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Will Ruto’s survival instincts win him top seat in 2022?

By JOHN KAMAU
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Friday March 13 2020

Of all the Youth for Kanu ‘92 operatives, William Ruto is the only one who has survived the labyrinth of Kenyan politics to rise and become the Deputy President.

From nowhere, he is perched near the top — the second-in-command.

Of all the political rookies who got fame running a well-oiled campaign to keep President Daniel arap Moi and Kanu in power in 1992, and where the culture of sleaze, and cash-inspired defections was perfected, Dr Ruto has managed to run his own race and is the most successful, both politically and financially.

Now, he is eyeing the presidency in 2022, which will also be the 30th anniversary of the YK’92, which introduced him to national politics.

INTO OBLIVION

His comrades -- Mr Cyrus Jirongo (national chairman), Mr Sam Nyamweya (treasurer) and Mr Moses Kurgat (secretary-general) -- have faded into oblivion. But it is Dr Ruto -- then a 25-year-old University of Nairobi Zoology graduate tasked to run the secretariat as Mr Joe Kimkung’s deputy -- who has perfected the art of survival.

Ever since, Dr Ruto has played his political cards well and has, for the last 28 years, managed to build formidable networks in the country. The one-time minion of YK’92 is now the man to beat in 2022 and he has kept the country on its toes with his brand of politics: Popular mass mobilisation.

It is not lost to observers that the DP has become a veteran of local politics having mastered the language, mannerisms and organisational skills he learnt in his early years within YK’92. His bold criticism of the so-called “dynasties” and “system” — and showcasing himself as a member of the proletariat — is an indicator of where he targets to harvest his votes from.

POLITICAL FALLOUT

YK’92 hardened Dr Ruto. Soft-speaking and combative at the same time, he faced the first political fallout shortly after President Moi disbanded the lobby in June 1993.

Dr Ruto, who was the executive officer, was arrested on June 15, 1993 and interrogated. That was a result of the power-play at State House where they thought that power was now getting into the heads of YK’92 honchos. It was time to clip their image and ego. While most vanished into thin air, a few remained.

Dr Ruto’s rise in wealth and politics was meteoric and the innocence of a man whose Christian demeanour was known in the University of Nairobi’s Christian Union, was easily shattered. Gone was the yellow Honda Civic that he used to drive to the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) as a member of YK’92.

JIRONGO'S SUPPORT

In business, after they all left KICC, Dr Ruto was supported by Mr Jirongo, the moneyed chairman of the lobby, to start a tour company that was housed on the third floor of Rehema House.

Occasionally, he would be seen in the company of former Lonhro boss, Mr Mark Too, as he plotted the ouster of the then Eldoret North MP William arap Saina.

Various interests had converged to make sure that former MP Reuben Chesire never returned to Nandi politics. During the 1997 campaigns, Mr Chesire claimed that Dr Ruto had punched him during a heated debate at State House. Dr Ruto denied it, but admitted that he cautioned the elderly politician against undermining him.

At the time, President Moi was trying to cultivate some Young Turks to take some positions in Kanu and he trusted Dr Ruto for exhibiting Christian morals. In most meetings, where Dr Ruto was present, he would be asked to lead prayers, earning Mzee Moi’s respect.

But for Mr Too, he was trying to build his own political base and eclipse the likes of Mr Henry Kosgey and Mr Ezekiel Barng'etuny. In the Kanu politics, he was one man who would make the President burst into unending laughter and was the Mr Fix It or ''Bwana Dawa'' of the regime. With Mr Too’s blessings, Dr Ruto was in good hands and he easily won the Eldoret North seat in 1997 on a Kanu ticket.

As a gifted speaker, teetotaller and a good listener, Dr Ruto quickly earned his place in Parliament as a fervent debater. He was in a group that comprised Mr Kipruto arap Kirwa, Mr John Sambu and Mr Jirongo — a team that championed the revitalisation of Kanu from within and who challenged the old guard.

President Moi had, at first, appointed Mr Kirwa an assistant minister for Agriculture and in 1998, he appointed Dr Ruto an assistant minister in the Office of the President — perhaps to silence them. But the appointment gave him a chance to have a taste of life on the fast lane.

A NEWCOMER

With Mzee Moi’s succession taking twists and turns, Dr Ruto watched as his mentor, Too, gave away his nominated seat to a newcomer, Uhuru Kenyatta, who had failed to clinch the Gatundu South seat on a Kanu ticket in the 1997 General Election after garnering 10,000 votes against Mr Moses Mwihia’s 20,000.

A disappointed Mr Kenyatta had retreated to oblivion until 1999 when President Moi appointed him the chairman of the Kenya Tourism Board, then nominated him to Parliament in 2001.

As President Moi tried to sell Mr Kenyatta’s candidacy in 2002, he counted on the Young Turks like Dr Ruto to lend support — after all, it was time for the old guard to leave. But it was a political goof for Mzee Moi managed to damage the ruling party beyond repair, having underestimated Mr Raila Odinga’s political acumen.

TWO REMAINED

While most of the Kanu veterans left with Mr Odinga and found space within the Kibaki-Ngilu-Wamalwa axis to form the National Rainbow Coalition, only Dr Ruto, and to an extent Mr Musalia Mudavadi -- who had been lured back with the position of vice-president -- remained to campaign for Mr Kenyatta.

Mr Ruto faced a bruising battle in Eldoret North against Mr Chesire but recaptured his seat by garnering 31,146 votes against Mr Chesire’s 24,258.

At the Serena Hotel, Dr Ruto stood behind Mr Kenyatta as he congratulated Mr Mwai Kibaki for winning the 2002 race. Most Kanu insiders shied away.

However, it was political fate, rather than friendship, that brought the two together as they found themselves thrown to the International Criminal Court after the 2007 post-election violence.

They used the case to galvanise their support and won the 2013 race. They would be re-elected in 2017, albeit controversially. But whether or not he survives the storms towards the presidency, Dr Ruto will go down in history as the man who rose from nowhere and ended somewhere.