Samson Ndindi Nyoro, the Kiharu MP, has been celebrating Deputy President William Ruto’s by-election “poll victory” in Ugenya constituency on social media and at public functions, much to the amazement of local residents.
Retired teacher Meshak Ogolla, from Kateg-Ligala village in Sega location, is certain Mr Nyoro is unknown to him and his village-mates. The legislator, whose constituency is located 445 kilometres to the east of Ugenya, has probably never set foot in Sega or Ugenya as well.
“He is most welcome to join us in celebrating Hon (David) Ochieng’s poll victory. He must, however, stop pretending that he understands better why we voted the way we did and which politician to credit or discredit for the poll outcome,” says Ogolla.
Japuonj (teacher), as Mr Ogolla is popularly referred to in the neighbourhood, similarly lambastes Senate Minority Leader James Orengo for being out of touch with the realities on the ground:
“Instead of addressing our needs during the campaigns, he staged colourful road shows talking about Raila’s 2022 presidential bid and Ruto’s planned impeachment. Some voters, especially the ageing ones, do not even know that man (Ruto).”
Mr Orengo and Mr Nyoro are only stock characters in the emerging political game, where politicians only view each and every development through the lenses of the Ruto-Odinga political rivalry.
On the morning of the by-elections, last Friday, Mr Nyoro made his prediction through a tweet, which came to pass: “We’re taking both Ugenya and Embakasi South. Our candidates Hon Ochieng and Hon Mawathe are curtainraisers for 2022. Baba should retire honourably. The writing is on the wall. We are African and Africa is our Business.”
And although Mr Ochieng has since denied the existence of a political connection with the DP or receiving financial support from the ruling Jubilee Party, the Orange party campaigners who fashioned the contest as one between Mr Ruto and Mr Odinga, cannot fault the DP for taking credit for “beating Raila” in Ugenya and Nairobi’s Embakasi South seat.
The anticipated “Ruto win over Raila” in the upcoming Wajir West by-election was supposed to sustain the pre-2022 poll momentum. The DP had reportedly outmanoeuvred the Orange party by wooing its candidate, Elmi Yusuf, to pull out of the race, following a daylong meeting at his Karen, Nairobi, home on Tuesday.
However, in counter-reaction, President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga quickly negotiated for Mr Yusuf’s withdrawal from the race in favour of Jubilee’s Ahmed Kolosh, according to party secretary-general Raphael Tuju.
The power and perception wars in the Ugenya, Embakasi South and Wajir West by-elections, coupled with President Kenyatta’s central role, clearly tell the political story ahead of the 2022 polls and why it is shaping up into an affair of two players — Mr Ruto and Mr Odinga.
It has narrowed down to a Ruto-Raila affair because one has openly declared his interest for the presidency, while the other has, through his party officials, vowed to stop the former’s march to State House.
“Odinga is also the obvious enemy and target of Team Ruto’s attacks because he is the sole realistic obstacle to the DP’s ambitions,” observes Nyando MP Jared Okello. Noting that the opposition leader has held sway on the Kenyan political scene over the past two decades, the MP asserts that Raila remains a threat to Ruto, “as a presidential challenger or even as kingmaker of a winning formation”.
Citing the handshake deal as an alleged ploy to block Mr Ruto’s presidential bid, Kericho County Senator Aaron Cheruiyot says Jubilee members “are only calling out the inconsistencies by Raila in the handshake deal”.
“He says one thing and does the opposite. It is our duty to remind him to be true to the deal he made with our party leader. Take the issue of the expulsion of (Malindi MP) Aisha Jumwa. It is blatant hypocrisy.
Secondly, his lieutenants are openly attacking the DP, including those who have recently been given government jobs as directors, courtesy of this deal. Just what is the handshake for?” poses the vocal legislator.
During Tuesday’s live interview on a local TV station, the DP similarly pointed out the handshake was being used as a political tool aimed at frustrating his presidential bid. And he singled out the Orange party’s deputy leader, Hassan Joho, who has reportedly confessed that he has express instructions from Mr Odinga to stop a Ruto presidency. The DP also cited Mr Orengo, for plotting to impeach him.
“This whole thing is about a plot to stop one man from vying for presidency,” reacted Mr Ruto, to which former Jubilee vice-chairman David Murathe curiously concurs. Mr Murathe concedes the handshake “is truly political”, aimed at ensuring inclusivity in politics and governance.
“Some people now think that the presidency in this country is an affair of two communities, that it shall continue exchanging hands between the Kalenjin and Kikuyu. This has to change,” says Mr Murathe.
In a pointer to a thickening plot against the DP, Mr Murathe told a TV station on Wednesday that a political formation was in the making coalescing around opposition politicians and the President: “Raila is just the face of that outfit, and I guess that is why he is a target of attack by Ruto’s supporters.”
In confronting the impediment at hand, the DP has been very smart and cautious — isolating Mr Odinga for battle and avoiding direct confrontation with the President. This is because the President controls the vote bloc that will most likely determine the next President after him, says Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu.
“Before the handshake, Ruto was Uhuru’s chief political ally, and therefore guaranteed support by this bloc. But the handshake changed these dynamics. It made Raila an Uhuru ally as well. It also introduced a certain level of uncertainly about what Uhuru thinks of Ruto,” explains Mr Wambugu.
Ideally, the handshake has brought Mr Odinga back into the political equation just when Mr Ruto thought the opposition leader was politically finished after the last elections and his subsequent illegitimate swearing-in as the “people’s president”. Evidently, the former PM could complicate Mr Ruto’s bid, whether he runs or not.
“Clearly, the longer the handshake lasts, the weaker Ruto becomes politically, and the stronger Raila becomes. The DP must therefore do everything he can to undermine the handshake for his own political survival. In there, however, lies Ruto’s biggest dilemma because the handshake [was initiated by] his boss — President Kenyatta,” says Wambugu.
Nonetheless, Pokot South MP David Pkosing says Team Ruto is “raring to go and ready for all eventualities”. The DP, the lawmaker says, has over the time emerged as the most popular candidate and his backers will not allow anyone to suppress his chances.
“Try and reflect on the applause he received, for instance, when he entered Parliament during the State of the Nation address. You will appreciate that Ruto enjoys the support of a majority of legislators and the same is phenomenal across the countryside.”
Fashioning their campaigns as “hustler nation” and “hustler influence”, backers of Ruto have in essence hit the campaign trail. In congratulating winners of Ugenya and Embakasi by-elections, the DP stated the hustler nation has spoken”, as National Assembly Majority leader Aden Duale mocked ODM for pulling out of the Wajir-West contest because “the hustler influence is real”.
During the Tuesday interview, the DP claimed Mr Odinga had approached him four times asking to team up with him in government, an overture which Ruto declined “because I do not trust him”.
Nonetheless, the fact that the President proceeded to form a pact with Mr Odinga, despite the alleged warning from Ruto, implies that Mr Kenyatta — and not Mr Odinga — is the man behind the current political manoeuvres.
The DP and his handlers are doubtlessly aware of this reality and are only goading at Mr Odinga to send a coded message to the President. When and how Team Ruto eventually opts to confront the President directly is what will determine the intensity and fierceness of the 2022 succession battle.