Ruto's survival tactic nothing new to Kenya's politics

Deputy President William Ruto and former Bomet governor Isaac Ruto. [DPPS]

The shift by former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto to his fierce critic William Ruto's camp on Friday marked the heightened re-alignment linked to the fight for political survival as the 2022 General Election nears.

Friday's move by Isaac, a point man of the BBI campaigns in Rift Valley region, is reminiscent of past elections where top leaders sought refuge in parties perceived to be dominant in their regions to make a return to mainstream politics.

The former governor, in his speech, made no secret of the fact that he was making a strategic move to preserve his political ambition even though he said it was informed by a desire "to unite the Kalenjin community".

"I will support you (Ruto) for the top seat, as I also go for the governor position," said Isaac during the function in Bomet County.

The Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) leader was joined by Chepalungu MP Gideon Koskei, Narok West legislator  Gabriel Tonkoyo and MCAs in declaring their support for Ruto.

The former governor, who will be seeking to dislodge Hillary Barchok, lost his seat to the late Joyce Laboso, a Ruto ally, in the 2017 General Election and has been out in the political cold.

Isaac Ruto addressing a crowd in Bomet. [DPPS]

His move is however not unique to other politicians who have in the past sought to make political shifts to favour their ambitions.

In 2002, for instance, Raila Odinga led former Vice-President George Saitoti, Kalonzo Musyoka and other ministers in defecting from Kanu when Uhuru Kenyatta was named former President Daniel Moi’s heir apparent.

After losing the 2002 polls, Uhuru had to switch support to President Mwai Kibaki's side to win Central Kenya's (then a PNU zone) support, which catapulted him to deputy prime minister position in the Grand Coalition Government.

In Luo Nyanza, former Kanu diehard Dalmas Otieno, former SDP leader Anyang Nyong’o (now Kisumu governor), Siaya Senator James Orengo and former Gem MP Joe Donde had to eat humble pie and shift support to Raila for their political survival.

Then there is Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya who joined National Super Alliance (Nasa) in 2017 and weeks later went back to support Jubilee Party.

And just like in previous polls, politicians eyeing various posts in the next elections are re-adjusting by moving to outfits or political camps they feel are the most popular in their areas.

Nominated MP Isaac Mwaura recently switched from the Kieleweke wing of Jubilee, allied to Uhuru to Tangatanga that leans towards the DP.

At the Coast, a number of ODM MPs, led by Aisha Jumwa (Malindi), Owen Baya (Kilifi North) and Benjamin Tayari (Kinango), who have been frequenting Ruto’s events, are pushing for the formation of a Coast political party.

Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi, whom the Sunday Standard has learnt could be enjoying the support of some Raila and Uhuru allies, has also announced the formation of a Coastal outfit by June, something political observers view as a way to counter the Jumwa wing.

In Western Kenya, Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala, who was at loggerheads with Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi, has since mended fences with him.

Malava MP Malulu Injendi who had shifted his backing from Ruto camp to Raila has also returned to the DP’s side.

In Mt Kenya, Murang'a Senator Irungu Kang'ata's recent remarks on the fortunes of BBI in Mt Kenya region have set tongues wagging on his next possible move (see related story on page 19).

In Luo Nyanza, most politicians who had decamped from ODM followed bungled nominations in 2017 are now streaming back to the party.

Kang'ata has been mentioned among leaders interested in vying for Murang’a governor's seat and his critics say that is why he is hitting at the BBI as he angles to join the Ruto camp.

Political leaders and other commentators are of the view the realignments will continue to increase as the year progresses.

Already, two major camps – one allied to President Kenyatta and Raila on the one hand and DP Ruto on the other – are emerging as the clock ticks towards 2022.

Jubilee Party Vice-Chairman David Murathe says the pro-Handshake team and the one advocating for the hustlers narrative will square it out.

Jubilee Vice Chairman David Murathe. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

The hitherto divided Nasa is also now regrouping behind the pro-Handshake/BBI team, with the hope that one of its leaders will be endorsed for the presidency.

Major political affiliations

“These (pro-Handshake and the hustlers) will be the major political affiliations come next elections. Whatever the way, we are ready to battle it out at the ballot,” Murathe said, adding that President Kenyatta will play a major role in shaping his succession.

“Uhuru is not a lame duck president. He is stronger than some people think and the decisions he will make come 2022 will surprise many.”

Murathe said it was time the country ended the monopoly of two communities ruling the nation. The Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities have produced all the country’s four presidents since independence.

“It's high time other communities got an opportunity to be at the helm of leadership,” he said.

Murathe said the realignments, including Isaac’s defection, were meant to serve individual interests. He said Isaac wanted to remain "relevant" in the Kalenjin community politics rather than opposing the DP openly, adding that Ruto was using threats to silence local leaders opposed to him.

The Rift Valley leaders, he said, had decided to quietly oppose the DP as locals had been incited to see them as betrayers.

He however warned those antagonising the president in his Mt Kenya backyard to stop and give him a chance to accomplish his term.

Rangwe MP Lilian Gogo said although the re-alignments were normal, political processes necessary for democracy, the recent moves were meant to serve the interests of individual politicians.

Gogo said with the current political situation in the country and push for BBI, political shifts will continue.

“The realignments are not a wonder. They are part of democracy and individuals' push for what is best for them,” she said.

Kisumu East MP Shakeel Shabbir, who was elected as an independent, said the shifts were survival tactics of politicians heavily dependent on political parties or party leaders for mileage.

He said leaders should shift their focus from politics to serving Kenyans.

The legislator said towards the electioneering period, most leaders would want to realign with Raila or Ruto as they are the key presidential candidates.

Shabbir advised politicians seeking parties' support to understand what drives their agenda and set their objectives right.

“Those running from a party to another for political gains will be in for a rude shock as people will be voting for development agenda,” he said.

Nominated MP Maina Kamanda said the decamping of Isaac was a clear indication that the country’s politics is still largely tribal.

“This shows Isaac was not safe politically. Even leaders in Central Kenya who have been talking will have to toe the line once President Kenyatta tours the area. It is like in Luo Nyanza where if you are not with Baba (Raila) you are finished,” Kamanda said.

The MP, who is a close ally of President Kenyatta and Raila, said Isaac’s move contradicts Ruto’s frequent assertions that the country’s politics is not tribal.

“Isaac has joined DP Ruto because of a tribal arrangement. In Mt Kenya our person is Uhuru Kenyatta and we must follow him. Uhuru will not be like President Kibaki who did not campaign for his successor but will be like Barack Obama who vouched for Hillary Clinton,” Kamanda said.

Mixed signals

He said the mixed signals over BBI in Mt Kenya was because President Kenyatta was yet to go to the ground to campaign for the document and that the likes of Kang'ata who had raised the alarm that the initiative could fail “are just panicking”.

He said Kang'ata was also eyeing the Murang’a governor's seat and feared some powerful forces were backing  a top government official for the seat and he wanted the president to stop the official from vying.

“You can’t stop a popular person from vying. What Kang'ata is doing by claiming BBI is unpopular is blackmail,” Kamanda said.

Political analyst Barrack Muluka said the realignment wave is a political self-interest game that comes from survival instincts and a feeling of a right place to be.

He said in the coming days, there will be more of such strategic moves as a way of positioning for the ballot.

“This is as a result of the electorate telling the politicians of what to do since they determine each move made by politicians,” Muluka said.

International Education and Policy professor Nyaga Kindiki said since Ruto is the only top candidate who has categorically stated he would vie for the presidency in next polls, he appears to be the main beneficiary of the movements.

With President Kenyatta ending his term, Kindiki opines, his supporters, especially in Mt Kenya, have been left like sheep without a shepherd, making them hobnob.

Kindiki said politicians were trooping to Ruto’s camp because it was clear he would vie and that even if he loses he is likely to be the leader of Official Opposition.

Since the country’s politics is tribal-based, “most people go where their tribes are," he said.

He said while many politicians were waiting for the whistle to declare their political stand, others were testing the waters and they cannot shift now because of the fear of the powers that be.