Deputy President William Ruto is increasingly adopting a more assertive approach to his political campaigns as he takes his 2022 presidential bid to the next level.
With all indications that his path to the Presidency is facing increasing resistance from the mainstream political class comprising President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee wing and Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s camp, Dr Ruto has decided to chart his own political course out of fear that his continued side-stepping of issues may ultimately come at a heavy political cost.
And when Dr Ruto recently used a Kenya Airforce plane to fly to Turkana last week, his supporters were keen to point out that the man whose powers were thought to have been diminished by the appointment of Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i as a “super minister”, was very much in control.
On Friday in Kakamega, the Deputy President, who has been pushing the development narrative even as his allies beat the 2022 drums, made it clear he will be on the ballot in the next election.
This came days after it was reported that he confronted Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho for frustrating his security arrangement.
They have both downplayed the incident that was witnessed by top officials waiting to see off President Kenyatta on Wednesday.
From increased visibility characterised by the hosting of delegations at his Karen official residence during weekdays and his meet-the-people engagements during weekends, coupled with the inducement of defections from rival political camps, Dr Ruto is going all out to sell himself to the electorate.
Friday’s defection of former Kakamega senator Boni Khalwale to Jubilee Party, where he was received by the DP, is the clearest indication that the die is cast.
The defection of Dr Khalwale is the third in the last three months that Dr Ruto has presided over.
The first was Mr Mohamed Kolosh, who Dr Ruto convinced to defect to Jubilee after the Supreme Court nullified his election as Wajir West MP on an ODM ticket in 2017.
Early this week, the DP received the endorsement of Turkana Governor Josphat Nanok, who offered to support his bid for the Presidency in 2022.
But it is the face-off with Mr Kibicho that lays bare the fact that the previously cautious DP may slowly be abandoning his “Mr Play-It-Cool” image and folding his sleeves in readiness for a bare-knuckled confrontation with his political enemies.
The decision by Dr Ruto to take on the principal secretary symbolises the pent-up frustrations he has endured since he fell out of favour with the powerful cabal that controls the state from behind the scenes.
While the March 2018 handshake between the President and his main political rival Raila Odinga appears to have caught him off guard, Dr Ruto had initially appeared to take everything in his stride, even though it was apparent the move had rattled him out of his political comfort.
He however later turned into a bitter critic of the handshake despite the President’s veiled warnings.
For a start, the DP had adopted a low profile style, especially after the President placed a moratorium on political activities, arguing that elections were over and that it was time for Jubilee party to deliver its pre-election promises.
If anything, the airport incident is a manifestation that Dr Ruto has thrown caution to the wind and is ready to confront his political enemies, including defying the President.
Pointedly, as a sign of this defiance, Dr Ruto has adopted Central Kenya as the playground for his political activities.
Two weeks ago, a major prayer rally planned for Murang’a was called off at the last minute amid fears that it would not be taken kindly by the President’s corner.
Political analyst Martin Andati describes Dr Ruto’s new approach as a change of political tact. “He must change tact or miss out on the ultimate prize. The only challenge he faces is that this defiance will not be useful in the fullness of time,” he said.
University of Nairobi don Herman Manyora agrees that Dr Ruto has grown increasingly defiant, but notes it is nothing new.
“He must have made that decision long ago, may be just after the handshake. He has not said anything directly to President Kenyatta, but he has been attacking everybody around him, including Mr Odinga.”
The first sign of this defiance was seen in Kiambu when some youths demonstrated in Kiambaa in yellow T-shirts, which was interpreted as a sign that the DP was reviving his defunct URP Party.
Interestingly, Dr Ruto has gone back to his routine of hosting delegations at his rural and official homes in Sugoi and Karen, respectively.
There was talk that he and some of his close allies met on Tuesday in the rural home of a controversial Jubilee MP where the issue of the 2022 party was discussed.
Details of the meeting remain scanty, but it is believed that plan B on the 2022 political vehicle was discussed.
Within the government, the DP appears to be more organised.
He has cast himself as a person with a clear vision on what he wants and how to achieve it.
A source has told the Sunday Nation he has succeeded in ensuring proper funding for the programmes that are close to his heart.
Just this week, Mr Ruto oversaw the signing of a Sh10 billion water and sanitation programme deal funded by the World Bank. Of significance is the fact that the deal was signed in his office.
The deal is part of the Sh120 billion World Bank-funded Northern Eastern Development Initiative set to benefit 10 counties in northern Kenya.
While some have criticised President Kenyatta of increasing allocation to his office by 26 per cent in the next budget, the DP instead has been focused on using his networks within Parliament to ensure that promises the Jubilee Party has made and which are close to his heart get substantial budgetary support.
The proposed allocation of Sh7.9 billion to irrigation for the Galana-Kulalu scheme in the next financial year in the wake of reports of the collapse of the project is seen as part of Dr Ruto’s 2022 strategy.
Similarly, another project close to his heart, the empowerment of vocational training, has seen the department also allocated Sh23 billion in the proposed 2019/20 budgetary estimates, pointing to his covert but powerful influence within the National Assembly.
It is not lost to keen observers that the departmental committee at the heart of the budgetary estimates is the Budget Committee, chaired by his fierce ally, Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung'wa.