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To celebrate BBI ruling portrays Ruto as insincere

By Special Correspondent | May 16th 2021
Deputy President William Ruto while addressing mourners at the burial of Abel Gongera the father of Kisii Deputy Governor Joash Maangi at Tendere in Kisii County on Feb 2, 2021.[Sammy Omingo,Standard]

Deputy President William Ruto was among the very first national leaders off the blocks. As soon as the five-judge bench finished pronouncing itself on the BBI Bill, he hit social media with a celebratory message. He welcomed the court verdict as divine, democratic and exemplary. 

“There is God in heaven who loves Kenya immeasurably,” he said, “May God’s name be praised forever. Our democracy is anchored (in) the rule of law, constitutionalism, separation of power and respect for independent institutions.”

For a leader who has been isolated by his fellow bigwigs because of his stand on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and the Handshake before it, Ruto must feel vindicated. He must feel mollified for the humiliation of exclusion from a government whose electoral victory he significantly contributed to three times in under three years.

He has intermittently expressed strong anti-BBI sentiments in public and quite often with a lot of negative vigour and paid the price.

When President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga first made public their agreement to work together towards what culminated in the BBI Bill, Ruto welcomed the gesture cagily. He was quick to state that the understanding did not include power-sharing between Jubilee Party and ODM. Neither did it include forming a government of national unity.

The spinoff was a steady worsening of relations between him and his boss, as well as what has become a hostile split in the ruling party. Effectively, the Kieleweke wing of the party declared Ruto the leader of the BBI skeptics, despite his own firm avowals to the contrary.

Regardless, the perception stuck. His celebration of the court decision now more than firms it up. The most active ingredient of his Tangatanga wing of the Jubilee Party has been opposition to BBI.

The mantra was later picked up by the United Democratic Alliance (UDA), which is publicly understood to be the DP’s party.

Forecasts of the implications of the court’s dumping of BBI for Ruto’s political future, and that of UDA, invariably begin with his political behaviour around BBI. But it must also bring in the behaviour of his lieutenants.

Two things stand out. First is that Ruto did not affirmatively stand up to claim leadership of the No campaign against BBI. Secondly, some of his most trusted political sidekicks have proved to be erratic and unable to withstand headwinds, having voted for the Bill in Parliament.

It is not clear whether they caved in to pressure, or whether they were all along putting up a show while their hearts lay elsewhere, or whether they changed their mind for different reasons altogether. Whatever the case, Ruto’s celebration of the court action and his planning of the way ahead can ill afford to place its trust in a class that succumbed to Petrine pressure, to disown him at the most critical time.

Anti-BBI campaign

But back to his failure to own the anti-BBI campaign, the offshoot is that he cannot be too gleeful about the court’s condemnation of the Bill. There has been a sense in which civil society, sections of the faith-based community and a swathe of the public, have all yearned for leadership against BBI.

Many had looked up to the DP to galvanise them around the effort to reject it at the referendum, should it get there. He instead asserted that he had more useful things to focus on and that BBI should be left to its owners. To speak too loudly about victory now, by himself and his acolytes, will smell of hypocrisy – a tag he may want to avoid.

Yet the BBI saga is not yet over. Appellate processes in the courts are just about to begin. They could go all the way to the Supreme Court and eventually to a referendum. In a post-referendum dispensation, the outcome would have implications for Ruto in his presidential pursuit.

But the DP has a huge challenge on how to manage his political formations towards the referendum, should one come, and the presidential election. If he was previously uneasy about upsetting his followers in parts of the country that are seen as standing to benefit disproportionately from the proposed 70 new constituencies and other attendant gains, the perception is already out there, that he is not with them.

From a different reckoning, the DP has taken a big risk in banking heavily, quite literally, on Mt Kenya region. It would appear that he believes he could employ the same strategy of the so-called ‘tyranny of numbers’ from Rift Valley and Central Kenya, to win the presidential race as was done in 2013 and, arguably, 2017. In this pursuit, he has two problems. First, as the fable Sun Tzu of Art of War famously said, you don’t fight the last war, even if you were victorious. The terrain has changed, the enemy is different, the weaponry and the tactics. The most obvious change here is that President Uhuru is not with him. A direct appeal to the people without Uhuru is a herculean task.

But second, is the simple question of trust. Just how do you trust people who stand with you in good weather, only to maroon you in rough weather? It would appear the people from the Mountain are good weather friends. 

In the end, it may seem more rational for the DP to consider biting the bullet of reality. He may want to recognise the potential futility of his Mountain bank. He needs to get back to the drawing board.

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