The death of retired President Daniel Moi, who had cast a long shadow over the Rift Valley region since the 1950s when he became MP to 2002 when he left the presidency and for the 18 years of his retirement, leaves his son Gideon Moi and Deputy President William Ruto competing to fill the void he has left.
Even as he faded away from the political psyche of the nation, Moi remained a powerful totem in the region, especially among the older generation, a situation the Baringo senator has often exploited to boost his political clout.
On at least two occasions, the younger Moi blocked DP Ruto from visiting his ailing father at his Kabarak home even as he welcomed the DP’s political rivals such as Opposition leader Raila Odinga as well as other leaders like Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) boss Francis Atwoli and Peter Kenneth.
Moi’s exit now opens the door for an unabashed fight for chieftaincy of the region in which Mr Ruto has the upper hand.
The DP has had a huge following in the region since 2007 when he led a rebellion that swept away three of Moi’s sons, who were running for MP seats in Baringo and Nakuru. Gideon, Raymond and Jonathan,who has since died, all backed Mwai Kibaki while Ruto rallied the region behind Mr Odinga. Mr Ruto consolidated this leadership in the 2013 and 2017 elections, making the region his stomping ground.
But even as he swept the board, Gideon retained pockets of support in Baringo, Nakuru, West Pokot and Narok where Kanu, the independence party inherited from his father, has legislators and a governor.
The recent realignment on the national political stage, in which Gideon has allied himself with President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga under the Building Bridges Imitative (BBI) also provides a chance to flex muscles against Ruto in the coming days.
Both the DP and the senator have financial clout to mount a serious presidential campaign, but political analysts believe that Gideon would need to do a lot more than ride on being the son of a political maestro if he is to run a race of equals.
Dr Kiprono Chesang, a political pundit, says Moi’s death and attendant commiseration will favour Gideon.
“In the short-term, the death gives him an immense opportunity. He will soon be receiving the delegations of commiseration, which rallies attention to him. In the long-term, however, the demise will take away from Ruto the nagging problem of needing to be decorous with the Moi family even when he needs to go on the offensive,” Dr Chesang reckons.
He thinks the occasion gives the two a chance to decisively resolve their sibling rivalry for their father’s kingdom, “for Ruto, too, is a son of Moi”.
Just out of college, Ruto came to Moi’s court in 1992 where he quickly proved himself, helping the President win the first multiparty election. He would work with Moi again in the 1997 elections, getting himself appointed assistant minister and later a minister in the dying days of Kanu.
Arguing that Moi had not succeeded in getting his son, Gideon, more national limelight, Kenyatta University lecturer Edward Kisiang’ani believes the Baringo senator might have little, if any, of “power transfer” following his father’s death.
“With all the advantages of being a former president’s son, Gideon has failed completely to extend his political influence beyond Baringo, let alone the Rift Valley. Any time you mentioned Gideon, you could almost hear the voice of Mzee Moi, and even with that, Gideon’s influence is still not a fraction of his father’s,” the don told the Nation.
Arguing that DP Ruto has proven himself to be a leader in his own right—largely informed by the 2007 defeat of the Moi sons following the ODM wave where Ruto was a key plank—Prof Kisiang’ani said the fight between Gideon and Ruto was heavily tilted in favour of the latter.
“The challenge for Gideon now... is that he has to get out of the Rift Valley,” he said.
Former presidential candidate James Ole Kiyiapi has a different view. He believes Gideon’s golden era is yet to begin, and that it starts in 2022 with the new-found Uhuru-Raila friendship.
“Mzee Moi has remained largely uninvolved in the Kenyan politics for some time now, but behind the scenes, he has ensured that Gideon builds a strong and lasting relationship with President Kenyatta, Mzee’s protégé,” Prof Kiyiapi said.
Although Ruto “pretty much succeeded” in his rebellion against the Mois, as well as the takeover of the Rift Valley politics, Prof Kiyiapi believes he erred in not ensuring that the region remained united.
“While Ruto is undoubtedly in control of the Kalenjin politics, he failed terribly in ensuring that the other communities in the region follow in the footsteps of their loyalty to Moi, when it comes to him,” Prof Kiyiapi said.
Out of his father’s shadow
“How the BBI pans out will shape the outcome of the Gideon-Ruto fight for paramount leader. A lot depends on whether President Kenyatta will want to boost the Moi family’s political fortunes by, for example, bringing Gideon to the centre of government,” argues History professor Odhiambo Ndege.
He reckons that the new political dispensation will require Gideon to come out of his father’s shadow, something he believes may be a tall order given his lack of charisma.
“Ruto has a charismatic appeal and streetwise charm. He represents the sentiment of the so-called hustler nation. On the other hand, Gideon appears to the populace as a representative of the royalty,” he adds. His success depends on how he shakes off this burden.