Deputy President William Ruro [Picture: File/Standard]
By OSCAR OBONYO
NAIROBI, KENYA: With barely 60 days in office, Deputy President William Ruto is stealthily and skilfully spreading his political tentacles across the country. His forays into former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s wider political constituency are particularly causing jitters as well as outrage.
Yesterday, Ruto and Raila were scheduled to attend separate events in Western Kenya, one of the former PM’s strongholds. Vihiga County Senator George Khaniri was to play host to Ruto, who changed course at the last minute to attend the Reinhard Bonnke crusade in Nairobi.
Raila was chief guest at Luanda MP Christopher Omulele’s homecoming party in the county.
This would have been the fourth visit for the Deputy President to the region, less than two months since he was sworn into office on April 9. Ruto’s first stop was in Migori County in late April where he assured residents of Nyanza that the Jubilee government will work with them regardless of their party affiliation.
Ruto has also been to Lugari in Kakamega County for the homecoming of area MP Ayub Savula, and to Bungoma and Busia counties to condole victims of recent criminal attacks in the area.
Pundits also view his positive gesture to absorb Raila’s former staff and his quiet lobbying to have the former PM appointed special envoy, as signals of Ruto’s political overture to the Raila support base.
With former Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi and former Justice minister Eugene Wamalwa politically neutralised within Jubilee, where they are partners, any high-profile appointment of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) leader would virtually render the western Kenya region politically orphaned.
This, coupled with his newfound hobby of joining soccer fans, who are mainly from Western and Nyanza, for matches has prompted a host of questions: Is the Deputy President on a campaign to consolidate his political power bases or is he simply out to reconcile the country? Alternatively, why does he appear to be in a hurry to inherit the Raila political constituency this early in their ascent to power?
Noting that Ruto and President Uhuru are currently preoccupied with setting up Government through ongoing appointments of top officials, Kericho County Senator Charles Keter dismisses talk of the Deputy President eyeing Raila’s support base.
“This is not the time for politicking but rather delivering on the Jubilee campaign pledges. Besides, the President and his deputy have a very cordial working relationship and there is no possibility that either of them is laying ground to go it alone in five years’ time,” says the Senator, a close ally of Ruto.
But Rarieda MP, Nicholas Gumbo, thinks otherwise: “Ruto has never hidden the fact that he wants to be President of Kenya at some point. But whether or not this is the right time, is another matter.”
Judging from his recent political activities, Gumbo opines that the Deputy President may be trying to position himself politically ahead of the next presidential elections, “considering that in Kenya political alliances hardly last five years”.
The Standard On Sunday has established that Ruto has been in constant touch with MPs from Nyanza, most of who have been flocking his office for lengthy consultation. While nothing is out of the ordinary, considering that Ruto is a top Government official, some do not rule out politics at play.
“Nonetheless, I have not seen him making personal major forays into ODM strongholds. Maybe he is testing the waters from afar,” says Gumbo in reference to Ruto’s newfound interest of attending soccer matches in Nairobi stadiums.
Kenya’s top rival soccer clubs, Gor Mahia FC and AFC Leopards draw their largest support from Nyanza and Western Kenya, where incidentally Raila also enjoys political support. A couple of days ago, Ruto went to Nyayo Stadium for the derby between K’Ogalo and Ingwe and offered cash reward of one million shillings each to the two clubs. Nonetheless, political emotions ran high with supporters from both sides directing “traitor” chants at the Deputy President.
Similar drama followed last Wednesday when he showed up to cheer national side Harambee Stars against Super Eagles of Nigeria. Raila, who would usually not miss such a match, was in South Africa.
“Our people are still bitter with him, because many of us believed that the differences between him and former Premier could be patched up so that the two proceed as a team in the last elections,” explains Gumbo.
But Keter clarifies that Ruto has nothing personal against any individual or community. Keter says the Deputy President is determined to work with the Luo and Luhya, same as all other Kenyan communities.
According to Savula, Ruto is trying to consolidate the support of communities that feel left out of Government, owing to the perception that since they voted for Raila, they would be treated as second-rate citizens.
Bungoma and Busia counties are particularly strategic for Ruto as an entry point to western Kenya. Although solidly behind Raila, Ruto enjoys considerable support in Mt Elgon region in Bungoma among Sabaot-speaking residents.
In fact the only Principal Secretary appointed by the Jubilee government from Busia County, Patrick Omutia, is from Teso.
Equally in the giant Kakamega County, Savula is perceived to be Ruto’s point man. Instructively, the first-term MP became chairman of the powerful House Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries.
With the absence of former Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi and former National Assembly Speaker Kenneth Marende, Savula is technically the most senior political figure from the region. He chairs the most plum Committee, overseeing a ministry with over 25 parastatals and one of the hugest budgetary allocation. Ruto, who was chief guest of Savula’s homecoming party, is believed to have influenced the MP’s election to head the crucial committee. But speaking to The Standard On Sunday on phone from Kampala in Uganda, where he is attending a continental parliamentarians’ meeting, Savula maintained that his priority was to consolidate the support of all Luhya politicians ahead of the 2017 polls.
“Ruto has two MPs in Busia County and we also respect him as our Deputy President. But our focus is to unite and accord my party leader, Mudavadi, another chance of running for president, as well as (Moses) Wetangula, (Cyrus) Jirongo, among others,” he said.
Rewards for allies
Ruto also has his eyes fixed on Coast region, where his ally Kazungu Kambi has been appointed Cabinet Secretary. Similarly in Northern Kenya, URP kingpin Aden Duale has been rewarded with the powerful position of Leader of Majority.
Combine this with his gift of the garb and his ability to speak his mind on tough issues and you have a lethal politician that can only be ignored at one’s peril. When, for instance, everyone was skirting around the issue of elbowing former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka from the G-7 arrangement, he is the only who flatly told Kalonzo that the number One and Two slots were already filled.
Ruto also reportedly told an expectant Wamalwa to his face to stop dreaming of the Number Two slot within G-7. Then Wamalwa was deemed close to Uhuru, with some speculating that he was destined to be his running mate.