Deputy President William Ruto Friday led a group of Jubilee leaders from the Rift Valley to a dawn meeting with Kalenjin elders in Kapsisiywa, Nandi County, in what is believed to be a quest for blessings to run for president in 2022.
The DP’s convoy arrived at the home of retired Anglican cleric James Bassy, who is a member of the Talai Elders Council and held three-hour talks with the elders from around 5am to 8am.
The Talai, descendants of legendary Nandi leader Koitalel Samoei, are highly respected and are known to offer blessings and guidance to people, including politicians, seeking or holding top positions.
Former President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi and powerful minister Nicholas Biwott (both deceased) were conferred the coveted traditional regalia, called ‘Sambut’, by the group.
And when the Supreme Court nullified the presidential election results in 2017, President Kenyatta and DP Ruto visited Nandi Hills Museum, where the Talai performed rituals and blessed them to run again.
Jubilee deputy secretary-general Caleb Kositany, who is the DP’s de facto spokesman, confirmed the meeting took place but declined to divulge details.
“DP Ruto this morning held a meeting with the Talai elders but it was purely a private matter,” said Mr Kositany on phone.
Others who accompanied Dr Ruto were Nandi Governor Stephen Sang and his Uasin Gishu counterpart Jackson Mandago, MPs Julius Melly (Tinderet), Cornelius Serem (Aldai) and Wilson Kogo (Chesumei).
Well-placed sources told the Saturday Nation that a raft of issues were discussed, including the current push and pull between President Kenyatta and the DP’s camp. It is still unclear who convened the meeting, but observers say the DP could have reached out to the elders.
Friday’s meeting is just one of the many secret forums the DP has held in his home turf and in Nairobi in the past month as he continues to fight for his political life.
The meetings, insiders say, are meant to chart his quest for the presidency in 2022, amid a sustained pushback by his opponents in his Jubilee party and the opposition coalition Nasa.
The meetings in his Nairobi home are said to comprise 10 to 15 people per session and the attendees are opinion shapers from various regions. Sources say the DP sometimes hosts up to three meetings in a day.
“These are people he has known over the years he has been in politics. They are his networks,” said a source.
The DP continues to face political uncertainty in the Jubilee party engineered by leaders allied to the President, which has seen his key allies such as Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo-Marakwet), Susan Kihika (Nakuru), Kithure Kindiki (Tharaka Nithi) and Benjamin Washiali (Mumias East) lose plum leadership positions. Others like Majority Leader in the National Assembly Aden Duale face an uncertain future.
Already, the Executive Order No. 1 of 2020 issued on Wednesday has caused a stir, with some commentators interpreting the changes to mean the Deputy President’s office had been downgraded and tucked under the Executive Office of the President.
By renaming the presidency, the President also appeared to whittle down some of the glamour that comes with a presidential system – perhaps in preparation for the constitutional changes proposed under the Building Bridges Initiative.
The Talai meeting also took place at a time when DP Ruto is facing an uphill task in uniting the Rift Valley, his political bastion.
Already, political realignments have started emerging in the region, with independence party Kanu and Chama cha Mashinani (CCM) on one side and DP Ruto and his allies on the other, a move which is likely to shape 2022 succession politics.
Kanu under the stewardship of Baringo Senator Gideon Moi and CCM led by former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto have joined forces to slash a pie of Jubilee Party’s dominance of the region following the widening rift between President Kenyatta and his deputy.
The newly founded Uhuru-Gideon-Isaac relationship has opened a political battlefront for the control of Rift Valley politics.
Although Dr Ruto has kept a low profile since his boss axed his key allies from their Senate leadership positions, political analysts are of the opinion that he could be scheming on how to remain relevant and keep alive his 2022 State House bid.
Early this year, the President isolated his deputy in the Rift by appointing Elgeyo-Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos to spearhead the BBI campaigns in the DP’s political bastion, a move which caused jitters.
Kanu has already hit the ground running to woo influential leaders in the region who ditched Ruto’s camp to shore up the younger Moi's support.
The DP is now facing a litmus test in solidifying his Rift Valley political bedrock as Kanu and CCM make forays into the vote-rich region ahead of 2022.
Kanu and CCM are banking on the widening rift in Jubilee, with some rebels – among them MPs Joshua Kutuny (Cherangany) and Sila Tiren (Moiben) and Governor Tolgos – openly working with Senator Moi.
Prof Egara Kabaji of Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, noted that the discord between the President and his deputy should be blamed on the DP’s camp.
“The moment you are the deputy, you do not have to have a clique around you who are throwing barbs or shouting at your boss and when that happens, the perception of the leader or those around him is that you have sent these people to abuse the President. This is even if they are out of sync completely even if they do not want to listen to you,” explained Prof Kibaji.
Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei yesterday told the Saturday Nation that President Kenyatta’s dalliance with the Baringo senator works to their (Tangatanga) advantage as the electorate have seen that “dynasties” are ganging-up against DP Ruto.
“It is all about 2022 schemes and Gideon working with President Kenyatta to block DP Ruto from State House will not work. We will defeat Senator Moi because it is open that dynasties have regrouped against the hustlers,” said the senator.
Belgut MP Nelson Koech termed inconsequential leaders from the region who are inking deals with President Kenyatta, adding that they cannot wrest the support the DP enjoys.
“Had they been of any input, the Head of State would have gone for them in 2013 and 2017. Any pact they enter into is for the sake of themselves and their family members,” said the Belgut MP.
Insiders say the DP does not wish to antagonise the President, something the deputy director of communications in his office Emmanuel Talaam confirmed yesterday.
“The DP has a commitment to support the President for 10 years. Those waiting for him to take on the President will wait for long. It won’t happen,” he said.
Mr Talaam confirmed the meetings that have been happening at the DP’s home.
According to Keiyo South MP Daniel Rono, they have been meeting and have agreed that they will pursue justice through the courts and not through confrontations.
“As the country deals with Covid-19, we agreed that our leader DP Ruto will remain silent on the wrangles in the party as we seek court interpretations even if it means going up to the Supreme Court. If this fails, we have party elections and finally the national delegates conference,” said Mr Rono.
Another insider said they are waiting for the President’s side to exhaust its ammunition before they employ theirs.
The biggest test on both the President and his deputy in their political war will come if the churches are reopened after they were ordered shut to tame the spread of Covid-19. Religious leaders have been having a flurry of meetings with top government officials on the need to open up places of worship. Today, President Kenyatta is expected to give guidance as the country prepares to reopen the economy.
The Deputy President and his loyalists have never shied from taking the platform accorded by churches to air his political views. He is expected to return to his routine church visits to reconnect with his grassroots support base, especially after his attempt to distribute relief food to those affected by Covid-19 were scuttled by unknown people, who distributed toxic food in Kikuyu constituency. The DP is believed to have a wide network both in Christian and Muslim religious circles.
“The DP will definitely attend church services once they open them. There is freedom of worship in this country, isn’t there?” Mr Talaam asked.
Mr Kositany, who is the Jubilee party deputy secretary-general, yesterday told the Saturday Nation that they are now banking on the grassroots to regain their popularity.
“Immediately after Covid-19, we are going to demand grassroots elections so that we have full representation up to the national level. We have never held party elections and that is why it is important that we hold a national delegates conference before 2022,” he said.
“Jubilee is a national party. It does not belong to an individual and if it fails to hold grassroots elections, which is a must as required by the law, this is where we will meet with these people carrying out boardroom coups. They have used Covid-19 and have won – they have beaten us – but when we will go to party owners, that is where will battle it out with them,” Kositany said.
Political analyst Javas Bigambo said the call for grassroots elections by the DP’s camp shows they have lost control of the party and that push is not likely to help them.
Reported by Barnabas Bii, Onyango K’Onyango, Tom Matoke and Wanjohi Githae