A year ago today, President William Ruto was on a roller coaster that only went up. As he was sworn in as Kenya’s fifth president, allies celebrated as some former foes, eyeing his favour, rushed to his side.
All predictions forecast better days for the President’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA), which, through Ruto’s charm offensive, was winning new friends. Since his announcement as president-elect weeks earlier, opposition parties had flocked into Kenya Kwanza, each pledging new allegiance.
Ruto’s plan for a super party had been clear from the start. UDA would not enter into a coalition with “ethnic parties”, the then deputy president swore, shunning the many parties that had mushroomed in his strongholds of Rift Valley and Mt Kenya.
He would swallow his words after formation of the Kenya Kwanza Alliance along with Moses Wetang’ula’s Ford Kenya and the Amani National Congress (ANC), formerly Musalia Mudavadi’s party. For fear of losing allies, UDA broke its rules and admitted smaller parties into Kenya Kwanza.
A year later, the Head of State finds himself with mixed fortunes. Courtesy of the new numbers he is piling up every day, Ruto is growing stronger. But he is also fighting several fires over some of his decisions and ambitious goals, such as forming a party as big as the former behemoth, the Jubilee Party.
Ruto has not let go of his push for a super party, which would essentially guarantee a firmer grip on power, a hangover from the monolithic Jubilee days.
“We are going to build a national party that is going to unite the country, communities, and the interests of every corner so that we eliminate politics of ethnicity and change it to politics of parties around issues that will drive the country into prosperity,” he said two days ago in Nyeri.
The Commander-in-Chief has not concealed his intentions and has begun fine-tuning his UDA vehicle into the party that will house all allies. He recently announced UDA national elections in December, part of the larger strategy of granting the masses ownership.
Driving Ruto’s ambitious agenda of having Kenya Kwanza affiliates dissolve into UDA is the party’s secretary-general Cleophas Malala.
“We must prioritise our community this time round. We must be strategic. The only way Luhyas will get to the top is by joining a national party. I want to urge the Luhya community to join the ruling national party, UDA,” Malala said recently in Kakamega.
The former Kakamega senator has engineered a series of defections from opposition Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya into UDA in Western Kenya, netting politicians such as former Bungoma Governor Wycliffe Wangamati.
He has done so as part of his marketing of UDA at the grassroots, opening party offices across the country, as well as holding multiple registration drives. Observers have read Malala’s moves as aimed at relegating Ford-K and ANC as UDA seeks to compete with Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement in Western.
His push for dissolution of both Kenya Kwanza founding parties has betrayed as much. But his words and actions have not gone unchallenged, with both Ford-K and ANC resisting plans to have them fold up.
“My thinking is that the timing is wrong. All parties need to consolidate their teams to weather Azimio’s onslaught,” said Kanduyi lawmaker John Makali of Ford-K, rejecting proposals of a dissolution.
“Parties are legal entities formed for different reasons. It is ill-intentioned to tell parties to fold up. We are open to forging coalitions but we will not dissolve into another party,” he added.
ANC’s Director of ICT and Programmes Nathaniel Mong’are argued that his party would only dissolve if UDA would, too.
“ANC can never lose its corporate identity to any party, least of all UDA, unless UDA is dissolved and we form a neutral entity,” Mong’are said, adding that there needs to be respect among coalition members.
“Before the elections, the President said he would never form a coalition with a village party but it dawned on him that no single party could form the government alone,” he added.
Besides rubbing Kenya Kwanza allies the wrong way, Malala has, seemingly, also started to annoy UDA members. From Members of County Assembly, agitating for better remuneration, accusing him of bullying them to lawmakers accusing him of meddling in their affairs, Malala has had his fair share of criticism.
On Monday, Kiambu Senator Karungo wa Thang’wa blamed him for allegedly meddling in the county’s internal affairs and taking sides in an ongoing dispute between Governor Kimani Wamatangi and a section of MCAs.
“The secretary-general is responsible for registering new members... and not running the affairs of Kiambu County,” the senator said.
Equally keeping the President busy is the growing dissent over ongoing talks between the government and the opposition. Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua is openly opposed to the talks over fears that he could end up sidelined as Ruto was when Raila shook hands with former President Uhuru Kenyatta.
A number of ambitious Mt Kenya leaders, such as Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, have also voiced their dissent on the talks. Observers have read the disquiet in Mt Kenya as prompted by fears that their colleagues, such as National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wa, could benefit politically from the talks and in the bigger fight to be the region’s leading political figure.