As political realignments intensify, various factions are resorting to all manner of tactics, including well-coordinated propaganda campaigns, intimidation and dirty online fights.
The use of social media to trade hard tackles, sometimes with nasty outcomes, has increased in recent weeks as the rival Jubilee factions loyal to President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto seek to influence public opinion.
Dr Ruto has received the hardest knocks in this war, especially after the removal of his point men and women from crucial Senate positions and other House committees.
Senate Deputy Speaker Kithure Kindiki, Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen and Chief Whip Susan Kihika were ousted in quick succession.
The DP’s side is still facing more hurdles in the Houses of Parliament in the coming weeks. Dr Ruto has watched the drama from the sidelines, choosing to keep his thoughts to himself and a few of his confidants.
This week, he is said to have met with a few of them, but the subject of the meeting remains secret. However, a statement attributed to one of his men, Jubilee Party deputy Secretary-General Caleb Kositany, said the Ruto camp would on Thursday make an announcement on their future in the party.
The Deputy President’s rivals have sustained political pressure, with several meetings held to plot moves against his loyalists, which some analysts have equated to kicking a man who is already down.
Before Covid-19 arrived on our shores, the DP had conducted many tours in the countryside, visiting what he calls the hustler nation and worship places such as mosques and churches and other functions where he would donate large amounts of money.
Despite not holding mass gatherings during the pandemic, Dr Ruto appears to have continued building his network through donating food and other essential items.
Although leaders like former Mombasa senator Omar Hassan say it is a countrywide drive, the most prominent recent example was in Kikuyu constituency where, accompanied by area MP and one of his fiercest supporters, Kimani Ichung’wah, he distributed food in Jubilee-branded packages.
Things appeared to have been going well until a dozen people were reportedly hospitalised for “consuming toxic food” distributed in branded bags similar to the ones Dr Ruto had handed out a few days earlier.
The incident, which the police have told the Sunday Nation they are still investigating, triggered a political blame game and exposed the deep suspicions within the Jubilee Party.
The Tangatanga camp, allied to Dr Ruto, claimed the President Kenyatta-allied Kieleweke group clandestinely distributed contaminated food to sabotage the Deputy President’s efforts.
There are claims that a vehicle alleged to have been used by unknown people to distribute the food bore fake number plates. The President’s men have rejected allegations that they were involved and no arrests have been made.
Questions were then raised about the DP’s “defiance” of an April 11 order by the government banning “uncoordinated” direct distribution of food and non-food donations in vulnerable communities, and instead directing those offering support to channel it through the Kenya Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund and the offices of governors and county commissioners.
Dr Ruto’s choice of Kikuyu constituency, in President Kenyatta’s Kiambu County, was also not lost on the Kieleweke side, who saw it as a subtle message to the Head of State and his base.
Before the dust settled, hashtags, built around popular conversations online and painting Dr Ruto in bad light, appeared on Twitter and some have trended for days.
The underlying message has been that the Deputy President betrayed his “brother” President Kenyatta. Then came fake newspaper headlines doctored and shared online depicting Dr Ruto as a violent man and and questioning his integrity.
Dr Ruto, an avid social media user, has largely kept off his favourite platform, Twitter, even as the storm rages.
WAR ON GRAFT
His deputy spokesman, Emmanuel Talaam, told the Sunday Nation that the DP “is not bothered about them (online hashtags and fake headlines) at all”.
“He knows they are fake and a product of desperate political opponents who cannot challenge his performance record in public service and merely resort to a hopeless fake news campaign,” Mr Talaam said.
Political analyst Herman Manyora says Jubilee and the country have gone to the stage of “deep dirty politics”. “It is cheap and foolish on the part of those engaging in this,” Mr Manyora said.
Fake news, he said, serves its purpose when it is hard to identify it as fake. “Those planting these can easily be identified, even when they think the other party will be blamed,” he added.
The Jubilee divorce is proving messy and noisy. Dr Ruto’s family has also been attacked online, including fake accounts in their names.
But the war has not just been online. The DP’s allies in the Rift Valley and Central Kenya are also not sitting easy. Some say they have been threatened with arrest over claims of corruption.
Among legislators, alliances are shifting for fear of “victimisation” by the rival group. While some voters have said they steadfastly stand by their man, some leaders have chosen the path of silence or reaffirmed their loyalty to the President.
Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, a vocal Ruto supporter, is crying foul as he fights money-laundering allegations, with his bank accounts having been frozen by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.
While this is a legal matter, the MP says the timing is curious and blames this move on his political stance.
More charges linked to the Nyeri County government dating back to the tenure of his brother, the late Nderitu Gachagua, are lined up against the MP, the Sunday Nation has learnt
“For about seven days, my accounts have been frozen. This is a matter that is coming up in court on Tuesday and it will be contested,” he said.
The MP had earlier said there was a plot to file corruption cases against him because he had refused to toe a particular political line.
On a local radio station last week, the MP said that he had received information of possible arrest because of his association with the Tangatanga faction. If found guilty of money laundering, he risks losing his estate to the Assets Recovery Agency.
Mr Gachagua was elected on a Jubilee Party ticket in 2017 and says he has been “persecuted” before, “when I stood by Uhuru and did not betray him”.
On Tuesday, Jubilee is expected to hold a parliamentary group meeting before the National Assembly resumes its sittings, and more heads are expected to roll.
The targets are rebel MPs who are seen to have more allegiance to the DP than their own parties. The opposition Nasa coalition has moved to not only help the ruling party enforce “discipline” among its members but also among its constituent parties.
The Kenya National Congress Party (KNC) has told its legislators if they continue their dalliance with the Deputy President they will be disciplined.
Party leader Manson Nyamweya this week met with MPs Silvanus Osoro (South Mugirango) and Alpha Miruka (Bomachoge Chache) at his home in Karen, Nairobi, and told them KNC is affiliated to Nasa and they have no business supporting the DP.
The two lawmakers have in the past two years been paying their allegiance to the Deputy President. But Mr Osoro and Mr Miruka dismissed the threats by their party leader, saying no one can choose friends for them.
Meanwhile, all eyes are on the DP as Kenya celebrates Madaraka Day to see if he will join the President at State House, Nairobi, on Monday, from where he will address the nation.
Reporting by Wanjohi Githae, Justus Ochieng, Nicholas Komu and Ruth Mbula