The Deputy President, Dr William Ruto, walks towards the New Year a marked man. He is high prize political target with multiple dilemmas. It is an oxymoron to say that he sits a heartbeat away from the Presidency and yet a bridge too far.
Constitutionally, Dr. Ruto’s office is, in reality, part of the Presidency. Yet, it is limited and limiting in many ways. Ascendancy to this office is a factor of a common ticket with the man who eventually takes the ultimate prize. Yet once there, the boss must increase while you decrease. You are expected to behave like a junior partner in an institution whose ascent you have contributed to immensely. You are mostly to be seen and not to be heard. And whenever you are heard, you must weigh your words very carefully, for they could be used against you.
Because he has often forgotten this golden rule, Dr. Ruto has been the object of unceasing verbal assault from insiders and outsiders alike. Whether it is a measure of political naivety, a degree of recklessness, or political stratagem that defies the grasp of pundits, the Deputy President has tended to fly too close to the sun and to the gods. This could easily be his undoing. He has given his internal detractors in Jubilee their finest ammunition. They accuse him of disrespect for the boss, especially when he has appeared to ignore the President’s call to place 2022 campaign manoeuvres on hold.
Yet, as a political animal, Ruto cannot just sit back and wait to be crowned. Prof. George Saitoti learned this the hard way in a previous dispensation. In everything he has done since 2013 when they triumphantly romped home with Uhuru on a joint TNA and URP ticket, Ruto has remained conscious of this reality.
From this realism, Ruto has attempted to balance delicately between pleasing his boss, on the one hand, and the need to be his own man on the other. He has been awake to the convenience that informed his political marriage with his boss. He has recognized that it was contracted in the face of the International Criminal Court (ICC) dilemma, in the wake of the post-election violence of 2007/08. The dilemma threatened to put the two of them away in solitary confinement in some foreign land for decades on end.
Ruto has consistently, accordingly, built a personal host of loyal political warriors, while also giving every hint that he remains subservient to the President. The year 2020 will easily be the season when his stratagem faces its biggest test yet.
In the face of hostile political arrows from all directions, will Ruto’s troops remain steadfast, or will they succumb to attrition? Will they help to fend off poisoned political barbs that seek to annihilate their leader’s career, with theirs in tow? Already, his new found nemesis, Raila Odinga of ODM, has fired the first shot. He declared at a funeral in Rarieda in Luo Nyanza last weekend that Ruto must go.
Basically, the ODM leader was saying that the name William Samoei Ruto should not be on the presidential ballot paper in 2022. It is testimony to the reality that Raila considers Ruto to be his most formidable competitor for the highest office in the land. He must, therefore, be politically destroyed.
Jubilee Secretary General, Mr Raphael Tuju, has obliquely associated himself and the party with Raila’s clarion call to jettison Ruto from the political space. Tuju has been quoted in the local press as making implicit remarks that point towards a possible ploy to marginalize Ruto. Hence, in the party’s proposed elections in 2020, the strategy is to push the Deputy President and his associates from the centre of power.
Party elections and allied activities in Kenya since independence have been internal closed shop affairs. If the politburo does not want you, it will push you to the fringes – in best of situations. In the worst of situations, they throw you out altogether. The politburo belongs to the boss, as Leon Trotsky who was among the seven founders of the original Russian politburo of the 2017 revolution found out.
Having risen to numerous ranks all at once at the centre of power, Trotsky was steadily marginalized as soon as the factors that brought him into amity with his boss, Joseph Stalin, no longer existed. Such is the nature of political marriages of convenience.
The Deputy President must enter 2020 conscious of the fact that the dual convenience that wedded him to the President no longer exists. Besides the Hague dilemma as a bonding factor in 2012 and 2013, there was also the twin need to take political and economic power. The two would in turn secure Uhuru and Ruto against any home-based efforts to escalate the ICC risks against them. The mission was deftly delivered.
In the period 2013 – 2017, President Kenyatta traded gently around the DP. He literally tiptoed around him. For he needed his support for re-election. Once again, the delivery was deft, despite a little hiccup with the Supreme Court on September 1, 2017. Following the proverbial chameleon’s second delivery in October of that year, the DP had expended his political premium.
Beyond sell by date
Ruto could now be expended with. He must wade his way into 2020 conscious than ever that his “sell by date” was October 26, 2017. The rest is up to him, his wits and his God. For President Kenyatta, the more valuable premium resides in the ODM party leader. He needs to keep the man happy and smiling. This is necessary for purposes of the calm that the President requires as he basks in the sunshine of his second term. The President has clearly understood Niccolò Machiavelli where the Renaissance philosopher advised princes to destroy those who help them to ascend to power and embrace the enemies instead. Those who help you to ascend become a bother and a burden, he said. They imagine that the prince is indebted to them. But the newly accepted enemy has nothing but to be grateful to the prince for embracing him. The DP will do well to enter 2020 with this ancient wisdom in mind. He will need to manage his political agenda with this consciousness.
This consciousness must inform his attitude and that of his troops towards the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). If the initiative seeks to destroy him, as his lieutenants are adept at saying, wisdom dictates that he will resist the temptation to fight it. The highest levels of enthusiasm about the BBI have come from the ODM fraternity. President Kenyatta has often sounded like the reluctant partner who must tag along, for the sake of whatever convenience. BBI in essence is an enticing carrot that the DP must refuse the temptation to bite. If he bites, he burns his teeth for nothing.
Raila, it has been said, thrives best in controversy riddled environments. In 2020 he will stop at nothing to drag the DP into the mud of as many controversies as he possibly could devise. If Raila has determined that the DP is the man to beat in 2022, it helps him to stage up a number of lead-up derbies in which he could beat him. This could then pave the way to a victorious grand finale in 2022. The DP must refuse to be rattled.
Ruto must carefully select which fights he must fight and which ones should be ignored. As matters stand, he has no good reason to pick up the BBI fight. Whichever way Raila wants the BBI to go, wisdom dictates that the DP should deflate him by allowing him. He must make BBI look like an ordinary small matter about which only Raila is excited. In any event, the benefits of the BBI are open to everyone. Fighting them is a waste of resources that could go towards a more justified effort.
One such justified effort is expansion of both territory and partnerships. A general who has a major engagement in the offing must get into treaties with other generals, on both cooperation and neutrality. Like a wise general, the Deputy President must comb the landscape in 2020 and determine which alliances he must lock in. If there are spaces he can enter without alliance formation, he does well to enter them on his own. This, however, will prove easier said than done.
For the time being, the DP seems determined to navigate his way into Central Kenya, with or without President Kenyatta. This could prove costly in the end. Each space has its owners. When in 2013 Raila imagined that he could penetrate both Kalenjin Rift Valley and Central Kenya without the owners, he got a rude shock.
Ruto could be headed the same way in Central and possibly Western. In this regard, he would do well to mend fences with his boss. He must also work with the owners of Western. First, he must find out what went wrong between him his boss and restore the goodwill. Then he must meekly move to the rest of the country, patiently reaching out to the local giants.
If the President thinks that the ties that bound him to his deputy no longer count, the DP needs to persuade him otherwise. He will possibly need to get back into the uncomfortable space of the ICC and remind his boss that while the matter appears to be in a safe lock under a private key, the Kenyan state has the spare key to the lock.
In 2020, the DP may need to remind his boss that they got reprieve from The Hague because President Mwai Kibaki and Attorney General Githu Muigai were cautious about the management of the ICC cases. The Kenyan state was in the end accused of refusing to cooperate with the ICC. However, the two ICC cases were never conclusively put away. They could still be reopened. It should, therefore, matter to both the President and his deputy who takes over the instruments of state in 2022 and, with them, the Kenyan spare key to the ICC issues.
Circles of power
Finally, the DP has image issues to reckon with in 2020 and beyond. Regardless that he has been involved or not, he must do something critical and convincing about perceptions of impropriety. In a country where corruption seems to be the most common coin in the circles of power, his detractors keep coming up with his name. The thing about perceptions in high places is that it is difficult to separate them from reality. He must create a fresh reality about himself with respect to impropriety. He could not possibly leave this to chance. Recreating himself must be top on his 2020 agenda.
Related to this is the little matter of hustlers versus dynasties as an election agenda. Every nation has its owners. Those who will ascend to power must live with this reality. The hustler versus dynasties agenda has easily been one of the giant wedges between the Deputy President and his boss. It simply offends the ears of the so-called dynastic families. And they have the muscle, the will and the reason to fight back. They can paralyze and lock you out.
The DP’s image repair agenda in 2020 must include sorting himself out on the dynasties issue. While at it, he will want to remember that royalty is averse to upstarts. He needs to take a good long look at royalty and seek admission and accommodation. It is all a very delicate balancing act for this gentleman who was named for the legendary Koitalel Samoei, whom the British did not know how to handle. Will he balance the numerous equations in 2020?