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How post-handshake intrigues in Jubilee, OKA birthed William Ruto's Kenya Kwanza

Kenya Kwanza's presidential candidate William Ruto during his final rally at Nyayo Stadium on Saturday, August 6, 2022. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Until late last year, there was little to show that a big political formation led by Deputy President William Ruto would emerge.

But several things that happened almost simultaneously changed the political landscape, leading to the birth of Kenya Kwanza.

Ruto’s ears were pricked when President Uhuru Kenyatta’s close allies began sending out signals that the Mt Kenya region would not necessarily back him (the DP) in 2022 as he had been pledged by the President in 2013.

The writing was already on the wall, with Jubilee Deputy Party chairman David Murathe becoming vocal against the DP soon after the 2017 polls. And in early 2018, former Kiambu governor William Kabogo told Ruto to start looking for his own votes.

Then in March 2018, Uhuru surprised Kenyans when he met ODM leader Raila Odinga in what would birth the handshake, much to the chagrin of Ruto who would later claim he was left out of the loop. Ruto’s position in Jubilee then became increasingly shaky as party officials increased attacks against him.

Alleged betrayal

The handshake would also send shockwaves in the National Super Alliance (Nasa) coalition with ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi, Moses Wetangula (Ford-Kenya) and Kalonzo Musyoka of Wiper accusing their co-principal Raila of betrayal.

Despite the noises that emerged from their political divides, Uhuru and Raila ignored them and surged ahead in full steam agreeing on a proposal to amend the Constitution through a nine-point agenda they called the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

In 2019, Ruto who had been silently campaigning to succeed Uhuru was still putting on a brave face attempting to assert his influence in Jubilee amid opposition from the party leadership.

Meanwhile, the three Nasa principles were also holding parallel meetings accusing Raila and his ODM party of keeping their share of money paid out of the Political Parties Fund, while giving lukewarm support to the BBI process. The relationship between Raila and his colleagues continued deteriorating as his lieutenants led by Suna East MP Junet Mohammed and ODM leaders, especially chairman and Secretary General John Mbadi and Edwin Sifuna mounted relentless attacks against them.

After declaring their own interest in succeeding President Kenyatta through their own parties, the ANC, Ford Kenya and Wiper leaders formed the One Kenya Alliance (OKA) to chart their own course.

But working from behind the scenes, the President was making every effort to ensure that all opposition leaders remain together, even as Mudavadi announced in early 2021 that the Nasa coalition was dead.

Ruto had also covertly acquired a new political party, after he was locked out of Jubilee Party headquarters. In January 2021, a party formerly registered as the Party of Development and Reform changed its name to the United Democratic Alliance (UDA).

Party official registered at the Registrar of Political Party offices were chairman Johnson Muthama and Veronicah Maina (Secretary General) among others. Muthama later said the party was the bus chosen to help drive Ruto to win the top seat in 2022 but was at the time considered a partner to the ruling Jubilee Party.

Ruto then heightened the tempo of his campaigns and declared that he had moved to UDA while addressing supporters at Makutano township in Kapenguria.

He managed to galvanise support from many MPs, with reports indicating he won the caking of 146 MPs, a majority of them from Mt Kenya.

Meanwhile trouble was also bubbling on OKA despite the President’s effort to keep all players together through several meeting at State House in Nairobi and Mombasa.

An aide to one former Nasa principle recounts that Mudavadi and Wetang’ula realised they were not going anywhere and were only kept in a holding ground to assist Raila.

“They would organise boardrooms meetings outside Nairobi and then a telephone would come from Nairobi that they were required at State House,” he says. And so they would cancel their field activities and troop back to meet Uhuru, who sometimes would not be available.

One Kenya Kwanza principle told Sunday Standard that whenever they would meet, Uhuru’s body language and tone would be pushing for them to support Raila. But they kept pushing back. 

Then there were new entrants into OKA, an idea that was welcomed by the President, but Kenya Kwanza leaders claim it became clear that it was a ploy to populate OKA to stop anybody from emerging as an outright leader.

Among the new entrants were Gideon Moi who had signed and a pre-election pact with Jubilee and Cyrus Jirongo who had a long standing difference with Mudavadi. And then Kalonzo’s Wiper party also had an existing agreement with Jubilee that had been signed through an MoU.

“And so you can see there was trooping of colours to isolate Mudvadi and Wetangula. It was three against two, meaning that if they took a vote they would lose,” says a Kenya Kwanza insider. And so they began looking for options. Signs that they were headed towards working with Ruto began showing when the DP visited Likyani area in Lugari and Lumakanda asking supporters if he should work with Mudavadi and Wetangula.

“Musalia na Weta wafanye kazi na mimi ama wafanye na bwana kitendawili? (Should Musalia and Weta work with me or Raila?” he kept repeating as crowds chanted back na wewe (with you).

On December 31, 2021 the badly kept secret became open when Ruto attended a football tournament hosted by Kakamega Senator Cleo Malala at Mumias Sports Complex. On that day, Azimio la Umoja was also holding a rally attended by Raila at Bukhungu stadium where Mudavadi and Wetangula became targets of vicious verbal attacks from the likes of Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli.

A few weeks later in early 2022, Mudavadi hosted Ruto during the launch of his presidential campaign at Bomas of Kenya and officially announced that ANC would partner with Ruto’s UDA.

After Senator Wetang’ula also announced his party had also joined the new formation, it was announced it would be known as Kenya Kwanza.