Who owes who? Ghosts of the past in new Ruto-Raila political contest

President William Ruto and Azimio leader Raila Odinga. [Courtesy]

The hardline positions taken by President William Ruto and Azimio leader Raila Odinga continued this week as the country heads for the third week of mass action tomorrow with many interested parties pushing for dialogue.

Before he travelled out of the country, Ruto appeared to have toned down his combative language, when he appealed for Raila’s support as a reciprocation for campaigning and allegedly voting for the ODM party leader in the 2007 presidential election.

That posture, however, now seems to have been conveniently made for the audience because he was addressing crowds in Migori, a Raila stronghold that has heeded his mass action demos.

Political analyst Martin Andati says Ruto’s appeal should not be seen as his willingness to resolve the current political impasse because it was mere political talk aimed at exciting his audience.

“He changes tune when he goes to Raila’s backyard by speaking a language that is appealing to the masses and that is why we saw him referring to him as Agwambo (Raila’s nickname) which he does not do elsewhere,” says Andati.

Prof Gitile Naituli of Multi-Media University also dismissed Ruto’s call for support and asked him to instead dialogue with Azimio leaders because it his duty to ensure that the country is not only peaceful but that he creates room for a harmonious co-existence with other leaders.

That is because the difference between him and leader of the opposition is that he the one who took the oath of office to protect the Constitution, which includes lives and property of all Kenyans that is threatened by the demonstrations.

“We do not want to know who owes the other support because voting is done through secret ballot but we need to see them dealing with some of the governance issues that Azimo is raising like creating confidence in the electoral process,” says Naituli.

He argued that some of the issues being raised like streamlining of electioneering should be taken seriously before they explode and become unmanageable in the 2027 presidential elections.

Prof Naituli’s call to the president is that he should have the humility to talk with the opposition because it is in the interest of the country that he asks how the opposition how they want issues they are raising dealt with.

It is suggested that in doing so, the president will get an opportunity to not only show leadership but also to sit them down and give suggestions of a better alternative to the proposals Raila and his team they are making.

So far, Kenyans are seeing inflated egos on both sides with no signs of any let off as the ugly confrontations between police and the protestors continue every Monday and Thursday in densely populated areas around Nairobi with deadly repercussions.

Prof Peter Kagwanja of Africa Policy Institute also asked for humility from the president and his men and also called on Raila and his Azimio allies to recognize that the country has a legitimately elected leader. He argues that countries do better when those in power act as peace makers rather than warriors or are led by people who want to vanquish those with divergent views because of their extremist ideas.

“You don’t have to fight but if you have extremist ideas as the leader of the country, then you have already declared war against the alternative thought which you disagree with,” says Kagwanja.

Among Kenya’s presidents, he credits Mwai Kibaki as a leader who was a peace maker and regrets that the country lacks structures and systems that could be used to socialise political leadership before they come to power.

Declaration of war

On Thursday, Prof Kagwanja again buttressed his argument on the KTN breakfast show when he argued that positions taken by Raila and Ruto amount to a declaration of war and not a political fight that can be resolved through dialogue.

He reasoned that far from being a political process which is a give and take game of the possible, the standoff appears to be brewing into a war because of the elevation of political temperatures by both sides. It is therefore not a simple argument of Raila supporting or voting for Ruto or vice versa as suggested by the latter, but about how each will claim victory in the current standoff because no side is willing to talk, making it difficult to tell who will blink first.

Prof Kagwanja says the three main players in the contests are Ruto, former president Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila but argues that it is more of a battle of egos between the first two and the ODM leader is therefore just a pawn in the game.

He also discussed what each of the three leaders could achieve for them to be seen to have emerged victorious in the current political deadlock.

For Raila , all his demands are basically heightening up the temperature towards a certain end game which includes removing a legitimately elected government from power because of his threats to march to State House yet the office of the president is at Harambee House.

Former President Uhuru enters into the mix because although being behind the curtains, he is still the chairman of the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition and yet he is the immediate former president who handed over power only seven months ago.

Thirdly, victory for Ruto and his radical supporters like Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Leader of Majority Kimani Ichung’wa lies in them not ceding any ground to Raila’s demands and ensuring that the opposition outside and inside Parliament is vanquished.

And so the argument advanced is that it should not be looked at as a Ruto-Raila issue, but as a Ruto-Uhuru duel which Kagwanja traces it to March 2017, when Uhuru fell out with Ruto, long before Raila came to the scene a year later for the handshake, which was to further contain his deputy.

His answers point to a polarized nation that is hurtling down into anarchy because Azimio is clearly looking for regime change, as Gachagua belligerently demands for the end of Raila’s political career.

That is why Prof Kagwanja any talks to involve the three leaders so that Uhuru is seen to respect Ruto, the current president to make peace with the former and in the process forestall Raila’s mass action.

But fellow analyst Ahmed Hashi differed, arguing that Uhuru did all he could to create inclusivity in the country through the 2018 handshake and it is only an agreement between Ruto and Raila that will resolve issues raised by Azimio.

“Uhuru did one of the bravest things by driving to Raila’s house and holding many meetings, where they agreed on issues that were ailing the country since independence and how they could be resolved,” said Hashi.

He submitted that Ruto is best placed to discuss with Raila because they worked together in ODM, where he was a member of the Pentagon party organ when he (Hashi) was worked for them as party strategist.

From his understanding, being an ODM founder member, Ruto has no ill feelings against either Raila or his Luo community, because he even remained with Raila in ODM after Uhuru walked out of a meeting convened in 2007 to merge Kanu with the new party.

Prof Naituli, however, argues that the political careers of both Ruto and Uhuru could have continued diminishing after Kanu lost the 2003 elections had Raila not invited them into ODM to fight against the 2005 constitution change referendum.

Andati agrees that Raila gave them a lifeline through ODM and also made Ruto Minister for Agriculture in the 2008 Grand Coalition government although the latter argues that he is the one who supported the formers hence his recent call for reciprocation.

“Kanu and its MPs including Ruto could have found it really difficult to remain relevant in national politics outside their constituencies had Raila not brought them back through introducing them into opposition politics,” says Andati.

The pundits, however, all agree that all the key actors should sit together and deal with the ugly confrontation that has so claimed lives and property because of the ongoing mass action in some parts of the country.

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