
In 2007, Raila basically got his ODM Pentagon partners to declare presidential runs in their bases to consolidate them before they all gathered at the Kasarani Stadium to hand over these bases for his hugely acclaimed presidential stab in December that year.
It was a well-choreographed move in which after the delegates had picked Raila for the ticket, the other “presidential contenders”, Musalia Mudavadi, William Ruto, Joseph Nyagah and Najib Balala, took to the podium to pledge loyalty to their new flagbearer.
There is no knowing if Wanjigi’s run is part of the 2007 script, where he and possibly a few more political players, will declare a run for the presidency, as part of Raila’s plans to prepare for the ground before the official nomination.
You wouldn’t even rule out the possibility of his just angling to be the running mate on the Handshake ticket!
In my view, it makes no political sense for Wanjigi to start a serious presidential pursuit within the ODM framework, if indeed he intends to go all the way. In a land where parties have owners, those of ODM stand out like a sore thumb.
In fact, the more serious his run seems, the more he will fall afoul of them.
At this time, when they still don’t consider him a threat, insiders will probably throw around juicy phrases about internal democracy and that kind of stuff.
But it won’t be long before his ambitions become a hurdle in Raila’s desire to placate Central Kenya voters. That is, it won’t be long before he appears more and more like the Manchurian Candidate.
The flip side is that for as long as Central Kenya, an inward-looking vote bloc if ever there was one, doesn’t get a top candidate for the seat, Wanjigi may surprise all by becoming the next big thing.
He is, after all, as dynasty as they come, in a neighbourhood that loves voting for dynasties. Time will tell. BY THE STAR
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