Deputy President William Ruto this week quietly appointed Dr Korir Sing’oei to manage overall strategy and assemble a lean team of advisers to spearhead his 2022 campaign preparations.
Dr Sing’oei has been the DP’s legal adviser for some time now and his elevation, the Sunday Nation has learnt, is a response to numerous goofs that could erode the credibility of the Deputy President on the campaign trail.
The DP had also been criticised by seasoned politicians from his Rift Valley backyard, such as former Kuresoi South MP Zakayo Cheruiyot, for lacking solid advisers to help his course, and Mr Sing’oei could be just the man to steady the boat.
Until Mr Kenyatta embraced ODM leader Raila Odinga, his main challenger in the last two presidential elections, in early 2018, it was almost a given that Mr Ruto was going to have it easy on his State House bid. But today, whether because of a conspiracy of gods or men, the forces out to stop the man who is just a heartbeat away from the presidency from succeeding Mr Kenyatta are growing bolder by the day. And they are many.
In recent days, politicians who had vowed to stick by him at whatever cost have had a change of mind, with some asking for “forgiveness for wandering away from the fold”, the fold here referring to the Uhuru embrace.
For instance, after he was left out of a meeting President Kenyatta had with at least 20 governors in Mombasa last month, Nyeri County Governor Mutahi Kahiga said he would “return home”.
Embu Governor Martin Wambora is said to have played the same card, cleverly though, regarding a rally the DP is expected to address in his county today. To demonstrate that the event does not have his blessings, Mr Wambora is said to have sent out a signal to the effect that the stadium where the rally is scheduled to be held is not available for Mr Ruto’s use as it is under renovation, and that no one had filed a formal request to use it.
On some of his allies experiencing Damascus moments and severing ties with him, the DP said: “They will intimidate my allies like they are doing, cases will be fabricated against you. You are seeing this with many MPs and governors. Like they failed in the past, they will fail again, this time around, their failure will be spectacular.”
But, perhaps, to understand his predicament, one needs to look at the consequences of Executive Order No 1 of 2019 by President Kenyatta that elevated Interior minister Fred Matiang’i to a super CS. Many political analysts have argued that this order kick-started a frosty relationship between the ministry and the DP that at one time nearly generated into a physical confrontation between him and PS Karanja Kibicho.
In the instructions, Dr Matiang’i was mandated to chair a Cabinet sub-committee on development and given the power to supervise all government projects. The DP’s critics read that as meaning President Kenyatta was planning to tame Mr Ruto’s national tours in the name of inspecting government projects.
From then on, the relationship between the occupants of two offices on Harambee Avenue in Nairobi has degenerated so badly that today no County Commissioner wants to be seen with the Deputy President. They would not openly admit it, but the Sunday Nation is aware of the existence of a verbal order to have them go slow on receiving politicians in their areas of jurisdiction.
Dr Matiang’i has refused to be drawn into the controversy, saying he was given a job by the President and will not be detracted by politicians. However, it has not been lost on observers that Dr Matiang’i’s clout within the Jubilee government is growing as that of Mr Ruto diminishes.
Among these is Sunday Nation columnist and Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School Prof Makau Mutua who argues that Mr Ruto and his allies “have attempted to curry favour with the hoi polloi by arguing that in 2022, the son of a pauper should ascend to power instead of any of the scions of political founding fathers”.
“Soon thereafter, Mr Kenyatta gave Interior CS Fred Matiang’i even more powers,” argues Prof Mutua, who is also chairman of the Kenya Human Rights Commission. “Mr Matiang’i now oversees not only the Big Four Agenda, but effectively coordinates the daily running of government. Mr Matiang’i is a de facto Prime Minister in all but name.”
But, even in the middle of the political and power games, Mr Ruto has vowed to soldier on, and in a recent interview spoke of the regrouping of a “cabal that went out of its way” to try and stop him and President Kenyatta from ascending to power in 2013, which he said was working hard to scuttle his presidential ambition in 2022.
“There is always a cabal that wants to influence the course of politics from boardrooms and corners,” he said. “You saw this with the Moi succession. You saw this in the Kibaki succession. In the case of Kibaki, a plot was hatched by our competitors to take us to The Hague, to lock us there so that they can easily win. The same cabal which was operating from the Office of the President then still operates from there. That time they hired people to go to court arguing we were unfit to run for office.”
Last month, the DP was denied access to his official residence in Mombasa on instructions from powerful forces within the OP. The Sunday Nation established that Dr Ruto had arrived in Mombasa mid-morning on January 8 and proceeded to attend to his scheduled business of the day, but when he returned in the evening at the newly refurbished former Coast Provincial Commissioner’s official residence he found staff packing his personal belongings, which had been lodged there in anticipation that he would spend the night there. He was forced to get an alternative place to spend the night before returning to Nairobi.
The embarrassment came in the wake of a slew of corruption allegations against his close associates, including governors and Cabinet Ministers. But while some political analysts have argued that it is the calibre of politicians and friends the DP keeps that could negatively influence his campaigns, his handlers say the Building Bridges Initiative, a product of the Handshake between his boss and Mr Odinga, poses the greatest challenge yet to his presidential ambitions.
The Bridges project has seen allies of Mr Kenyatta and those of Mr Odinga team up and dazzle the public with massive rallies, and Mr Ruto believes this political game of chess is meant to politically isolate him. As if right on cue, some in Mr Odinga’s camp are only too happy to insulate the BBI campaigns from Mr Ruto.
Matters came to a head last month when the DP and his allies announced that they would be attending the BBI rallies planned across the country. Immediately after the announcement, Minority Whip in the National Assembly Junet Mohamed, a confidante of Mr Odinga’s, immediately declared that the Ruto camp will have to play by the rules.
In subsequent meetings, the Ruto allies appeared highly unwelcome, even when they were allowed to address the public.
On Saturday, Mr Ruto said he would not allow Mr Odinga to use the BBI to destroy the country.
“As the Deputy President of Kenya, I will not allow Raila Odinga to divide Kenyans along ethnic lines. We won’t allow people with selfish interests to take the country where it was 15 years ago, and as a government we will stop him in his intension to divide Kenyans,” he said in Laikipia.
Former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri, a close ally of the DP who was kicked out of the Cabinet earlier this year, warned that, if not tamed, leaders will leave Kenyans more divided than they were before the start of the BBI campaigns.
“We should not allow selfish leaders prick already healed wounds,” he said, echoing the DP’s sentiments. “It is a shame that the leaders now want to bring chaos and tribalism in this country.”
But former Kipkelion MP Magerer Langat thinks the problem with the DP is much more than Executive orders, BBI rallies, under-siege associates or locked residences. The problem, he says, is Ruto’s own creation because he “lacks patience” and has “publicly defied” President Kenyatta by refusing to stop his 2022 campaigns.
“Whereas the President is saying that we have a mandate to deliver and we should hold the 2022 campaigns, the DP is going against the call. All he needs to do is show some level of patience and respect for the Presidency, which he is part of,” says Mr Langat.
That piece of advice seems to suggest that Mr Ruto is suffering because he had disrespected Mr Kenyatta, which again suggests that Mr Ruto’s woes descend from State House. That has not been categorically proven, even though history is replete with Vice-Presidents whose ambitions were crushed by the brutal loyalists of the regime.
Mr Ruto has indicated before that he is a good student of history.