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Ruto turns political salvos into 2022 strategic campaign assets

By Judah Ben-Hur and Brian Otieno | September 4th 2021

Deputy President William Ruto shares a cup of tea with the new security team at his official residence in Karen, Nairobi on August 30, 2021. [DPPS, Standard]

Deputy President William Ruto is facing strong political headwinds, each time seemingly playing the windmill, absorbing and using them to his favour.

From playing to the gallery to assuming the victim’s persona, the DP has mastered the art of turning lemon into lemonade.

His latest test is the bombshell by Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i on his property and security, that could potentially dent his credentials as a ‘hustler.’

For months, he has ridden on the hustler tag, with Wednesday's revelations casting him as one who would ordinarily not belong to the class of the down-trodden.

The DP has already disowned some property linked to him by Dr Matiang’i. The question, however, is whether Ruto will surmount the latest hurdle.

In the thick of debate over links to Turkish businessman Harun Aydin – who was deported over alleged links to money laundering and terrorism – Ruto dismissed his tribulations as a passing cloud.

More, recently, on changes to his security detail, Ruto downplayed the matter, saying, "even if the Administration Police deployed are withdrawn, I will take the G4S security.”

But even as he dismissed the move, the DP somewhat kept it alive by casting himself to the public as a person who did not mind the oppression.

His allies responded swiftly by declaring that his supporters would offer him security if he was left exposed. Matiang’i’s revelations on Wednesday portrayed the opposite – a DP sufficiently guarded.

And this is not the first time Ruto is serving an ace on his rivals. In the run-up to the 2013 General Election, Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta faced more than Raila Odinga’s presidential challenge.

Hanging above their heads was the dark cloud of charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over their alleged role in the 2007 post-election violence.

Many had thought their ICC cases would be the deal-breaker in convincing the electorate. The pair’s candidacy had earned rebuke from a section of the international community, including a warning that choices have consequences.

Such warnings, however, fell with a thud, and Uhuru and Ruto rallied their bases against the ICC through joint nationwide “prayer rallies.”

Some observers noted that by pegging their redemption on the failure of their ICC cases, the two essentially turned the 2013 election into a referendum on the ICC.

But Ruto began playing this game long before the ICC matter. Following his fall-out with Raila and his subsequent sacking as the Higher Education minister in 2011, Ruto struck by recounting his contribution to the ODM leader’s ascension to the premiership post, casting himself as one who was victimised within the party.

Since he joined active politics, the DP has not lost an election. Ruto's plan worked when in the 2013 elections, his Rift Valley base moved with him to the Jubilee coalition.

Lately, the DP is emboldened by the Tangatanga wing of the Jubilee Party in his corner. The faction, whose members claim to comprise more than 100 lawmakers, got its name in the classic Ruto style of riding on what was aimed at pinning him down.

“This young man called Ruto every weekend ana tangatanga kila mahali - (loiters everywhere),” President Kenyatta chided Ruto in 2018 over his early campaigns.

The DP would embrace the Tangatanga tag at an event in which he updated the president on the progress of different road construction projects following his “loitering” escapades.

And just like that, Ruto had soaked up a hook launched by the president, retaliating by taking it in stride, a skill he has sharpened in the post-handshake days. 

Over three years, the DP has been sidelined with almost no tasks assigned to him by the president, such duties falling on the Interior CS.

Publicly, all was not rosy between the two leaders who during their first term even donned similar outfits, ties and rolled up sleeves – Obama/Biden style.

For Ruto allies, it would engender feelings of sympathy for the DP who was seen as a devoted brother painfully betrayed.

Recently, the president reached out to opposition leaders to work together as he dared the DP to resign from the government.

To counter this, Ruto has relied on the card he dealt Raila in 2011 when the former premier 'sacked' him from the Cabinet – reflecting on his contribution in securing Uhuru’s presidency and Raila’s premiership.  

Even before the president seemingly began to chart a path away from his deputy, Ruto had opposed the handshake that his allies claimed was aimed at propping Raila for the presidency.

The DP has thrown endless hatchets at the BBI process and established himself as the opposition. But if the president is to be believed, Ruto has all along been aware of Uhuru’s engagements with Raila.

Herman Manyora, a University of Nairobi lecturer and political commentator, sees the DP’s populist stance cloaked in humility as a masterclass in politics.

“He has been playing the sympathy and victim card and it’s working for him,” said Prof Manyora.

“Recently, the president asked Ruto to resign. He is going to step down, but will only do it at a time when he will get maximum gain – a time that will really hurt Uhuru,” he added.

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