The formal entry of Bomet governor Isaac Ruto into the National Super Alliance was touted as major development, the accelerant to reinvigorate the opposition coalition and ensure victory over the governing Jubilee grouping come the General Election in August.
While significant, however, the real import at this time might be in deflecting attention from Nasa’s stalled efforts to fit the final piece in the coalition agreement – continuing failure to identify the presidential campaign flag-bearers.
All the focus on Nasa over the past few has been on the furious infighting as the four principals—ODM leader and 2013 presidential candidate Raila Odinga; his running mate, Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka; Mr Moses Wetang'ula of Ford Kenya, and another 2013 presidential candidate now heading the ANC, Musalia Mudavadi—laid claim to the presidential ticket.
The infighting was played out in the public glare as the four employed their respective cohorts to issue public ultimatums that they must get ticket or walk out, and to issue selective leaks to the media on closed-door talks aimed at resolving the deadlock.
In the run-up to the Bomas of Kenya gathering yesterday, Nasa communications operatives used their social media networks to alert the public to about a ‘major announcement’.
That served to suggest that impasse had been resolved and the stage set for unveiling of the presidential election ticket.
As it turned out however, the naming of the flag bearer has now been set for next week. So the highlight of yesterday’s event was the formal entry of Governor Ruto, the Chama Cha Mashinani leader, into the Nasa fold, expanding the collegiate leadership from a quartet to a recreation of the Pentagon that spearheaded Mr Odinga’s 2007 presidential bid.
At the event yesterday Mr Odinga himself referred to the Pentagon and suggested that Nasa now represented all of Kenya, in reference to Mr Ruto’s expansive Rift Valley region that has not been represented in the line-up.
It has been a feature of coalition building in Kenya that the leadership of any grouping include representation from all major population groups.
That was seen with the Narc movement that propelled Mr Mwai Kibaki to power in 2002; the Orange Democratic Movement on which Mr Odinga tried to unseat President Kibaki in 2007, and the Cord coalition under which Mr Odinga challenged the Jubilee team of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto in 2013.
So will Governor Isaac Ruto be the one to complete the missing piece in Nasa?
The opposition alliance has long sought to depict Jubilee as comprising only two populous and privileged communities that have monopolised power since independence, President Kenyatta’s Kikuyu of Central Kenya and Deputy President Ruto’s Rift Valley Kalenjin.
Nasa’s predecessor, Cord, was led by Mr Odinga of the Luo Nyanza, Mr Musyoka of the Kamba, in Eastern Kenya, and Mr Wetang'ula of the Luhya of Western Kenya.
The entry of Mr Mudavadi and evolution into Nasa bolstered the Western Kenya representation and expanded the leadership from triumvirate into a quartet.
Now Mr Ruto expands it into a pentagon, but beyond symbolism, the import of his entry will be in the votes he brings to the table.
He was certainly deserving of a welcome. In the first instance, his presence dilutes the disappointment of former ruling party Kanu’s failure to join the opposition alliance.
Kanu Secretary-General Nick Salat was an enthusiastic presence at the Nasa unveiling at the same Bomas venue in January, where he assured all that his absent party boss Gideon Moi was fully aboard.
Mr Moi, son and political heir of retired President Daniel arap Moi, however baulked for a number of factors. First was the big dilemma in that while he shares is fathers’ antipathy towards Deputy President Ruto, he could not defy Moi senior’s support for President Kenyatta’s re-election.
The second was the stark realisation that supporting Nasa would bring him and Kanu into headlong electoral confrontation with the Deputy President, who holds almost unchallenged political sway amongst the Kalenjin.
Mr Moi and other Kanu politicians from the region hoping to retain or capture seats would not have the stomach for such a fight.
Hence the confounding statement that Kanu would back President Kenyatta’s re-election, but the backing did not extend to the DP. The fact is that the President and Deputy President come as a package. One cannot vote for one and not the other.
Mr Moi and Governor Ruto, who both have no time for the Deputy President, have in the past signalled their own Kanu and CCM alliance in the Rift Valley, but ultimately it was the Bomet governor who had the gumption to go all the way while the Kanu boss and Baringo Senator dithered.
It was indeed a brave and courageous step, but also a very risky one. While the governor might claim support of the Kipsigis sub-ethnic group that is dominant in Bomet, that might not translate to support for his CCM party in the county and beyond to the rest of the northern Rift Valley.
There is great risk that governor could to be seen as a traitor and spoiler out to undermine the Deputy President on his home ground.
But there is also the fact that the solid support Jubilee enjoys in the region is based largely on the deputy presidency, and the promise of number one slot for Mr William Ruto in 2022 after President Kenyatta serves out his final term.
The governor might be banking on a campaign that rubbishes the DP’s succession prospects, exploiting latent fears that President Kenyatta’s team could easily renege on their promise and prop up their own central Kenya candidate.
This is a campaign that Gideon Moi, who has in the floated the idea of his own presidential candidacy, would be happy to support.