The battle for the control of vote-rich Rift Valley is shaping up. Baringo County is the epicentre of the tussle pitting Deputy President William Ruto against Senator Gideon Moi and their supporters.
A sustained message to the residents of Rift Valley by Senator Moi that Ruto’s 2022 presidential campaign is misplaced priority seems to have awakened the DP’s camp, forcing him to personally pitch tent in Baringo to tame growing rebellion.
In his tour of the region, the Kanu national chairman has not missed an opportunity to remind the Jubilee coalition that for now Kenyans are interested in quality services and not 2022 campaigns.
“You cannot keep telling Kenyans to be patient. Let us not talk about 2022 because no one knows about that. Honour your pledges now and not 2022,” has been the Senator’s message as he implores residents to demand more development.
In attempts to water down Gideon’s political influence and message, the DP has been in Baringo County five times in the last six months. In the last one month, he has visited the county three times.
Ruto told a gathering at Mogotio Girls Secondary School last weekend that he would be back in August with President Uhuru Kenyatta to inspect development projects.
In his visits to the Senator’s backyard, Ruto has extended an olive branch to his political opponents in the region. Speaking last Sunday at Kabarnet Catholic Church, Ruto called onGideon to support his 2022 presidential bid, saying he had nothing personal against the senator.
“The Kalenjin community supported his father (former President Daniel Moi) until he retired from office. Those privileged to meet with your Senator, kindly tell him to stand with me this time round," he told the residents.
On July 16, the DP toured Berwessa and announced the government’s intention to tarmac the Tenges-Kapluk-Koloa road. Gideon had held a fundraiser on June 5 and demanded the improvement of the county's roads.
Ruto, who has continuously dismissed claims that the Jubilee government has neglected the county, also announced that 30 milk coolers would be distributed across Baringo and urged the county government to erect supporting structures ahead of the launch in October.
The announcement came barely two weeks after the Kanu chairman donated Sh6 million for the acquisition of land for the establishment of a milk processing plant in Eldama Ravine.
The senator has warned Jubilee that Kanu has awakened and they should brace themselves for a bruising political battle in the next General Election.
“I respect Ruto as the Deputy President, but for him to interfere with my work and insult me and my party is really unfortunate and uncalled for,” said Gideon.
When he toured Baringo over the last two weekends accompanied by local MPs, the DP addressed public rallies and raised funds in Tangulbei, Marigat, Kabarnet, Mogotio and Barwessa.
Speaking recently at a public rally in Eldama Ravine, the Kanu chairman urged the Kalenjin community to choose their next crop of leaders carefully and avoid being manipulated by political sycophants.
“People should be at liberty to determine their political destiny. Forcing Kenyans to vote along specific political lines and leaders being intimidated is unacceptable,” he said.
Perceptions of unfair dismissal from State jobs of high-level public officials from Rift Valley has also seen the DP clash with the Baringo Senator, who has complained that the Jubilee government was mistreating public servants from the region.
Gideon cited the recent removal of David Kimaiyo as the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) board chairman and Kangugo Yatich as KAA acting managing director.
“Let us protect our people in national government and the civil service. We have seen Kimaiyo unfortunately removed. Yatich is also out. When we have our people in government, they are an asset for the community,” the Baringo Senator said.
Former Senator Arnold Kipchumba told The Standard on Sunday that Ruto’s regular visits are out of panic and desperation after years of continuous neglect of the region.
“We will make him come to Baringo for an entire year. What Ruto has been doing is crisis management and we are politely asking him to stop panicking and accept the reality — thatGideon is not a political lightweight,’’ said Kipchumba.
He said visits by the DP will not stop the community’s demands for equal opportunities and noted that other leaders must be accorded respect.
As Ruto visited Tangulbei, Barwesa and Marigat two weeks ago, Kipchumba led hundreds of Kabartonjo residents in protests against what they described as neglect and oppression by the Jubilee administration.
A day after the DP addressed a gathering in Marigat and accused Gideon of undermining him, 47 Members of County Assembly issued a press statement warning him against disrespecting their senator.
Led by the Leader of Majority Elijah Toroitich, the MCAs declared Senator Gideon their spokesperson, saying he was a respected leader in Rift Valley and the entire country.
They described Ruto’s attack on Gideon as misinformed and accused the DP’s allies from Baringo of being political sycophants.
Baringo County Assembly Deputy Leader of Majority Joseph Makilab said it was wrong for the government to neglect the region and only react when local leaders complain.
Makilap asked Ruto not to be agitated when Gideon drums up support for Kanu among “the silent majority in the Rift who feel bullied by the abrasive nature of the DP’s politics”. “It is not fair to dismiss and always attack Kanu. What the senator has been doing is simply reminding the Jubilee administration of its responsibilities,’’ said Makilab.
But a section of MPs allied to the DP led by Baringo Central MP Sammy Mwaita have dismissed the resistance against Ruto’s overtures. Mwaita asked Rift Valley residents to ignore those who opposed Ruto and instead support the DP when he embarks on his presidential bid in 2022.
“The Kanu chairman should wait for his turn,” said Mwaita.
Baringo County Assembly Deputy Speaker Douglas Kiplimo said the DP was the most senior politician from the region and should not be dismissed.
“Gideon should join Jubilee and wrestle with Ruto internally and the winner will be supported automatically in 2022. Anything is possible in politics, and it should also remain clear thatGideon is the elected Baringo Senator and we must respect that,” Kiplimo said.
Political analysts say the bold move by Kanu to challenge Jubilee’s development record in the region is likely to weaken the DP’s political hold on the Rift Valley.
Philip Chebunet, a political scientist, told The Standard on Sunday the DP should be worried by the renewed onslaught by Kanu.
“Recent political activities by Kanu are already giving the DP sleepless nights,” said Dr Chebunet.
Chebunet also cautioned the DP against dissolving his United Republican Party (URP,) saying this would pave the way for Jubilee’s Rift Valley supporters to join Kanu.
“Dissolving URP will be adding a problem to an already existing one. This will pave the way for Kanu to carry the day in 2017 given that people would view JP as an intrusion into the region,” he said.
The DP seems determined to maintain his political influence in the region.
On Thursday, he hosted Kanu MP Hellen Sambili and 200 local leaders from Mogotio in an effort to woo them to his side.