If you landed in the Rift Valley today, you would be forgiven for thinking that the General Election is around the corner.
A flurry of activities in the last few days has divided opinions over the future of a region that has been at the centre of political theatre.
Leaders remain split over the arrest and prosecution of Emuria Dikirr MP Johana Ng’eno. His counterpart, Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi, is out on bail after being arraigned over hate speech.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has also been faulted for his ‘mistreatment’ of Deputy President William Ruto after he ostensibly sidelined him from running the affairs of government.
The DP is on record claiming that a ‘Deep State’ within government is to blame for putting hurdles in his path to the 2022 presidency.
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“I just want to tell them we are waiting for you. This system, this deep state that we are being told about,” Ruto was quoted while addressing a delegation of leaders from Kajiado County at his Karen office.
The fallout between Uhuru and Ruto has shaken the Rift Valley, which voted for Uhuru almost to a man in the two last elections. Cracks started appearing soon after the March 2018 historic handshake between Uhuru and ODM leader Raila Odinga, whose party now enjoys a close working relationship with the government.
A number of leaders who stood by the DP in the past have developed cold feet. Nakuru Town West MP Samuel Arama, David Gikaria (Nakuru Town East), Martha Wangare (Gilgil), Kamau Kuria (Molo) and Njoro’s Charity Kathambi have kept off Ruto’s events.
Last week, Mr Gikaria led a demonstration against Ng’eno and Sudi in Nakuru town after their verbal attack against Uhuru. Mr Arama, on the other hand, has accused his counterparts of sowing hate among communities.
“There is a group of lawmakers in Rift Valley who want to force people to think in a certain way and vote for certain politicians come 2022. That is not acceptable. Communities in the Rift Valley must be allowed to make their choice when that time comes,” Arama said.
But Soy MP Caleb Kositany, a close Ruto friend, denied the claims. “It is clear that the DP has been sidelined in running the government and his allies are being targeted by State agencies.”
Mr Kositany has previously said that while Ruto and his supporters have the option of exiting Jubilee, there is still a chance that his union with Uhuru can be salvaged.
“We want the President and his deputy to sit down and tell us how to proceed between now and 2022. We do not want them to tell us who to elect president in 2022.”
Cause for alarm
Chama Cha Mashinani Party leader Isaac Ruto has said the unfolding events should not be cause for alarm. “Those are personal statements and they do not reflect the thinking of an entire community. Rift Valley will remain peaceful and people will make their choices when the right time comes.”
Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei, however, claims Ruto’s opponents are scheming to alienate him. “They are out to weaponise the police and the National Cohesion and Integration Commission for political expediency. They find this is the only way to stop Ruto after the narrative of corruption and fundraisers in aid of development and churches flopped.”
There is also the thorny issue of a referendum to change the Constitution, which has its defender and detractors. Ruto has opposed the Building Bridges Initiative while Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, who is the Kanu chairman, backs the initiative.
Analysts predict that if Ruto continues down this path and loses, that will complicate his presidential bid.
According to former Subukia MP Koigi wa Wamwere, Ruto’s supporters suspect that a hidden powerful hand outside the presidency is determined to make it seem like the DP has lost his grip on the region.
The emergence of another force in the vote-rich Rift Valley is likely to change the political equation. Given that Ruto has not been a darling of Gideon, there is a growing perception that the senator has revived his father’s old networks with the objective of succeeding Uhuru.
With all the uncertainty, ODM looks set to cash in. Party members have been strategising on the options that could deliver victory in the elections.
Raila has also been busy cleaning house. The party recently kicked off a purge targeting key organs in an attempt to bring an end to recurrent bungled party primaries.
It disbanded the National Elections Board and National Disciplinary Committee and constituted them afresh.
The decision to kick out the two committees, which are led by Judith Pareno and Fred Athuok, is part of a clean-up exercise initiated by the party as it implements an internal task force report that indicted the secretariat for presiding over chaotic nominations.
[Additional reporting by Titus Too]