It is now official. Deputy President William Ruto and his long-time political nemesis, Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, are going for each other’s jugular in their pursuit of supremacy in the Rift Valley, two years to the 2022 General Election.
A major battle pitting the two prominent Kalenjin leaders is fast shaping up, with each seeking to exploit the other’s weak points to score points goals as they eye control of the millions of votes in the vast region.
For the last 10 years, the DP has run the show in the region, pushing Mr Moi, the Kanu chairman, to the periphery, but the recent political changes nationally spearheaded by President Uhuru Kenyatta have elevated the senator and given him more influence in regional politics.
The co-operation deal between Jubilee Party and Kanu has given Mr Moi’s bid to wrest the region from the DP’s grip fresh impetus. How the two will fight it out will determine how the vote rich block will affect the Uhuru succession.
With the scales suddenly tilted in his favour, Mr Moi plans a charm offensive tour of the region that promises to be full of goodies, including launching various key projects aimed at boosting his influence. At best, he has the national government on his side, but at worst, he might run into turbulence among Dr Ruto’s supporters.
Already Gideon, who inherited the leadership mantle from his father, the late President Daniel arap Moi, has bagged key parliamentary posts, including the powerful Senate Majority Leader seat, which was given to West Pokot Senator Samuel Poghisio. It was previously occupied by one of the DP’s ardent supporters, Elgeyo-Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, who was among those kicked out by the President in a purge targeting Mr Ruto’s allies in Parliament.
That Mr Moi has used the row within Jubilee — and Dr Ruto’s political troubles — to entrench himself, has not been lost on observers.
Mr Moi’s right-hand man, Kanu Secretary-General Nick Salat, told the Nation on Monday there was no turning back in their partnership with the President. He said they were now looking forward to a growing relationship now and beyond the coming elections.
“We are now fully on board in President Kenyatta’s government. We are hand-in-hand with him as we help him achieve his legacy,” Mr Salat said.
Earlier, Mr Salat had said they also expected to benefit from the planned changes in the Cabinet. Mr Kiprono Kittony, the son of Kanu senior member Zipporah Kittony, features prominently in the list of those expected to join the Cabinet.
Both the DP and Mr Moi have been installed as elders by almost all the major Kalenjin sub-tribes, from the Kipsigis in the South Rift to Sabaot in the North. The latest event took place in early June, when the revered Talai handed the instruments of leadership to Dr Ruto during a dawn ceremony in Nandi County. But the ceremony has been contested by a section of Talai elders, who are planning similar event for Mr Moi.
While these coronation meetings might appear mundane to outsiders, they are used to gauge the direction of political wind in the region.
Mr Salat says a similar coronation awaits Mr Moi. “Our chairman would have undergone a similar ceremony sometime back but because of coronavirus we had to abandon it.
‘‘Once the country is opened up, and gatherings are allowed, the Talai elders are willing to come and join us to instal our chairman as a leader too,” he Salat said.
The firming up of Uhuru-Moi relationship was affirmed at the weekend by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya.
While it was touted as a development tour of Mogotio and Tiaty Sub-counties in Baringo County, the Saturday meeting’s political agenda was obvious. The CS noted that President Kenyatta saw Mr Moi as a better helping hand in his pursuit of a better legacy ahead of his retirement in 2022.
“You have seen President Kenyatta working very closely with your Senator, Gideon Moi, and they even signed a pact recently. This is a true reflection of what will happen in the near future,” Mr Munya said.
While conveying greetings from the President and Senator Gideon Moi to locals in Emining, Chemuro in Tiaty and Kamar in Mogotio sub-counties, Mr Munya hinted at the duo working together in 2022, adding that prominent leaders from the Rift Valley region, including former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto, had also shown the interest of working with the President.
He likened the recent merger to a man with several wives but remains the father of all the children born by the women.
“I am also a member of the PNU party but a Jubilee Cabinet secretary. You have also seen the former Bomet Governor Ruto joining the bandwagon that is going to shape the politics of this country,” said the CS.
Interestingly, during the tour, the CS made no mention of the DP.
But the DP’s allies have dismissed the Jubilee-Kanu alliance, saying Mr Moi does not enjoy much influence in the Rift Valley. Jubilee Party deputy secretary-general Caleb Kositany, who is also the DP's de facto spokesman, told the Nation that Kanu and CCM chiefs were inconsequential in Rift Valley politics.
He said they were waiting to see who between the former Bomet governor and the Baringo Senator will be settled on to face DP Ruto in the race for State House.
The Soy MP added that President Kenyatta will not succeed in blocking the DP in the region, claiming he had the full support of the people at the grassroots.
“The current move by the President to pull both Kanu and CCM to his side has no significance in the politics of the Rift Valley as far as 2022 succession politics is concerned.
‘‘Even they know it, they are just under state capture and when it comes to the Rift Valley politics, the DP remains the voice of the region," added Mr Kositany.
Meanwhile, Nandi Senator Samson Cherargey said that President Kenyatta’s co-operation with Mr Moi and CCM was to their advantage, claiming that it would make the electorate realise that they were fighting dynasties out to control them.
"It is all about 2022 and the scheme of Gideon working with President Kenyatta to block DP Ruto’s State House bid will not work. We will defeat Senator Moi because it is clear that dynasties have regrouped against the hustler nation," said the senator.
Belgut MP Nelson Koech said leaders from the region inking deals with President Kenyatta cannot block the support the DP enjoys in the region.
"Those purporting to gravitate towards the President are inconsequential. Had they had any serious influence, the Head of State would have gone for them in 2013 and 2017. Any pact they enter into now is for their own sake and their families,” Mr Koech said.
Additional reporting by Flora Koech and Barnabas Bii