Prime Minister Raila Odinga has thrown down the gauntlet.
That is the only conclusion one can draw from the mini Cabinet reshuffle in which Mr William Ruto was moved from his prized Ministry of Agriculture to the Higher Education docket in a straight swap with fellow north Rift politician Sally Kosgei.
Although Education is not a minor docket, the switch is bound to be interpreted as a demotion, especially in light of Mr Ruto’s fronting of the No campaign on the new constitution while the President and Prime Minister are rallying their troops for the Yes vote.
The statement released by the Presidential Press Service said that the changes had been made after consultation between the President and Prime Minister.
That is a requirement of the National Accord, but here it might be safe to assume that it was the Prime Minister who wanted changes affecting his side of the coalition.
From the ODM, Mr Ruto has been leading a rebellion of legislators from the Kalenjin community soon after the coalition government was formed, keeping Mr Odinga on his toes and even challenging his power base by the simple threat of teaming up with his PNU rivals on some issues.
The power struggle started with Cabinet and other government appointments, was amplified by the fierce opposition to the PM’s drive to clear the Mau forest of illegal encroachment and has seemingly come to a head with the two taking divergent positions on the new constitution.
But for Mr Odinga, taking Mr Ruto down a peg because of the issues they have differed on might be secondary to the longer-term goal of shaping his political forces ahead of 2012 elections.
He is sending out the signal that he is fully in charge of ODM and is ready to jettison any groupings that become a hindrance to his quest for 2012.
Mr Ruto may be but an individual, but he represents a key constituency that claims to have played a large role in propelling Mr Odinga to such a potent threat at the 2007 polls and finally to a share of power.
The calculation therefore might be in whether a disgruntled Kalenjin community might be provoked to finally part ways with Mr Odinga.
Shifting Dr Kosgei, a moderate on the issues that inflame the Ruto camp, to the Agriculture docket is a clear way of signalling that he is not abandoning the community.
An MP from the region, Mr Kiprono Magerer, was also promoted to assistant minister for Energy replacing a key Ruto ally Charles Keter who was dropped altogether, while other stalwarts on Mr Odinga’s side such as Industry minister Henry Kosgey remain firmly in place.
Now it remains to be seen whether Mr Ruto will pick up the gauntlet. He could decide to swallow his pride and take up the new appointment without a whimper.