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DP William Ruto takes and stays in charge of political destiny

POLITICS
By Oscar Obonyo | July 20th 2021
Deputy President William Ruto at Ukunda, Msambweni on his way from Lunga Lunga in Kwale County. The DP is known for his trait of "grabbing and not being given” power. [DPPS]

Only those unfamiliar with Deputy President William Ruto’s style of politics did not anticipate that the Rift Valley supremo would one day take the political fight to the doorstep of his boss and hitherto partner, President Uhuru Kenyatta.

He did just that recently after months of walking separate paths with Uhuru and lifted a coveted trophy in the president’s Kiambu County backyard. The victory of United Democratic Alliance’s candidate John Njuguna in Kiambaa Constituency by-election was indeed a most cherished achievement.

And the victory resonates aptly with Ruto’s long-held belief of “kujipanga mapema, la sivyo utapangwa”, which loosely translates to putting one’s act together in good time lest you surrender your political destiny into someone else’s hands. But even more poignantly, as political scientist Mutahi Ngunyi observes, is the DP’s trait “of grabbing and not being given” power.

Pointing out that this characteristic accords the DP “a sense of comfort and security”, Mutahi observes that this tendency has been the hallmark of Ruto’s political style and that “the attempt of grabbing power from Uhuru was long coming”.

Having kicked off his political career in the early 1990s under the tutelage of the late second president, Daniel arap Moi, Ruto first got elected to Parliament as Eldoret North MP in 1997 and briefly served as Cabinet minister under Moi. However, when Uhuru – Moi’s preferred successor – failed to clinch the presidency in 2002, Ruto inherited his master’s political constituency in Rift Valley and rallied their support behind ODM leader Raila Odinga’s presidential bid in 2007.

Ruto would later spearhead an internal revolt against his party boss, Raila, within the Orange party and regroup with Uhuru to win power in 2013. But at the turn of the second term in office, relations between the two soured.

Uhuru hilariously claimed, during the launch of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) at Bomas of Kenya in October last year, that his deputy was impatient about taking over from him. Using the analogy of the relay race in athletics, Uhuru likened Ruto to a runner who was dashing backwards to snatch the baton from a teammate who was yet to complete his lap. Ruto would later, at a different forum, attribute his action to “having noticed the boss was about to hand over the baton to an individual from the rival team”.

Mutahi explains the DP’s actions as persuaded by the need to take and stay in charge of his political destiny. And truly, today Ruto is boss at UDA who designs and executes his own political path without competition or forces pulling on either side. This partly explains why he is firmly focused and ruthlessly efficient.

“Unlike his competitors, whose political success is dependent on other people’s plan, the DP’s political future is in his own hands. He is in charge and has a clear roadmap ahead and anyone joining us is alive to the reality of who our boss and flag bearer is,” says former Kakamega Senator Bonny Khalwale.

No doubt, being in control of the situation is one thing that the DP enjoys and one that is largely attributable to his political success. Admittedly, the 55-year-old politician does not like groping into the dark. He prefers striding towards known destinations. That he has actively participated in virtually all by-elections in the country since 2018 is not accidental.

According to Khalwale, it has been a deliberate process to test people’s response to his “hustler nation narrative” and candidature.

“From Kibra, Msambweni, Matungu right through the latest polls in Juja and Kiambaa, we – that is UDA and our presidential candidate – have learnt many lessons and improved greatly,” says Khalwale.

The vocal politician, Ruto’s ally in western Kenya, describes the DP as a hands-on leader who is a great team leader. Ruto, says Khalwale, has taken full charge of his own campaigns. And during the ongoing countrywide registration of party members, he reportedly monitors the exercise daily and personally calls the coordinators in all the 1,400 plus wards to enquire about their progress.

His eye-on-the-ball and tireless hard work notwithstanding, everything seems to be going for Ruto. The BBI, which he is publicly opposed to, has experienced a series of legal impediments and is currently a subject of a legal dispute. Besides the psychological wins over Uhuru and Raila in the BBI matter, the timing of the Jubilee and ODM merger talks seems to have partly handed victory to Ruto. The UDA campaigners in Kiambaa sold the narrative that Uhuru was selling Jubilee outfit to Raila.

Njuguna Wanjiku, Moses Kuria and Ndindi Nyoro celebrate after poll win in Kiambaa. [John Muchucha, Standard]

The situation has further not been helped by Uhuru’s apparent casual approach in handling Ruto’s political resurgence in Mt Kenya region. This is compounded by disagreements among political party leaders within National Super Alliance (NASA), Raila (ODM), Musalia Mudavadi (Amani National Congress), Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper) and Moses Wetang’ula (Ford Kenya), who are unwilling to unite for a common political cause.

“UK’s (Uhuru) casual approach in taming Ruto notwithstanding, politicians like Raila and Mudavadi are insisting on being on the ballot, while others like Kalonzo are unleashing statements that they will never team up with some politicians. Now the jury is out there, WSR (Ruto) ni moto wa kuotea mbali (is a hot political cake) and if they do not team up and work hard, they will hand over this thing (presidency) to the DP on a silver platter,” an enraged ODM allied politician confided to The Standard.

True to his political mantra, “siasa ni kujipanga (politics is about planning)”, Ruto’s present-day feats are not a result of last-minute haphazard arrangements, but rather the work of a long-term plot, nurtured by consistent and vigorous campaign.

His allies, for instance, say the DP started strategising for next year’s polls the moment he was elected into office in October 2017. And he has stayed on the campaign trail ever since, to the chagrin of the president who initially warned him against pre-mature campaigns, holding funds drives across the country, attending funerals and church functions, as well as buying wheelbarrows and other equipment for distribution among youthful voters.

Separately, Khalwale attributes registration of good results in by-elections countrywide to good organisation and investment in high-tech digital equipment. Ruto is also surrounded by vocal politicians, who are articulate in selling his agenda and fighting off verbal tirades from opponents.

This partly explains why he is in the good company of the likes of Khalwale, former Sports CS Rashid Echesa, MPs Aisha Jumwa (Malindi), Oscar Sudi (Kapseret), Didimus Barasa (Kimilili), Moses Kuria (Gatundu South), Sylvanus Osoro (South Mugirango), Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu), Alice Wahome (Kandara) and Senators Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo Marakwet), Susan Kihika (Nakuru) and Aaron Cheruyiot (Kericho), among others.

But Ruto himself remains their teacher in the podium, unleashing measured and witty statements with great impact on his audience. And where the Handshake of March 9, 2018, seriously dented his presidential prospects, Ruto opted to offload his share of the Jubilee administration’s baggage on Raila and totally distanced himself from the ruling party’s leadership mess.  

“In a way, therefore, he has been cleverly taking credit of Jubilee administration’s achievement for political mileage and playing the victim when it suits his interests,” Nyeri Town MP Wambugu Ngunjiri said.

The MP, a harsh critic of the DP, nonetheless claims Ruto’s days are now numbered – thanks to Thursday’s Kiambaa by-election. “There has been this perception that Mt Kenya has gone to the DP. This by-election was a litmus test – a referendum of sorts on Ruto’s popularity in Mt Kenya. Now we know what his influence is in the region. And we can confidently call it 50 per cent and this is at a point where he is facing no challenge from anyone just yet.”  

Former Teso North MP Arthur Odera concurs, pointing out that the DP has a lot of work ahead to fully win over Mt Kenya region in 2022. “The Kiambaa result has exposed him and there will be a fierce fight-back. And this may not necessarily be from Uhuru, but individuals who seek mountain unity, those who hope to benefit from it, and those whose political or socioeconomic future depends on it.”

What seems to irk the big political players in Mt Kenya region, including Uhuru, is the fact that Ruto appeals directly to the electorate, thereby making relevance unimportant.

Dangerous as it may be, this is a ploy that has worked for the DP over the last two decades and there is not a clear sign he is about to change. This, indeed, makes for an exciting political duel ahead in 12 months’ time.

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