The Deputy President and his allies face a legal and political dilemma if they formally quit ruling party but staying put when in reality they are not wanted may mean wasting valuable time to build a political outfit for 2022. Kenya’s first Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga faced the same dilemma.
Deputy President William Ruto may have a good reason not to like whatever happens between the Kenyattas and the Odingas on the political scene.
While at the moment he traces his troubles to the truce between President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga, his political tribulations have taken the same pattern as those of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga when he fell out with President Jomo Kenyatta.
Two weeks ago in this column, we revisited six political goofs made by Jaramogi leading to the falling-out with Mzee Kenyatta.
They are uncannily being repeated by DP Ruto in the parting of ways with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
And now Ruto finds himself in the same kind of dilemma that confronted Jaramogi when he quit the then ruling party, Kanu, to found the opposition party, Kenya Peoples Union (KPU).
Forming KPU was the culmination of a gradual showdown that began with Jaramogi being stripped of power and prestige that comes with the No. 2 office.
Next, he was made a stranger in the party he helped form, Kanu, as Mzee Kenyatta brought in former opposition cadres to swell his numbers in the party.
Finally, Jaramogi was rendered politically toothless when his allies in Parliament were stripped of positions of influence.
Ruto’s formerly substantive Executive Office of the Deputy President has been reduced to something of a ministerial department within the Presidency. He has been outfoxed from leadership of Jubilee Party and finally this week his remaining allies in Parliament were confined to political Siberia.
Stripped of all power and glory, Jaramogi had to decide whether to hold onto his “valueless” office of Vice-President and remain in Kanu, where he wasn’t wanted, or resign from government and form his own party, through which he could possibly wrest power from his old friend.
The moderates in the Jaramogi camp wanted him to stay and fight from within. Their strategy was that their man had a critical mass within Parliament, through which he could sponsor a motion of no confidence in the Kenyatta administration and force an election. But the radicals in his corner couldn’t wait. They wanted action. They got their way mainly because, as a person, Jaramogi had a short fuse – he was unable to keep his cool when provoked.
He not only resigned, but issued a lengthy and strongly worded statement denouncing Mzee Kenyatta, his government and what he called the “underground enemy” and the “invisible government”.
Next he formed an opposition party, KPU, whose symbol was a bull (dume).
In resigning and forming his own party, Jaramogi fell into the trap his detractors had been wishing for. Now they could go for him hammer and tongs at him.
First, a constitutional amendment was hurriedly passed and anybody quitting a political party on which they were elected would automatically lose his position and a by-election had to take place.
Subsequently, elections were called to fill seats in Parliament and in civic units where the incumbent had joined Jaramogi’s party. That came as thunderbolt to him and his allies as they hadn’t factored it in their political calculations.
Suddenly, as many MPs as had expressed willingness to side with Jaramogi made an about-turn. Worse, as many as had already signed off to Jaramogi now regretted making the move, though it was too late to engage the reverse gear.
Next, the state machinery pulled out all stops to make sure as few KPU candidates won seats in the ensuing “Little General Election”.
Mzee Kenyatta, who had all along refrained from direct confrontation with his former deputy and “brother”, now came out firing on all barrels.
He personally camped in Mount Kenya region to ensure none of Jaramogi’s candidates was elected. His sharpest barbs were directed at Jaramogi’s point man in central Kenya, Bildad Kaggia, who had been in colonial imprisonment with him at Kapenguria. The President even found the time to take the battle to Kaggia’s home village in Murang’a.
In the end, Jaramogi candidates were routed even in his own Nyanza background except for his home base, Siaya. In quick succession, he was defaced from the national political scene and reduced to a village cockerel.
So, which way Ruto?
DP Ruto finds himself in exactly the same dilemma as Jaramogi. He is torn between his own instincts and the counsel of two groups within his ranks.
In the presence of his boss, he is the loyal and respectful deputy, carefully choosing his words as happened at State House on Madaraka Day, or not talking at all as happened on Monday when he politely declined to address a Jubilee parliamentary group meeting.
Where his allies are concerned, there is the hotheads group which wants him to call his boss’s bluff. This comprises mainly leaders from the North Rift – chiefly Senators Kipchumba Murkomen and Aaron Cheruiyot, and MPs Caleb Kositany, Oscar Sudi and Gladys Shollei. Outside his backyard, the impatient among Ruto allies include Senator Susan Kihika and MPs Moses Kuria, Kimani Ngunjiri, Alice Wahome, Aisha Jumwa and Mohamed Ali.
This is probably the group that persuaded the DP to open a parallel Jubilee “headquarters” on Ngong’ Road recently. To them, the sooner they quit Jubilee the better.
Those in the North Rift know they will very likely be re-elected on the new party’s ticket.
But there are also those like Moses Kuria, Kimani Ngunjiri, and Alice Wahome, who most likely wouldn’t recapture their seats, but wouldn’t care less losing their positions and sticking to their man, or as they say, keep to their “principles”, whatever those are.
Then there is a group that has opted for caution. They want to hang around Jubilee but stand with the DP. Of this there are two groups; those who want to stay cool for now and those who want to rebel from within. In the first lot are MPs from Mount Kenya region who, much as they are with Ruto for political and personal gain, know there could be a price to pay for being in the bad books of the sitting Head of State in his very backyard. Some in this category wouldn’t even want to be publicly seen with the DP.
This is a tricky group because they can bolt at the drop of a hat, hence it is not wise to rely on them as they most likely will wink at the slightest whiff of trouble.
For instance, it was interesting to see Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, a Ruto diehard, accompanying Transport CS James Macharia in a road show to parade development projects initiated by the Jubilee government in Mount Kenya, yet the plank of the Rutoists campaign is that the region has been abandoned.
But the group that must be making the DP see red is those who have shifted loyalty and turned their back on him. Two major losses have been in Laikipia Woman Representative Catherine Waruguru and Maragua MP Mary Wamaua, who have been fire-spitting DP supporters in the region.
Also confronting the DP is whether or not to support the referendum, which is likely to be recommended by the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) team. A section of his allies want him to oppose it, mainly to spite his political nemesis, Raila Odinga, and by implication slight his boss – the President.
But there is a group that is urging the DP to embrace the BBI, more so the expansion of the Executive structure and use it to his advantage by reaching out and forming alliances, most likely with opposition leaders Musalia Mudavadi, Moses Wetang’ula, or even Alfred Mutua.
In any case, the DP will find himself in an awkward position if a referendum is called and he openly campaigns against a position taken by his boss.
But what would happen should the DP openly take on his boss? Unlike in the old constitutional order, the President cannot sack the deputy. The most he can do is frustrate him into quitting.
However, the DP can be impeached by a simple majority vote passed in the National Assembly and endorsed by two-thirds majority in the Senate.
Finally what options for DP Ruto if he were to quit?
The most vocal of his allies, such as Soi MP Caleb Kositany, have declared that he will be in the presidential ballot come 2022, Jubilee or no Jubilee.
Hopefully, the gods may smile on him and he wins in 2022.
If he loses, he can make for an effective and substantive opposition leader, with his zeal and resources.
If the case with President Kenyatta and Mwai Kibaki before him is something to go by, a 10-year wait is not too long a time.
Kibaki had his first go in the 1992 election, but cooled his heels until 2002 when he got to State House. Uhuru, too, made his debut in 2002 election but chilled for 10 years before his big moment came in 2013.
If Ruto were to wait for 10 years from 2022, he will be 66 years in 2032, still younger than Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Mwai Kibaki, who rose to the helm at 74 and 71 years, respectively.