Last Wednesday’s mini reshuffle in which Prime Minister Raila Odinga dropped Eldoret North MP William Ruto and three of his allies from Cabinet seemed to mark the end of the four-year acrimonious marriage between the two leaders.
In edging out the rebels after many failed attempts, Mr Odinga rewarded loyalists who have put their political careers on the line by defending him against a wave of dissent in the region.
Mr Odinga and Mr Ruto, who came together during the 2005 constitutional referendum to defeat the then Wako draft, also joined hands in 2007 to mount an elaborate campaign which took Mr Odinga a breath away from State House.
In the first few months after the election, Mr Ruto was a fierce defender of Mr Odinga during the Serena talks which gave birth to the Grand Coalition government.
Ironically, they fell out shortly afterwards following the Mau forest evictions which Mr Odinga spearheaded, and the manner in which the post-election violence suspects were treated. Since then, their political marriage has known no peace and the question was when, and not whether, the two charismatic leaders would part ways.
“By doing away with Mogotio MP Prof Hellen Sambili despite the fact that she was not as harsh a critic as Mr Ruto or Mr Duale, Mr Odinga severed links with UDM, the party Ruto has identified as his 2012 vehicle, and which has been in a relationship of sorts with ODM,” said University of Nairobi lecturer Dr Adams Oloo.
Mr Ruto and his group have been arguing that the bid to expel them on the grounds that they had shifted allegiance to UDM was a moot point since the party was an affiliate of ODM; with Prof Sambili, who was appointed to the Cabinet at the behest of the PM, having been elected on its ticket.
While Dr Oloo says the purge was in the best interests of the PM in his bid to have a united house ahead of next year’s elections, other analysts saw Mr Odinga’s move as counterproductive.
“The PM is intolerant and the move confirms that he was a good student of retired President Moi, having been the Kanu secretary-general during the sunset years of the Moi administration. What he has not taken into consideration, though, is that the grand coalition government was formed to stop conflict and therefore he ought not to have treated it as a normal arrangement,” said Kipkirui Kap Telwa, a political analyst and communication scholar.
He added that Mr Odinga had lost both in status and numbers. “Prof (Margaret) Kamar represents the past regime while (Musa) Sirma represents nobody. The move leaves Ruto without any baggage as he campaigns for State House,” he said.
But Moi University law lecturer Kipchumba Murkomen said the changes were in keeping with long-held traditions in government where ministers serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority. He wondered why the Ruto group wanted to be allowed to abuse their party boss whereas President Kibaki’s ministers were disciplined and loyal.
Mr Ruto told the Sunday Nation last Friday that he had remained true to the ideals of ODM and that it was the PM who had veered off the road and reduced a robust movement into a personality cult.
“It is not really about Ruto but the disintegration of the original team. (Cooperatives minister ) Joe Nyaga has been forced into hiding, (Tourism minister) Najib Balala has announced he is forming a coastal party and (Water) Charity Ngilu has said she will stand for the presidency on a Narc ticket,” he said.
Mr Ruto said he was sacked because of his “sterling” performance in the ministries of Agriculture and Higher Education.
“It is my performance which earned me the sack. It made some people feel uncomfortable and threatened. But I am happy because the people of Kenya whom I served with dedication are with me,” he said.
But some observers say discipline and loyalty and not just performance are key in government service, a charge Mr Ruto dismissed.
“Nowhere was it written in our manifesto that I should hero-worship instead of serving the people who voted for us. If I was being punished for party discipline how come they raided Ford People and appointed their MP against the tenets of democracy and party discipline?”
Others who were shown the door were Dujis MP Aden Duale and Moyale MP Mohammud Ali. By bringing in South Mugirango’s Manson Nyamweya of Ford People, the PM appears to have been keen also on consolidating support in the rest of the country.
Mr Odinga’s minders argue that the slot was a gain because it came from MP Harun Mwau who resigned after being accused of being involved in drug trade. The only other Kamba MPs who support Mr Odinga, Ms Charity Ngilu and Ms Wavinya Ndeti, already had ministerial seats.
Voi MP Dan Mwazo’s appointment as Livestock assistant minister was seen as an attempt to strengthen the PM’s support in upper coastal region where Gender minister Naomi Shabaan, a vocal critic of Mr Odinga, comes from.
The appointment of nominated MP Musa Sirma rather than Energy assistant minister Magerer Lang’at, who is equally loyal, is said to have been informed by the need to safeguard the support of the Tugen by having a point man there.
“The other issue is that Mr Sirma is an abrasive foot soldier who you would rather have with you or he is out there shooting in your direction. He had already begun sending mixed signals because he was getting impatient with the promised appointment which was long in coming,” said Herbert Kerre, a journalism lecturer.
Mr Sirma appeared to confirm this evaluation when he said, on learning of his appointment: “It is now total war. I will redouble my efforts to ensure that Raila regains his massive support in the region.”
“Suspended Industrialisation minister Henry Kosgey, who is facing charges of abuse of office, was spared the axe because the PM has not totally lost hope in him and because he did not want to be seen to be insensitive by sacking two ministers from the Nandi community,” said a Raila aide who requested not to be named.
Mr Ruto’s allies have ruled out the possibility of the PM making any meaningful inroads in the area after severing links with Mr Ruto.
“The sack has consolidated Ruto’s support in the region. In the eyes of supporters, he is now a martyr who has been crucified despite his selfless support for the party leader in the past,” said Mr Joshua Kutuny.