Ruto has to make several weighty decisions in 2021

Deputy President William Ruto. [File, Standard]

Deputy President William Ruto is closing the year a heavily burdened and wounded man.

He's all but kicked out of the ruling Jubilee Party, he has seen his momentum slowed to a crawl by handshake politics, and is surrounded by grumbling allies longing for refuge.

This is one year Ruto will wish to quickly forget given the series of blows he was handed by the combined might of President Uhuru Kenyatta, ODM leader Raila Odinga, Kanu chairman Gideon Moi and their hatchet men – trade unionist Francis Atwoli and political operative David Murathe.

His closest allies were hounded out of powerful offices and forced to keep low profiles. This even as Ruto swore he would not allow the forces that allegedly kicked him out of ODM to eject him from Jubilee.

But by all accounts, Ruto's best days in Jubilee are in the past. Yesterday, Murathe said they had succeeded in forcing him out of Jubilee and they can now focus on firming up political alliances.

“Now that they are out, Jubilee can come up with a new political formation as we strategise for 2022,” Murathe told The Standard.

On Monday, a party previously associated with Ruto – the Party for Reforms and Development – applied to change its name to United Democratic Alliance (UDA), its slogan to 'Kazi ni Kazi', and its symbol to a 'wheelbarrow'.

It is not lost on political observers that both the phrase and symbol have featured heavily in the DP's rhetoric this year.

According to Nandi Governor Stephen Sang, the UDA "is a party to watch".

With less than two years to the General Election, Nyaga Kindiki, a professor of international education and policy, is of the opinion that the DP either has to remain in government until Parliament is dissolved for the general election, or quit.

"The DP is not part of the system. He needs to know those who will support him and those who will not. Currently, he is in an awkward position as he is in government yet he needs to form his own party after falling out with Jubilee,” he said.

Kindiki says it would be unconstitutional for Ruto to form another party while he is still the DP, and that his resignation would ignite an early general election.

With a pending referendum for the proposed Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill and the Nairobi gubernatorial by-election, it would be tricky for Ruto to openly campaign against the government.

The DP and his supporters have given the Building Bridges Initiative lukewarm support.

They backed footballer MacDonald Mariga for Kibra MP in last year’s by-election against Imran Okoth, who was marketed as the ‘handshake’ candidate. Okoth won the polls with Jubilee's Mariga emerging a distant second.


Independent candidate

In the recent Msambweni parliamentary by-election, the DP supported an independent candidate, Feisal Bader, whose victory has since been attributed to a number of other factors. Jubilee did not field a candidate, instead opting to support ODM's Omar Boga.

Deputy President, William Ruto shakes hands with Feisal Abdalla Bader [left] at his office in Nairobi. [File, Standard]

If Ruto openly associates himself with UDA, Uhuru's allies and top government officials may view it as a betrayal and work to make his political life even more difficult.

But if he keeps his distance and continues walking a tightrope, he may end up eroding his political capital.

"If Ruto will be in the race for the 2022 elections, then he has to clearly make a decision in 2021, which is a very important year for him. Ruto is the only one seen as opposed to the BBI, with the other political heavyweights backing it and the system,” Kindiki said.

Moi University's Odhiambo Ndege said 2020 has been a bad year for many and that top politicians, including Ruto, should work to fulfill the promises they made to Kenyans.

“We hope our leaders will help turn around the economy,” Ndege said.

Atwoli, however, says that the DP will fail regardless of whatever decision he makes. He accuses Ruto of plunging the country into problems by failing to support the president to deliver on his Big Four agenda.

Central organization of Trade Unions (COTU) Secretary General Francis Atwoli.[David Njaaga, Standard]

"Nowhere in the world or any democracy does a DP disrespect his boss and other senior national leaders, treating them with disdain.

"We cannot trust such a man with the country and that is why he will lose elections. And that is for a fact,” Atwoli told The Standard on telephone.

At the moment, Ruto is left contemplating his choices in the four upcoming by-elections, a possible referendum in June and the likely unveiling of the political vehicle he will use to launch his presidential bid.

The upcoming mini-polls in Matungu, Kabuchai and Machakos were occasioned by the deaths of MPs Justus Murunga and James Lusweti, and Senator Boniface Kabaka, while Nairobi residents head to the polls following the impeachment of Governor Mike Sonko.