Much of the punditry devaluating William Ruto’s current political stock is grossly exaggerated.
The Deputy President retains a large tribal flock that is matched by only two other politicians in Kenya: Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga.
And you can’t get a better metric for the worth of a Kenyan politician than the tribal following.
On top of his ethnic clout, Mr Ruto is, of course, the second most powerful man in the land.
His high public office affords him the resources to extend his influence beyond the ethnic flock by spreading the wealth around.
You may have noticed, for example, that among the Deputy President’s ardent defenders is a certain Aden from North Eastern.
Then there is Mr Ruto’s famed energy and stomach for a political fight.
At the peak of their fallout with Mr Odinga, marked by his sacking from the Cabinet by the latter, Mr Ruto remarked that “at least I will now have some time to run around.”
He would later team up with Mr Kenyatta to run Mr Odinga out of power in the 2013 elections. The two fancy themselves as having a chance to see off the challenge of the Opposition again in this year’s elections.
Mr Ruto’s long-term ambitions to succeed Mr Kenyatta are under considerable threat though. Most pundits have attributed it to the rising profile of Gideon Moi in Kalenjin politics. Yet that is only remotely true.
Gideon is pedigree, being former President Daniel arap Moi’s heir. A man who is still learning his local dialect’s syllables can surely not have the confidence to take on the community warrior – who has taken the name of the famous Nandi foreseer, Samoei arap Koitalel – on his own.
Where is the younger Moi getting his confidence? Mr Ruto and his fans need to look no further than the emerging attitude of the man he calls My fren, His Excellency the President.
For all his political clout, Mr Ruto has strangely kept giving the impression that his destiny depends on his personal relationship with Mr Kenyatta. In the Deputy President’s world of political bliss, his ‘fren’ is obligated to reciprocate his loyalty by guaranteeing him the crucial Kikuyu vote in 2022.
So when some time back Isaac Ruto, the Bomet Governor, stepped forward to challenge his namesake’s influence in South Rift, the President was brought over to tour the area and “reaffirm our friendship with William”.
But Mr Kenyatta is himself waking up to the reality of his own political infallibility, including within his ethnic base. He understands he won’t have the power to guarantee anyone anything beyond 2022.
The recent hostility that forced out Eugene Wamalwa, a Ruto ally, out of the race for Nairobi governor suggested that the President’s people won’t allow an outsider to impose his will easily. To prepare for the inevitable betrayal, the President has to begin showing he has other friends who can take the blame for him. Cue Gideon Moi.
Otieno Otieno is chief sub-editor, 'Business Daily'.