Is DP Ruto an unassailable frontrunner or mere pacesetter?


DP William Ruto (left) share jokes with one of his supporters during a rally at Allidina, Jomvu, in Mombasa County. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

Friday’s mammoth crowds witnessed in his Eldoret town home turf according a hero’s welcome to ODM leader Raila Odinga – one of his key political rivals – notwithstanding, Deputy President William Ruto has a lot to smile about over the past week.      

Besides countering Friday’s “political invasion” in his backyard with a similarly good reception in Mombasa and Kwale counties – Raila’s strongholds for nearly two decades – the DP registered exceptional performance in Thursday’s by-election in Makueni County, where his preferred candidate emerged second ahead of Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper Party candidate.

The elusive unity between ODM leader and One Kenya Alliance (OKA) principals, former vice presidents Kalonzo and Musalia Mudavadi as well as senators Gideon Moi (Baringo) and Moses Wetang’ula (Ford-Kenya), also plays in Ruto’s corner.

The dismal performance of Kalonzo’s candidate in his own Ukambani backyard, for instance, speaks something about his popularity in the region or parts of it, as well as his political capacities in identification of the right electoral players and team.

While rivals poked fun at Wiper Party’s performance last Thursday, backers of Kalonzo similarly pointed at the ODM’s loss of the Msambweni parliamentary seat last December to another Ruto-backed candidate, Feisal Bader. Kalonzo is angling to clinch the OKA presidential ticket ahead of Mudavadi, Gideon and Wetang’ula.

Besides Ukambani, Ruto’s affiliates have swept the boards in by-elections in Mt Kenya region in civic wards, including Juja and Kiambaa parliamentary seats. And although Ruto’s candidates did not win in parliamentary seats in Nyanza and Western Kenya regions, they registered sizeable votes, including 6,964 against 8,049 of ODM’s Pavel Oimeke, who was declared winner in Bonchari, and 5,513 votes in Matungu against 14,257 of ANC’s Peter Nabulindo, who emerged victor. In Kabuchai, UDA managed 6,455 against Ford-Kenya’s Kalasinga Majimbo, who won with 19,274 votes.

These figures, according to UDA’s Bonny Khalwale, reflect the party’s gradual progress across the country, and in particular the fast growing influence of Ruto, “whose candidature, until a couple of years back, was not acceptable to all across the country”.

But is the Deputy President a clear frontrunner in the 2022 succession race or just a pacesetter? UDA national chairman Johnstone Muthama attributes Ruto’s growing influence to his “governance expertise” in assembling a great team of strategists and hot mouths who are “extremely persuasive”.

MPs allied to Ruto, boasts the former Machakos Senator, have a gift of the gab “with the capacity to accurately articulate the party’s agenda and even sway standpoints of the hardest of hardliners”.

But National Assembly’s Minority Whip, Junet Mohamed, trashes the assessments of Dr Khalwale and Mr Muthama by comparing the DP to a runner who has been competing against himself in an empty stadium.

“He is just a pacesetter, because the competition has just started. And unfortunately for him, everyone else can only gain while the only thing that can happen to him is to lose his numbers,” says Junet.

National Assembly’s Minority Whip Junet Mohamed. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

On a downward trajectory

Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni and Kieni’s Kanini Kega yesterday said Ruto’s popularity was already on a downward trajectory after other presidential aspirants hit the ground running.

The duo said the DP had been on a campaign trail for close to three years in what has created a false perception that he was enjoying huge support, especially in Mt Kenya. They said Ruto was bound to lose substantially as other contenders begin to sell their candidatures.

“In three weeks, Raila has already proven that he is a force to reckon with in the Mt Kenya region. How much damage is he going to cause in coming weeks to Ruto’s popularity,” posed the lawmaker.

He said voters in Mt Kenya were waking up to the reality that the DP has no best interest for them, citing his position against the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) that was meant to give the region more resources.

“The people of Mt Kenya are waking up to the reality that they were misled about the BBI. The reality is that the chickens are now coming home to roost and Ruto will soon realise that the region has moved away from him,” said Mr Kioni.

Mr Kega said Ruto was the man to beat in the presidential race, but his popularity was now being eaten away by other contenders for the top seat. “DP’s fortunes are diminishing at unprecedented rate. He was the person to beat three weeks ago, but he is now struggling to get a grip of the mountain. He was 98 per cent then, and at the moment he is barely 50 per cent and he is on a free fall,” said Kega.

“By the end of this month his fortunes will have dipped to less than 30 per cent. He is definitely losing the mountain,” he added.

Khalwale, however, maintains that his preferred candidate is a frontrunner through and through – “in the dash to State House and on setting the election agenda”.

According to Khalwale, Ruto’s so-called “hustler narrative” is a national drive with an economic agenda that has finally forced rivals to abandon what he regards “empty-talk” to engage in an issue-oriented campaign.

“It is humbling that after months of attacking our wheelbarrow symbol and the bottom-up economic model, our competitors are now playing catch-up because we have shown the way,” claims Khalwale, with reference to Raila’s social protection proposal of Sh6,000 cash transfers to poor families.

In the meantime, a section of political leaders from western Kenya have waged a spirited war against Raila, who they consider an impediment to the assumption of the highest office in the land by one of their own, particularly the regional kingpin, Mudavadi.

Ironically, it is coming to the fore that the beneficiary of this campaign is the DP and not the homeboys – Mudavadi, Wetang’ula or Mukhisa Kituyi, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations’ Conference on Trade and Development. 

This seems to be the case, going by the claims of the DP’s chest-thumping lieutenants in western Kenya, which are now being backed by recent confessions by Lurambi MP Titus Khamala.  

Speaking at a funeral in Kakamega County, the vocal ANC legislator called for change of strategy, stating that the move to vilify Raila was backfiring because the former PM’s star was on a downtrend in the region and “the real threat to our unity is creeping in from Sugoi and not Bondo,” said Bishop Khamala.

Lurambi MP Titus Khamala. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

I do not want to lie

“As a man of God, I do not want to lie to you. The truth of the matter is that this man (Ruto) is gaining popularity huku mashinani (on the ground), especially among our jobless youth and those who are struggling economically. We must stop the Raila fixation and focus on the real threat,” said Khamala.

Nominated MP Godfrey Osotsi partly attributes Ruto’s rising popularity in the region to certain politicians who are allegedly on his payroll. According to the ANC legislator, who is however allied the ODM leader, the said MPs repeatedly attack Raila in the guise of supporting Mudavadi, “but neither mention Ruto’s name nor contradict his policies”. 

Mr Osotsi regrets that when he appealed to Mudavadi to “to be wary of spies within”, he was publicly disparaged by the ANC brigade for deliberately trying to wreak the ANC leader’s boat. The MP singled out Lugari MP Ayub Savula and Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala, who incidentally are the ANC’s closest and most vocal allies, as the alleged spies. The two politicians quickly dismissed the claims as political propaganda.

Only this week, however, another politician from the region – former Cabinet minister Cyrus Jirongo – raised the same concerns. During an interview with a vernacular radio station, Mulembe FM, on Wednesday, Jirongo maintained that members of Mudavadi’s party that were solely insulting Raila “are working with Ruto”. 

“Raila is a neighbour and an older man who we have worked with. He is more of a team mate who can easily endorse and support one of our own as a presidential candidate as opposed to Ruto, who is unlikely to do so,” claimed the United Democratic Party leader.

Yet others like Ford-Kenya allied legislators Kiminini MP Chris Wamalwa and Kabuchai’s Majimbo Kalasinga openly continue with the political bidding for Ruto. Mr Kalasinga, who joined Parliament only six months ago, has particularly claimed twice that he is acting with the express knowledge and permission of his party leader, Wetang’ula.

In the neighbouring Nyanza, Ruto has systematically used three entry points – Kisii, Nyamira and Migori counties – to make inroads in Raila’s backyard.

The DP has mainly enjoyed the support of trusted allies, including Migori Governor Okoth Obado and Kisii’s Deputy Governor Joash Maangi to navigate past the strong tides in the region.

At the coastal region, where the DP pitched tent last week, he has similarly won over a number of political allies and gained influence.

In December last year, for instance, Ruto pulled a surprise victory against Raila – who has enjoyed political support in the region for nearly two decades – in a by-election in Msambweni Constituency, Kwale County. His preferred candidate, Feisal Bader, beat ODM’s Omar Boga, who was also endorsed by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party. 

The crowds that Ruto is attracting today in Kwale, Kilifi, Taita-Taveta, Tana-River and Mombasa counties compare very favourably from those during his campaign tours in the region in 2013 and 2017 alongside Uhuru.

Vocal politicians, Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa, who shifted allegiance from Raila to Ruto two years ago; and Khatib Mwashetani of Lunga Lunga, have particularly been very instrumental to the DP’s bid. 

And a fallout between Raila and one of his key allies, Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi, has opened room for further fragmentation of political formations. Kingi has registered a new outfit, Pamoja African Alliance, aimed at championing interests of local residents, as OKA principals as well as Raila, independently and differently look for support in the region.

An even bigger electoral headache awaits the OKA and ODM teams in Mombasa and other cosmopolitan constituencies, especially in Nairobi. Raila and Mudavadi are members of the Luo and Luhya communities, respectively, and have in recent years – except in 2013 – teamed up, especially in Nairobi, Mombasa and Nakuru – to fight off political competition from rival camps. If the voting pattern takes the tribal angle, as has been the case, then the split between Raila and Mudavadi, as well as Kalonzo, who has been Raila’s team mate since 2013, will significantly hurt chances of their individual parties winning seats in urban areas.

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