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Why Ruto speaks like Raila and Raila like Ruto

ODM leader Raila Odinga in Philadelphia, USA, during the 2016 Democratic National Convention (DNC). Right, DP William Ruto in the United Kingdom, March 2022. [Courtesy]

The shoe is on the other foot politically for both Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga, the two front runners for the August presidential election.

In a typical case of the same script different casts,  two interesting events happened last week that clearly point to Ruto and Raila reversing roles.

While addressing a think-tank in Washington D during his 10-day tour of the US, Ruto claimed that there were plans by those in power to rig the August 9 General Election in favour of some aspirants.

A day later, Raila allies while addressing a meeting in Machakos town, told Ruto to prepare to accept defeat in the coming polls. The two political statements make an about-turn for the two camps. Five years ago, it was Raila who was alleging a plot to rig elections and Ruto telling him to prepare for defeat.

Ruto in 2013 and 2017 repeatedly told the ODM leader to accept the outcomes of the people’s verdict in the polls that pitied Uhuru Kenyatta-Ruto ticket against the Raila-Kalonzo Musyoka ticket.

At the time, Ruto urged Raila, who was firmly in the opposition, to assure Kenyans that he would accept results if he lost in the polls. He also sought to have the former Prime Minister denounce violence.

Today, the same statements are being told to Ruto as the country heads to polls to elect Uhuru’s successor, with Raila and his allies insisting that the DP must be ready to accept the outcome of the polls.

While in the United Kingdom in October 2017, the ODM leader had accused the Jubilee Party of interfering with the August 8 election.

Raila spoke a day before giving a talk at the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House, a UK think tank. He said the election was manipulated in favour of the Jubilee Party candidate.

Five years ago, Ruto was firmly in government while Raila is firmly in the opposition. Today, their roles have morphed. Raila is closer to the President than Ruto, who is increasing sounding like an opposition voice.

Five years ago, Uhuru pledged to support a Ruto candidacy over Raila. Now he has endorsed Raila.

Pundits have argued that while Ruto in the few years has been trying to find footing in the opposition defending the Constitution, alleging corruption in his government and now more recently, made claims of probable poll manipulation when he said “democracy will be on the ballot” a statement not too disimilar to Raila “democracy is on trial” five years ago.

Raila is also managing to fit in as a status quo politician and a defender of the current order that he has fought in four decades.

ODM leader Raila Odinga. [File, Standard]

Political analyst Javas Bigambo noted that sometimes Raila’s justification of issues he once stood against paints a picture of a politician reluctant to take a hard stance on issues he once was vocal about.

Raila’s spokesman, Dennis Onyango, once defended the ODM leader, insisting that he was not a government employee but his sole interest was to help President Kenyatta bring unity to the country. But Bigambo says unlike before, when Raila would criticise Uhuru and his policies and speak out against corruption, today he is more likely to pass over Jubilee’s performance in silence or criticise those opposed to the President. 

In 2010, Ruto campaigned against the Constitution. At present, he has opposed attempts to change it through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). Raila had campaigned vigorously for the passing of the supreme law a decade ago but he and Uhuru were championing its review. The matter is still pending at the Supreme Court.

Interestingly, for Ruto while he speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a nonpartisan international affairs think tank in Washington DC, he delved into the issues of graft as he engaged on a diplomatic charm offensive.

The DP said that Kenya had serious accountability challenges and could have lost about Sh500 billion to graft under the Uhuru administration through budgeted corruption in the form of payments to opaque institutions with little or no oversight.

He claimed the war on corruption in Kenya was subjective and merely a political tool targeting a specific group to influence the next political dispensation. He accused the Office of the President for systematically weakening independent institutions to drive a subjective anti-graft war. 

 Last year, when allegations of embezzlement of money at the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa) emerged, Ruto and Raila, in their new roles were speaking, once again, from opposite ends.

Ruto, in a series of eight tweets, accused the officials in his own government of corruption. He also accused the opposition of attempting to cover up for what he called “the Covid-19 Billionaires heist at Kemsa”.

He alleged the “hypocritical former opposition” had characteristically changed tune.

Raila found himself in a tricky situation and pundits say he almost “washed away his credentials as a corruption fighter with his contradictory statement”. 

His party, ODM, dismissed claims of corruption in the procurement of Covid-19 equipment at Kemsa as sensational and baseless.

The called for an audit by the Office of the Auditor-General to be carried out to ascertain the facts.

“The precedent has been set before, where the media goes on a sensationalist extravaganza, with half-baked information obtained from shadowy sources, ending up creating more problems than solutions,” said the ODM Secretary-General, Edwin Sifuna, in a party statement.

It was unlikely that Raila was unaware of his party’s position.

DP William Ruto. [File, Standard]

Before March 9 handshake between President Kenyatta and Raila, Ruto statements in the US were very different from the ones he made last week.  Where he once defendend the Jubilee administration, he has become one of its fiercest critics.

As it was with the grand coalition government of 2008, Kenya has once again scored another first where the opposition leader acts as a powerful government official, while the deputy president assumes an active opposition role.

“What we have today is a new phenomenon unseen in Africa and perhaps, the whole world; a functionality where part of government is in the opposition when the opposition is more synchronised to supporting government agenda and policies,” says political analyst Javas Bigambo.

Until he started hitting the campaign trail, Raila would host meetings with senior government officials who would visit his Capitol Hill office for consultations including on government matters.

Even today, a number of Cabinet Secretaries prefer a political alliance with the former Prime Minister. On the other had, Ruto has become more of a Pariah in his own government and has been shunned by both senior and junior government officers who would not want to be seen close to him.