For the first time, those who know and have closely worked with Deputy President William Ruto have freely or in confidence talked about his qualities hardly known to the public.
In public, the DP is a great orator who knows what to say where – he can say two different things depending on the audience; generous to a fault, a Christian, and a “hustler” in his description of the word.
His political career began at the age of 26 after dropping out of a post-graduate course at the University of Nairobi to take part in the 1992 elections Kanu campaign under the Youth for Kanu 1992 (YK ’92) banner.
In quick succession he rose to be MP, assistant minister, Cabinet minister to Deputy President. Veteran sports administrator and political activist Sam Nyamweya first met the DP in YK ’92.
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He recalls, “The young man joined us straight from college. I was treasurer at the YK ’92 and Cyrus Jirongo our chairman. The young man was green but enthusiastic to learn and work hard. We made him personal assistant (PA) to the chairman. It is true when he says he was Jirongo’s kijana wa mkono (spanner boy).”
Nyamweya describes the DP as so determined to a point he can “pass through a concrete wall to get what he wants”. Close aides say he retains the same qualities to this day. He can be in office at 6am and stay past 9pm, or be in five functions the same day in different parts of the country.
But Nyamweya is quick to say: “He is conspiratorial and only loyal to himself.” “At the YK ’92, we came to discover the young man we trusted and made PA to our chairman, was the enemy within.”
He alleges that using information privy to him as PA to the boss, youthful Ruto established a parallel YK ’92 and his own direct link to State House.
Former Cabinet Minister Musa Sirma, a long time ally of the DP, first in Kanu, ODM and later Jubilee, says over time he noted another unknown character of the DP.
“The man is uncomfortable with people superior to him one way or the other and with those who know his past,” says Sirma.
He says it is the reason why the DP can never be comfortable with and fights elderly and veteran leaders in the Rift Valley such as Dr Sally Kosgei, Henry Kosgey, Franklin Bett, Isaac Ruto and Zachary Cheruyoit, all former Cabinet ministers and/or senior civil servants.
“He can’t entertain independent and experienced minds who won’t agree to be led by the nose.”
Others who have worked with the DP talk of a domineering streak in him. National Assembly Majority Leader Amos Kimunya recalls a day he was having lunch with Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula when both were ministers in President Kibaki’s administration and Ruto, also a minister, briefly joined their table.
Water and oil
In ensuing small talk among colleagues, Ruto unconsciously or otherwise dropped this line, “The problem we have is that the president (Kibaki) listens to so many voices. When you are the boss you do the telling, not listening!” says Kimunya.
Former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto once described the DP as “a dictator in the mould of a president of a neighbouring country”. At the time the DP had unilaterally threatened to have the county government of Marsabit dissolved. The angry Bomet governor who at the time was the chair of the Council of Governors requested President Kenyatta to “tame his deputy lest he wrecks his administration from within”.
Last month, Isaac had a “handshake” with the DP and promised to work together. But an aide to the former governor says “it was all smoke and mirrors.”
You could even tell from their body language when they shook hands in Bomet. It was water mixing with oil. The DP didn’t want the former governor to address but merely wave to the crowd,” said the source.
In neighbouring Kericho County, supporters of Franklin Bett say twice the DP has publicly pledged to support the former minister for the senatorial seat even as he secretly groomed and ensured another candidate won.
The same has been alleged in case of former minister Henry Kosgey whose bid for Nandi Senate seat the DP had pledged to support even as he secretly worked to ensure his defeat by the upstart Samson Cherargei.
Former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo says he admires his “namesake and friend” for his strategic thinking and “ability to manipulate every deal in his favour”.
“When negotiating with him, you better have your eyes wide open and the courage to look him in the face and tell him: Man it can’t work your way,” says Kabogo.
He recalls the negotiations leading to the formation of Jubilee in November/December 2012.
“In the very first of series of those meetings, it was just four of us – Mr Kenyatta, Mr Ruto, Mr Charles Keter and me. We talked up to midnight but still couldn’t agree on who should be the flag-bearer. Then I told myself: this mustn’t go on forever,” says Kabogo.
“I looked at Mr Ruto in the eye and said: ‘Look here Mr Ruto, it is the small river that joins the bigger one not the other way around. Uhuru is bringing in over five million votes from Mount Kenya and its diaspora. From your North and Central Rift strongholds you bring in over two million. Surely, who should give way to the other?’.”
Asked to comment of what he knows about the DP, a former powerful permanent secretary from the Rift Valley had a stark reply: “Go to the bookshop and grab a copy of Michael Cohen book on Donald Trump titled: Disloyal. You will find a William Ruto described in between pages. You only need to change names here and there.”