Deputy President William Ruto has moved with alacrity to consolidate his position in the Jubilee Party, taking full charge of the presidential re-election campaign, and leading the Jubilee team to face with the Opposition as the August election enters the final stretch.
If President Uhuru Kenyatta is the Commander-in-Chief, then Mr Ruto is filling in the position of lieutenant-general, leading the Jubilee troops as it prepares to face a united Opposition in two months but with his eyes firmly on the 2022 succession battle.
RUTO IS DEPENDABLE
Jubilee insiders told the Saturday Nation that the Deputy President has over time created vast political contacts and networks, particularly in central Kenya, Eastern, North Eastern, and at the Coast with an eye on denying electoral victory to the Nasa team, led by the Opposition’s joint presidential candidate, Mr Raila Odinga.
Confirming Ruto’s role in the Jubilee campaign, Senate Majority Leader Kithure Kindiki said: “Despite his high office, he is, shall I say, the campaign manager?”
“I have worked with him since the last election and I can say this: He is the kind of person you have in your corner and you are sorted. The President is very happy to have him as his lieutenant.”
Friend and foe alike describe Mr Ruto as a hardworking politician.
“He is the very embodiment of the early to bed early to rise mantra,” Prof Kindiki, who also painted the image of a work horse who can attend several rallies in a day and still speak eloquently and energetically at all of them, said.
On Monday, while he accompanied the President on campaigns around the capital city of Nairobi, before seeking clearance from the electoral commission to vie for the presidency, it did not escape keen observers that the DP was more than familiar with the members of the Jubilee team and he stepped in to whip them back into line when they appeared to overwhelm the selected masters of ceremonies, especially after he and Mr Kenyatta were cleared for the August 8 poll.
At one point, as the presidential motorcade snaked its way along Outering, Mutindwa and Jogoo roads, Mr Ruto played the master of ceremonies, taking turns to introduce Jubilee aspirants to the President.
Not only did he introduce those from Nairobi but also some from the neighbouring counties of Kiambu, Machakos and Murang’a.
He was even calling most of them – including those vying for Member of County Assembly (MCA) seats – by name.
He was, so to speak, on familiar ground.
MERGER OF PARTIES
Indeed, the former secretary-general of The National Alliance (TNA), Mr Onyango Oloo, said that Mr Ruto was in control as far back as 2016.
“The moment the integration process (merger between TNA and URP) started, the Ruto wing took total charge of the situation,” Mr Oloo, who later resigned and decamped to the Orange Democratic Party, led by Mr Odinga, said.
With the President more engrossed in official State duties, including overseas trips, observers within Jubilee have said that Mr Ruto has taken charge of the campaigns as he also seeks to endear himself to the central Kenya region.
Lately, he has been hosting delegations of Jubilee supporters and party candidates from across the country at his Karen residence.
Among his recent guests was former Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru, with whom he had fallen out before she quit the Cabinet to seek political office under a cloud of accusations over her role in the National Youth Service scandal.
Today, however, the Deputy President’s spokesman, Mr David Mugonyi, downplayed Mr Ruto’s growing political influence within Jubilee and his central role in the presidential campaigns.
“The President is leading the Jubilee campaign. The Deputy President plays a complementary role. It is in public knowledge at what point the Deputy President was asked to assist with the nominations and he provided guidance to the party secretariat,” Mr Mugonyi said.
A political scientist, Dr Richard Bosire, said that the Deputy President’s activities are not accidental but rather part of the Kenyatta succession plan.
Dr Bosire traces the strategy to 2016 when President Kenyatta’s TNA and Mr Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP) folded to form the Jubilee umbrella party, which later welcomed more than 10 other affiliates.
“With the parties under one roof, Ruto plans to take charge of the entire coalition once Uhuru is out of the way,” Dr Bosire, who teaches at the University of Nairobi, said.
NO DISCORD IN JUBILEE
However, National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale maintains that both Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto are a team, “who are in the game together for long”.
Dismissing talk of Mr Ruto’s premature presidential campaign, Mr Duale said that the DP has only one preoccupation now – to get President re-elected for his second and final term.
Sotik MP and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Joyce Laboso, said that the DP is being targeted by “enemies of the party” because of his hard work.
“The DP has all our support. We are behind him as he seeks votes for the President. Have you seen anyone more energetic in Jubilee? He has been to every corner of this country campaigning hard for party’s candidates.”
Mukurweini MP Kabando wa Kabando concurred: “Ruto is an indispensable asset to the re-election of UhuRuto dynamo.”
Except for Mr Kabando, who holds a contrary opinion, many losers of the Jubilee Party nominations who will be vying as independent candidates have blamed their dwindling political fortunes on Mr Ruto.
They have accused the DP of engineering their ouster and believe that he is on a mission to take over the party’s leadership.
What is frustrating to them, as Kiambu Governor William Kabogo has put it, is the apparent unwillingness of the “party leadership” to address the matter.
Two weeks ago, the caucus of independent candidates held a meeting at Nairobi’s Kasarani Gymnasium, which the President snubbed.
The members had planned to endorse Mr Kenyatta as their presidential candidate.
If Mr Ruto manages to neutralise the challenge posed by the Kabogo-led group, then he stands a good chance of inheriting Mr Kenyatta’s political constituency in 2022.
But there is one more hurdle to overcome – his namesake, Isaac Ruto, the Bomet Governor - who is now a member of the Nasa Pentagon and who is poised to control the powerful devolution docket if Nasa wins the August election.
“Isaac is marketing himself as the alternative leader of the Kalenjin community. He is dissuading his people against putting all their eggs in one basket.
"In the event Nasa carries the day on August 8, then the Bomet Ruto will emerge as the new King of the Kalenjin nation and the Uasin Gishu Ruto’s career will be in the doldrums,” Dr Bosire argued.
However, the Deputy President’s allies maintain that his grip on the region could not be tighter.
“Given the voting patterns of the Kalenjin, I don’t see them deviating an inch,” Dr Laboso said.
There are 67 days left to the election and, it would appear, Mr Ruto’s mettle will be tested in those two months and five days.