William Ruto, Raila Odinga stuck in perpetual campaigns, but who'll blink first?

When President William Ruto met Azimio One Kenya Alliance flagbearer Raila Odinga during Former President Mwai Kibaki  State Funeral Service at Nyayo national stadium on April 29, 2022. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Barely seven months after the General Election, the country is experiencing heightened political activity, a situation that has recurred in recent electoral cycles.

The government and the opposition are once again locked in a political battle, with the two sides seemingly looking towards the 2027 presidential contest.

President William Ruto is well on course to converting his Kenya Kwanza Alliance into a single party, amid opposition outcry that he is pursuing a one-party state by wooing opposition lawmakers to his fold.

And as the Raila Odinga-led opposition campaigns to force Ruto out of power, the president is fighting hard to have more. In Parliament, he has secured the support of opposition MPs and is pressuring Kenya Kwanza-affiliated parties to fold up into his United Democratic Alliance.

In the meantime, the president is engaging the masses on a weekly basis, courtesy of church services that encourage political speeches.

Tomorrow the opposition plans to hold demonstrations and “occupy” the capital, the culmination of a series of rallies the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition party has held in the last few months.

The new fight has Ruto and Raila embroiled in public spats, with their allies issuing statements helter-skelter as they trade accusations over whatever issue that may arise.

They cannot, for instance, seem to agree on whose fault it is that the Kenyans are finding life unbearable over the high cost of living.

Handshake with Uhuru

Ruto blames the situation on former President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila, who he says was firmly in the previous government courtesy of his 2018 handshake with Uhuru, as he escapes blame despite serving in the same government as the deputy president, where he attended cabinet meetings and enjoyed all perks of its office. On the other hand, Raila criticises Ruto for turning back on his word that he would immediately sort out the mess once he assumed office.

And instead of lowering the cost of living like he promised to Kenyans, the former prime minister has accused Ruto of making life harder by withdrawing critical subsidies on unga, electricity and fuel.

Further, the two cannot agree on the intentions of the opposition’s demo. Raila says he is on a quest to see the runaway cost of living brought down. Equally critical, the former prime minister is on a campaign for what he calls electoral justice.

But Ruto is convinced that the opposition chief is a sore loser who refuses to accept the will of the people, affirmed in a Supreme Court judgment that found last August’s election to have been credible. The president’s allies read Raila’s protests as a plot to overthrow Ruto’s regime. 

They are also fighting over the reconstitution of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which Raila says is unilateral, owing to new changes that gave the president more say in picking the selection panel that will recruit the new commissioners. An amendment of the IEBC Act saw the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) lose two of its previous four slots to the Public Service Commission, essentially controlled by the State, and to the Political Parties Liaison Committee.

IEBC process

Ruto’s allies have defended the amendment as necessary in aligning the selection process with the law. The opposition has read the changes as meant to facilitate a unilateral selection of IEBC commissioners.

“A bi-partisan task force must be put in place to restructure IEBC in a manner that ends its monolithic operations,” the Azimio leader said last month. For more than a decade, Raila has maintained similar campaigns seeking electoral reforms.

The campaigns have come in the wake of every general election after the contentious presidential election of 2007, whose winner former Electoral Commission of Kenya chairperson Samuel Kivuitu said he could not tell due to the massive rigging witnessed on both sides.

The late Kivuitu would leave as part of electoral reforms aimed at limiting the Executive’s influence in the electoral commission. An interim commission would be put in place to oversee the 2010 constitutional referendum, later conducting the first polls in the current constitutional dispensation. Between 2013 and 2016, he spearheaded a push that saw former IEBC chairperson Issack Hassan leave office alongside other commissioners.

Hassan had overseen the contested presidential election of 2013, which Raila unsuccessfully challenged at the Supreme Court. Briefly after the 2017 election, Raila led a call to oust the Wafula Chebukati-led IEBC, which had botched the presidential election that the Supreme Court nullified.

He would drop the subject after his handshake with Uhuru. And while he would steer off the 2022 presidential campaigns, Raila would drum up support for the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) constitutional amendment push through political rallies.

Presidential bid

As this was happening, Ruto, then the deputy president, was also campaigning for his 2022 presidential bid, much to the chagrin of his then-boss, who would fault his deputy for constantly politicking.

Raila, too, accused him of engaging in early campaigns, which threatened to drive the country off course.

Besides using his frequent rallies to criticise the BBI push, Ruto would also tarnish Uhuru’s legacy, accusing him of pursuing non-priorities. Ruto earned criticism for cherry-picking bits of Uhuru’s legacy with which he wanted to be associated, such as his work on road and electricity infrastructure even as he blamed the rising cost of living on his predecessor’s alleged misplaced priorities.

Ruto has gone full circle and now finds himself in Uhuru’s shoes, who had to deal first with opposition pressure and later his deputy’s early campaigns.

Although Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua has steered clear of Ruto’s succession, he has expressed interest in establishing himself as the dominant figure in the Mt Kenya region. And he has made Uhuru his pet subject, attacking him frequently on multiple platforms.

Ruto has claimed to be unbothered by the opposition’s pressure, but he has struggled to hide his dissatisfaction, asking the opposition to wait until the next electoral cycle.

Uhuru had made similar remarks against the former opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord).

“Campaigns have their time and they ended with the last elections. There is no need of keeping Kenyans on a campaign mood for five years,” Uhuru said in 2014.

Sabatia MP Clement Sloya says the focus should shift to uniting Kenyans and not on political campaigns.

“We are past elections time and it is now time to deliver on the pledges made to Kenyans. A constant campaign mood serves to lag us behind and drags Kenyans aspirations to have a developing nation,” Sloya told The Sunday Standard.

“Elements of early campaigns are enemies of the people. When the time comes, Kenyans are clever and bright and will make their choices wisely and accordingly without considering who started early or not,” he added.

But Saboti MP Caleb Amisi differs, saying the current opposition rallies are perfectly in order. “Across the world, when there is a problem that the government needs to address, people go to the streets,” Amisi said. “The Constitution grants the people all sovereign power and they have every right to express themselves. In the current situation, the cost of living is too high for them to bear.”

Democratic process

University lecturer Gitile Naituli views the perennial campaign mood as a sign of political immaturity, terming the situation “extremely unhealthy” for the nation. “We need to grow up. As a nation, we need to accept the outcome of democratic processes,” Prof Naituli said.

“What we have is a government that does not believe it won and goes around every Sunday in ‘thanksgiving’ services that go political and an opposition that has taken that cue and began early campaigns.”

Prof Naituli said that Ruto should be concerned about his five-year legacy and not look beyond.

“President (Mwai) Kibaki taught us good manners because he did not go around buying politicians. He simply worked,” the university don added.

“Endless politicking is dangerous to the country because we depend on investment to grow. Money hates instability and in our current situation, investors will be afraid to invest in the country, taking their money where they feel more secure,” said Prof Naituli.

“Local investors, too, will be afraid to grow their enterprises because they fear an implosion. The current dollar shortage is a result of capital flight with people taking their money out in foreign currencies,” he says. 

The Standard
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