Inside Raila and Ruto epic battles from Kanu days


Separated by 22 years of age, William Ruto and Raila Odinga have, nonetheless, engaged in epic political duels that belie the age difference. Ordinarily, you would expect the searing contests between the two to happen between age-based peers.

It is uncommon for two people from social backgrounds that are worlds apart, and separated by two decades, and more, to be political rivals. Yet, that is exactly what these two colourful politicians are - fierce rivals.

Before they met in March 2002, as top officials of Kanu, Ruto and Raila had travelled two along mutually exclusive political paths. Even at the domestic and social level, they had nothing in common. Raila was born in Nairobi in January 1945, to political firebrand Ajuma Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Ruto would not happen, until more than two decades later, in December 1966, in Uasin Gishu.

Their early experiences made them two continents of thought and history far from one another. The one was a town boy. He grew up around a political father, who often took the stripling along with him on his numerous political excursions.

Raila talks of a father who clearly wanted the boy to know the affairs of the state and the world. He made for him choices of the decisions that would lead to that. He kept him around, monitoring him closely and taking personal responsibility for mentorship, Raila reveals in his autobiographical The Flame of Freedom.

Ruto grew up a herdsboy in Kamagut Village near Eldoret. He walked about barefoot, looking after his father's goats. He was learning the basics of the alphabet in his native Nandi language, oblivious of the world beyond the village, as Raila interacted with the intricacies of politics. He had not even gone to kindergarten when, at 24, Raila first toyed with the idea of running for office.

Raila tells of how, following the detention of Jaramogi in 1969, he thought of seeking to go to Parliament in that year's General Election. His father was in detention, following the infamous October Kisumu fracas that led to the incarceration of top Kenya People's Union officials. The family needed a voice in national politics and he thought he would be the one. His elder brother, Oburu Oginga, was in Russia, undertaking university studies. Raila, however, changed his mind, having read the mood in the then only party, Kanu. His father's KPU had been banned a few week's earlier. The only way to run for office was to be in Kanu.

He understood that, as Jaramogi's progeny, the only party in the country would not allow him to run on its ticket. This was despite the fact that the tickets were dished out to more than one person in a majority of constituencies across the country. He bid his time, supporting other candidates, and later discovering other avenues of political engagement.
The Ruto-Raila paths came into contact for the first time in 1992. Both answered to the label of youth. Multiparty democracy had been restored in November the previous year. Now Raila was a member of a team of youthful politicians in his father's movement, called the Forum for Restoration of Democracy to Kenya (Ford) He was, however, only youthful as contrasted to elders like his father, Jaramogi; and a few others, like Masinde Muliro and Martin Shikuku.

The Ford youth called themselves the Young Turks. Besides Raila, others were Gitobu Imanyara, Kiraitu Murungi, Paul Muite, James Orengo, Wamalwa Kijana. And Anyang' Nyong'o, among others. Ruto belonged to the strident and moneyed group called Youth for Kanu (YK) '92. They were Kanu's answer to the Young Turks. Where the Turks characterized themselves as sophisticated philosophical idealogues, YK '92 presented themselves as practical politicians. They arrived with 'here-and-now' solutions to existential challenges in communities. They did harambees and dispensed money liberally.

YK'92 helped President Daniel Moi to be re-elected at the end of the year. Ford had meanwhile bifurcated into Ford-Kenya and Ford-Asili. Other parties, like the Mwai Kibaki led Democratic Party (DP), sprang up to make the competition for State House stiff. Moi beat them in that year's election, however, and in the next one in 1997, his last one. Ruto ran for the first time that year, and won the Eldoret North seat. Raila retained his, in Lang'ata. The two future titans of Kenya's politics met as legislators in Kenya's Eighth Parliament, their parties and ideological positions diametrically opposed. One appeared radical, the other conservative.

Yet by March 2002, the ideological positions had diffused and fused. The radical Raila embraced a benign middle ground approach that enabled him to be reconciled with Moi, who had twice detained him (in 1982 and 1985). The reconciliation led to the merging of their parties, Raila's National Development Party (NDP) and Moi's Kanu. They now spoke of 'New Kanu.'

Raila and Ruto were now top officials in Kanu, Raila the Secretary General and Ruto the Director of Elections. Ruto's friend, Uhuru Kenyatta, was one of the four national deputy chairpersons. Yet, reading Raila's autobiography, you get a hint of the political undercurrents and the behind the scenes tensions and sinister machinations against one another. Raila accuses Ruto and Uhuru of scheming to run away with party operations and programmes at the party headquarters. Their mutual fears and suspicions of each other were on healthy ground, however.

The moment of rapture was September 2002. The retiring President Moi declared that he wanted Uhuru to succeed him. Raila stormed out of Kanu, with a majority of party officials and ace politicians in tow. They left Ruto, Musalia Mudavadi, Cyrus Jirongo, and a handful of others, to market the Uhuru for President Project. They failed. They lost the presidential election. Kanu was consigned to Kenya's political ICU. It is yet to fully recover, two decades later.

Meanwhile, Ruto and Raila moved on. By 2005, they were comrades-at-arms, fighting President Kibaki's draft constitution, and defeating it at a national referendum in November. The resounding and sweet victory emboldened them, alongside others. Their Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) constitutional pressure group morphed into a party, the following year. Ruto and Raila were now political bosom friends. Their team fielded Raila against Kibaki in the 2007 presidential race.

Regrettably, that was also the beginning of the end, between them. The election ended badly. ODM believed that Kibaki's PNU stole their election. Kenya burnt. It only stopped after international good Samaritans brokered a peaceful power-sharing deal between Raila and Kibaki. But by now so much else had gone awfully wrong, prompting Kenya to be taken before the International Criminal Court (ICC), for crimes against humanity, under the Statute of Rome. Ruto and Uhuru were among the six indicted, three each on either of the conflicting sides. Raila asked Ruto to carry his own cross before the ICC. Their short lived dalliance died.

By 2013 they were in two mutually hostile political camps. Ruto had found amity with Uhuru, courtesy of their indictment before the ICC. They ran against Raila and won. Their 2017 reelection was nullified by the Supreme Court. But they sallied home after Raila boycotted the repeat election. The boycott put the country on tenterhooks. Raila announced the formation of a resistance movement and called for mass action. But then he shook hands with Uhuru. The handshake led to a switching of friends. Now Raila and Uhuru became bosom friends, Ruto and Raila arch rivals. Now, Ruto has emerged the victor and will be sworn in today. It is not clear what Raila's next move will be.