The genesis of the bad blood between Deputy President William Ruto and Baringo Senator Gideon Moi can be traced to the jostling to inherit President Daniel arap Moi’s political mantle in Rift Valley more than 10 years ago.
In recent times, the two leaders have engaged in ugly public spats. But now the DP seems to be on a determined mission to vanquish his main political nemesis in Kalenjin who has accused him of misleading the community.
Mr Bill Ruto, an author and a longtime keen follower of Kalenjin politics, offered this analysis of the bitter fighting between the two leaders:
“The DP would like to have a complete and undiluted territory for the purposes of his future political ambitions. That’s why he has gone at Gideon the way he has done. On the other hand, Gideon sees himself as the natural heir of his father’s mantle to Kalenjin leadership. He is extremely bitter and unable to reconcile with the fact that an outsider hijacked what he sees as his birthright,” he said.
Last week, the DP visited Baringo County and went on an offensive against Senator Moi in a language that some have termed as too caustic.
“In 2013, when Uhuru Kenyatta and I were planning to form the government, they were saying we would not get it because we would be jailed (at the International Criminal Court over the 2007/2008 post-election violence),” said the DP.
He went further in Kalenjin: “They just sat there aimlessly and then supported some Luhya who was not going anywhere. The problem with these people is that their network is down and that’s why they keep asking silly questions.”
He concluded: “This time round, we will not allow our people to be taken round in circles by people who have no plans. In Baringo, the governor, senator, MPs and MCAs – all of them, God willing – will come from Jubilee.”
The DP had flown to the area and met pockets of demonstrations against his visit which he blamed on Senator Moi.
But the senator dismissed him saying: “I will not allow William Ruto to dictate to me or force my people into one sack like potatoes. In as much as we are in the same boat to transform the lives of our people in Rift Valley and Kenya at large, we will not do it under duress from the Deputy President.”
The cause of the present bitterness between the two leaders goes way back to 14 years ago when President Moi retired from politics and Gideon and Ruto jostled to inherit his political mantle.
Incredulous as it might sound, food is at the heart of the fallout between Gideon and the DP, said a senior government official who is a friend to both of them.
The official, a former MP from 2007 to 2013, requested not to be named so as not to jeopardise his cordial relations with the two leaders. Although Gideon was the natural heir to his father’s enormous political clout among the Kalenjin, the official described how he eventually lost to Ruto.
“Soon after the 2003 elections, we urged Gideon to organise a lunch meeting with Kalenjin MPs so that he can be introduced to them. The meeting happened at Panari Hotel on Mombasa Road. It generally went well, but when it came to paying, Gideon said everyone would pick his tab.
It was something that took us aback since we expected him not only to foot the bill but also send us off with “something small”.
William took advantage of the situation and sorted out the bill. A second meeting was organised some time in late 2003 and Gideon did the same thing; he declined to pay our bills. Again Ruto took advantage and cleared it. We knew Gideon was not his father’s son when it came to generosity. Most of us decided to throw our lot with Ruto after that,” he said.
And from then on, the former MP said, Mr Ruto ran with the initiative and actively courted Kalenjin MPs and built a solid support base, at the expense of Mr Moi.
“Gideon never thought that Ruto would ever upstage him because of the respect and the fear he had for his father (President Moi),” said the official.
Campaigns for the 2005 constitutional referendum presented one of the rare opportunities for the Mois and Mr Ruto to work together.
They, including rebel cabinet ministers such as Roads minister Raila Odinga and Foreign Affairs minister Kalonzo Musyoka, vigorously campaigned against the new constitution.
Using the orange fruit as their symbol, the No team handed the government-backed Yes side, whose symbol was a banana, a resounding defeat in 2005.
After their victory, however, Mr Ruto and the Mois started gravitating in different directions, a drift that has defined their relationship to date.
After the defeat, President Mwai Kibaki, who was leading the “Yes” campaign, sacked his entire Cabinet. The rebels who were sacked sought to build on the momentum of their winning “No” campaign in the 2007 General Election.
They mooted an idea to transform their campaign into a political movement with the orange fruit as their symbol.
President Moi was outrightly opposed to the idea. “Kanu was the official opposition and Moi feared that the new outfit would outshine his party,” said Mr Bill Ruto.
However to the former president’s chagrin, the Kalenjin Nation started warming up to the idea of the Orange party, whose leading light was Mr Raila Odinga. In Mr Odinga, not Gideon or Mr Ruto, the Kalenjin Nation saw a man who could take on President Kibaki whom they blamed for hounding their own from influential government positions.
Powerful Kalenjin politicians such as President Moi’s last head of public service, Dr Sally Kosgei, Tinderet MP Henry Kosgey, and Nominated MP Kipkalya Kones were drawn into Mr Odinga’s orbit.
Former President Moi vehemently opposed the group and urged the Kalenjin community to shun it. But this time round, his was a lone voice opposing the growing political movement.
During this time, Mr Ruto was installed as a Kalenjin elder and made a spokesman of the Kalenjin community at a ceremony in Kericho. But as the 2007 General Election approached, the Kalenjin community coalesced around Mr Odinga and his new party, the Orange Democratic Movement.
Unable to countenance the prospect of a Raila presidency, Moi threw his weight behind President Kibaki. Naturally, Gideon followed in his father’s footsteps.
The Mois were routed in those elections. Three of President Moi’s sons – Gideon, Jonathan and Raymond – tasted defeat in Baringo Central, Eldama Ravine and Rongai constituencies respectively.
For the first time, the Mois were not in power. Mr Ruto, who had just risen from obscurity to win the Eldoret North constituency seat in 1997, had played a big role in it.
Though a late entrant to the ODM fray, the Eldoret North MP took the reins of the party’s campaigns in Rift Valley and emerged as a political supremo.
Mr Ruto was rewarded with a powerful ministerial position in the grand coalition government that was formed following the violence that followed the disputed 2007 elections.
And with this position, he went about consolidating his position in Kalenjin Nation. Without a national platform, Gideon sank into obscurity.
However, the campaigns for the August 4, 2010 constitutional referendum once again aligned the Mois’ and Ruto’s interests. As it were in 2005, they once again opposed the new constitution.
However, this time round they were in the minority and the “No” team was defeated resoundingly. However, their unity of purpose was short-lived.
On December 15, 2010, the International Criminal Court prosecutor Moreno Ocampo named Mr Ruto as one of the six Kenyan leaders he wanted prosecuted over the 2007/2008 post-election violence.
The naming of Mr Ruto had a radicalising effect on the Kalenjin Nation who rallied behind him and fellow suspects from the community, Henry Kosgey and journalist Joshua Sang. They were perceived as scapegoats for Mr Odinga, who had fallen out with Mr Ruto.
When Mr Ruto told the community that political unity between the Kalenjin and their erstwhile enemies, the Kikuyu, whom they had fought in 2007 was the best way of defeating the ICC agenda, they agreed.
This paved the way for the unlikely political union between Mr Ruto and his ICC co-accused, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Moi’s political project in 2002. Once again the Mois and Mr Ruto were on opposing political paths. Refusing to endorse the man he had handpicked to be his successor 10 years earlier, President Moi threw his weight behind Musalia Mudavadi for the presidency in 2013.
A former powerful insider in Moi’s court, now a retired politician but who still maintains close links with the DP and Gideon, offered this assessment of their fallout:
“Moi refused to endorse Uhuru for the presidency in 2013, not because his affections for him had changed or because of the ICC cases, but because his running mate was William Ruto. Moi has no regard for William at all. You have heard him calling Ruto a political conman who has brutally upstaged him in Kalenjin politics. For Mzee, this is not the way the script was to be. Ideally Gideon should have been Uhuru’s running mate in those elections, not some pauper from nowhere,” he said.
This rejection by the Mois to recognise Mr Ruto’s rise in Kalenjin and national politics is at the heart of the bitterness that informs the relationship between Gideon and Mr Ruto, he said. Kanu secretary-general Nick Salat accused the DP of disrespecting other leaders.
“We have respect for him as the DP. But what we have gotten from him since he got that position is nothing but abuse. He does not respect anyone, not even the retired president, who mentored him in politics,” said Mr Salat.
During a recent meeting in Gideon’s backyard in Baringo County, the DP passionately asked why the senator had refused his own “blood” despite the support Ruto gave his father.
Last year he accused Gideon among Kalenjin leaders praying for him to be jailed at ICC, even though the senator had once accompanied the DP to The Hague as his case continued.
The 2013 polls that swept Uhuru and Ruto to power also saw a revival of Kanu’s fortunes rather than the death of the party altogether as it had been predicted.
Gideon won the senatorial seat against the DP’s United Republican Party candidate Bishop Jackson Kosgey. The party also won majority of seats in West Pokot County.
Since then, Gideon has been trying to expand his reach in Rift Valley and reduce his nemesis’ influence while the DP is on a mission to completely vanquish the senator for once and for all.
The two were in opposing camps early this year over the Kericho County senatorial by-election where Kanu fielded Paul Sang against Jubilee’s Aaron Cheruiyot.
The vote was billed as a litmus test of Ruto’s hold on Kalenjin politics after he was accused of neglecting the south Rift after ascending to the vice-presidency.
The DP proved his doubters wrong by ensuring that the Jubilee candidate won, thus quashing rumours that Gideon was emerging as an alternative center of power among the Kalenjin.
However Senator Moi in a statement provided by Kanu Secretary General Nick Salat yesterday appeared to play down the fallout between him and the DP.
“Let us focus on what matters to wananchi and in so doing we make leadership worthwhile. It is not about him or me; it is about the people we serve,” he said.