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William Ruto and Raila Odinga were once great friends

Presidential candidates Raila Odinga (Azimio la Umoja) and William Ruto (Kenya Kwanza Alliance). [File, Standard]

In two weeks, either former Prime Minister Raila Odinga or his one-time ally Deputy President William Ruto will be declared the fifth president of Kenya.

Raila will be flying the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Alliance ticket while Ruto is UDAs candidate for the presidential election on August 9.

The two front runners have had a love-hate relationship for about two decades now, having first played a prominent role in late president Daniel Moi succession politics.

The climax of their relationship was when they served together in the Grand Coalition government after 2007, when Raila appointed Ruto as the Minister of Agriculture, before they fell out.

Prof Amukoa Anangwe, who worked with them as Cabinet Minister before the 2002 elections, recounts the role Ruto played in edging out powerful Kanu players like Prof George Saitoti and Nicholas Biwott to create room for Raila and other new faces in Kanu.

“He was the director of elections and was therefore responsible for crafting the lineup that created the Kanu-National Development Party (NDP) merger which clipped the wings of the likes of Saitoti and Biwott in Kanu,” says Anangwe.

The merger between Kanu and NDP happened on March 18, 2002, the year when Moi retired and fronted Uhuru Kenyatta as his preferred successor. At the time, Ruto and other Kanu politicians like Mark Too close to President Moi managed to elbow the old guard out of the way.

Raila was brought into government and appointed Minister for Energy although Ruto and the other politicians also had their own interests and ambitions.

“There was a lot of resistance within Kanu by some powerful people like Saitoti and Biwott, who thought that Raila’s coming would spoil their game plan but they were overpowered by the new forces,” says Anangwe.

While Raila served in the Cabinet, Ruto bid his time as an Assistant Minister in the Office of the President although Kanu insiders at the time said he had direct access to State House.

Raila Odinga speaks with William Ruto in Karen. [DPPS]

But when Raila led a rebellion later in 2002 and teamed up with the likes of Saitoti, who was fired as vice president in August that year, his relationship with Ruto came to an abrupt halt.

Raila then launched a campaign that swept Kanu out of power after his famous 'Kibaki Tosha' declaration that saw the Narc government’s National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) win the presidential elections. But as fate would have it, Raila and fellow Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) allies differed with Kibaki and found themselves again working with the Opposition.

Uhuru, who was the leader of the Opposition and his lieutenants among them Ruto, welcomed them and in the process Raila, literally became leader of the Opposition.

“It appears Uhuru was happy to cede that position to Raila because he never complained as the LDP leader became a thorn in the flesh of government,” says Prof Macharia Munene.

The Kanu-LDP group led by Raila then joined forces to reject the watered-down Bomas Draft of the Constitution that was also known as the Wako Draft in the 2005 referendum.

Shortly after the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), now IEBC, declared victory for the ‘No” side in 2005, Ruto was hosted by Kalenjin elders and crowned an elder with thousands of supporters in attendance.

“Raila Odinga and Musalia Mudavadi attended that highly publicised function at Eldoret Sports Club grounds where he was dressed in a Sambut to make him an elder,” says political analyst Martin Andati.

The relationship between Raila and Ruto then blossomed as the latter marshalled Rift Valley almost to the last man to vote for Raila in the controversial 2007 elections. He made sure the region had its stake in the party when Henry Kosgey was appointed ODM party chair as he bid his time in high-profile campaigns across the country with Raila.

“Ruto became very popular in Luo Nyanza and other parts of the country that supported Raila but it appeared his target was to be vice president,” says constitutional law scholar Stanislus Murunga.

Anagwe says in 2007, the ODM Pentagon team that brought together Raila, Musalia Mudavadi, Ruto, Najib Balala and Joe Nyagah agreed that Raila would be president. And so Mudavadi was to be vice president and a position of prime minister was to be created for Ruto.

Ruto campaigned for Raila across Rift Valley and other parts of the country, appearing at almost every rally with the ODM leader as they traversed the country.

William Ruto and Raila Odinga at Eldoret Sports Club in June 2006. [File, Standard]

“He (Ruto) not only mobilised vote but also marshalled the resources that backed Raila’s campaign through fundraising and donations from friends in Rift Valley,” says Anangwe.

And when push came to shove during the post-election violence, Ruto was also a factor as he defended Raila against allegations that ODM was behind the violence. It has long been argued that the Grand Coalition government could not have been formed were it not for the destruction that hit some parts of the country, especially Ruto’s backyard in the Rift valley.

And so Ruto took on his role as the Minister for Agriculture without much fuss, although his supporters complained that he should have been appointed deputy prime minister because of the contribution he had made.

Ruto became increasingly belligerent in ODM and demanded for the position of deputy party leader, forcing Raila to yield to his ultimatums.

Raila had to reluctantly create two positions of deputy party leader to accommodate Ruto and Mudavadi after the minister demanded the position although the PM had openly shown his preference for the latter.

“It appeared Raila had seen that Ruto was very ambitious and that is why tried to put him on the leash but failed to contain him, leading to his departure later from ODM,” says Murunga.

In July 2008, Raila who was the prime minister chaired a day-long inter-ministerial meeting on the conservation of Maasai Mau where it was ordered that people leaving in the encroached area leave by October that year.

Ruto who was a member of the Cabinet and Rift Valley MPs allied to him like Kipchumba Murkomen and others however sided with the victims.