Eldoret North MP William Ruto is President Kibaki’s new Mr Fix It. And the suspended Higher Education minister’s mandate in the new assignment is clear: Keep Prime Minister Raila Odinga in check.
When, last year, the PM attempted to suspend Mr Ruto from the Cabinet, President Kibaki was quick to overrule Mr Odinga.
In January this year, Mr Ruto organised a presidential rally in Eldoret within a week. A day before the rally, Mr Ruto used a police chopper to fly MPs from the North and South Rift regions to Eldoret to prepare the ground for a rousing reception of the President.
During the rally at 64 Stadium, all protocol was ignored and Mr Ruto sat next to the President and took the honour of welcoming the Head of State to address the gathering. Never mind there were several Cabinet ministers in attendance.
A fortnight ago, when the PM went to see the President in his Harambee House office over the controversial nominations to constitutional offices, Mr Ruto was walking out of the President’s office.
And, this week, Mr Ruto is reported to have “summoned” PNU top brass including Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Energy minister Kiraitu Murungi to a meeting at a city hotel. He reportedly chaired the meeting and later delivered the message to the President. Arising from this, the President called a press conference to announce that he had “consulted widely” and decided to withdraw the names of his nominees.
It is clear what President Kibaki wants to extract from this arrangement. Mr Ruto is perhaps the only politician at the President’s disposal who has the courage and the numbers to take on Mr Odinga.
But what is in it for the Eldoret North MP? And what do the Kibaki loyalists, the people who have been fighting serious political battles started and propagated by the same Mr Ruto, feel about the new development? Has PNU endorsed the new-found ally or do some people feel jilted?
Mr Ruto’s entry into the Kibaki courts has generated intense debate among friends and foes and confounded his own political party, opening new battle lines with Mr Odinga in an unprecedented scope.
But despite Mr Ruto’s new-found place in Kenyan politics, opinion remained sharply divided as to whether his is a long term political strategy which could see him play a key role in the Kibaki succession politics or a simple marriage of convenience aimed at taming the PM.
According to Special Programmes minister Ms Esther Murugi, the new-found Ruto-Uhuru-Kalonzo alliance has everything to do with the Kibaki succession politics.
“Everybody is consolidating for 2012 and why shouldn’t we? We are meeting as people of like minds and Ruto is part of the (2012) game plan,” said the minister.
But former Mathioya MP Joseph Kamotho disagrees: “I think their aim is to see that ODM collapses. I don’t think there is any other thing beyond that. Their aim is to create room for themselves.”
Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny, a close ally of the Eldoret North MP, said their camp was weighing several political options ahead of the next General Election.
“We are weighing whether to go it alone and team up with (Mr) Uhuru after the first round of the next presidential election or whether to form an alliance so that we go to the election as a united team. Mr Ruto will soon preside over functions in Nyeri and Kiambu to solidify the alliance. We are happy that the initial suspicions that surrounded our relations with Uhuru have since gone. It is not us leaders who are forcing our supporters into this alliance, we are simply responding to their wishes,” he said.
But MPs close to Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta remained cagey on the future of the political alliance between their man and the Eldoret North MP.
“Let me not comment on that issue at this point in time,” said Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni, a key player in Mr Kenyatta’s camp.
Kinangop MP David Ngugi cautioned politicians against forming political alliances to fight their political opponents.
“I do not understand what the alliance is all about, but I do not support political alliances aimed at fighting so and so. Let us play politics of development and issues; people seem to be obsessed and have unnecessary phobia for the Prime Minister which I find totally wrong and retrogressive,” he said.
Commenting on the matter, former Siakago MP and a close ally of Mr Kenyatta Justin Muturi said: “You cannot rule out a political marriage of sorts going forward, Kenyan politics being what it is.”
Defence assistant minister Joseph Nkaissery, who remains loyal to Mr Odinga, says they will soon invoke disciplinary measures on party MPs who were openly fighting ODM.
“It is a pity some of them are nominated while others are actually ministers drawing huge salaries and other privileges courtesy of the party. Very soon you will see voters going to court to challenge that,” said the Kajiado Central MP.
Mr Isaac Ruto (Chepalangu) scoffed at the threat saying he will not even challenge that in court.
“Party loyalty is not won by dictatorship. Let Mr Odinga learn from what is happening in the Arab world,” he said.
However, he denied there were any plans to remove the PM. “We shall be handling issues as they come but I don’t think that is what is up our sleeves at the moment,” he said.
With a majority of Rift Valley MPs including Cabinet ministers having moved to his side, Mr Ruto’s plan seems to have worked to the letter. However, the eloquent MP’s days in the sun could come to an abrupt end should the ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo get the judges’ nod to open a case against the six Kenyans accused of having played a leading role in the 2007 post-election violence.
Mr Ruto has been singled out alongside Mr Kenyatta, ODM chairman Henry Kosgey, Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura, former Police Commissioner Hussein Ali and radio journalist Joshua arap Sang.
The six face the prospect of being charged with crimes against humanity at the ICC, a move that could disrupt or decimate their careers, which for Mr Ruto and Mr Kenyatta, would include dreams for the presidency.
In the meantime, bouyed by the new numbers Mr Ruto and his team of ODM rebels have brought to the table, PNU hawks are now training their political guns on Mr Odinga and his allies in an attempt to tame the PM’s influence.
It is the new entry by Mr Ruto to President Kibaki’s circles that has got some extremists in PNU leaking out unconfirmed plans that they would use their new numerical strength in the House to oust Mr Odinga from the PM’s position.
It was also the reason that the PNU brigade and their new allies were pushing hard to have House Speaker Kenneth Marende allow the names of the ill-fated Kibaki nominees to the floor where they would have approved them without breaking any sweat.
And, as if to show they can easily raise the requisite simple majority to remove the PM, PNU showed the Sunday Nation a list of 131 MPs they claim support their cause.
While acknowledging that the tables have been turned on them by the Ruto team’s rebellion, Gwassi Member of Parliament John Mbadi said some of those listed were really neutral MPs who vote with their conscience and are not necessarily beholden to PNU’s schemes.
“While they may also raise the numbers required to remove the PM, his position is secured by the National Accord and transitional clause of the new Constitution,” he said.
Wajir North Member of Parliament Hussein Mohammed, who is one of the members listed by PNU as part of their ammunition, took a neutral turn.
“I want to be the voice of reason. Whenever PNU or ODM does something wrong I will tell them so. I will not, for instance, support a vote of no confidence motion against my party leader because I know it is not good for the country,” said the ODM MP.
University of Nairobi political analyst Dr Adams Oloo said that while it is true Mr Ruto had endeared himself to the President’s side, he has not been fully accepted and pointed at the proposal of his political nemesis William Kirwa for the position of Budget Controller in the controversial nominations which were later withdrawn.
Energy assistant minister Magerer Langat, who is Mr Odinga’s most vocal defender in Rift Valley, said Mr Ruto is being used to fight PNU wars and afterwards he will be dumped.