Guarded enthusiasm and measured expectations Wednesday greeted news that President Uhuru Kenyatta will make his first visit to his deputy William Ruto’s home county this year as the rift between them continues to widen.
The President is expected to preside over the relaunch of Eldoret-based textile factory, Rivatex, in Uasin Gishu County on Friday accompanied by the DP and other top government officials. Kapsaret MP Oscar Sudi, one of fiercest critics of President Kenyatta and his peace pact with ODM leader Raila Odinga, will play host during the event.
Reports Wednesday evening indicated that President Kenyatta’s handlers were uncomfortable with Mr Sudi speaking at the event and preferred the speeches be limited to the Uasin Gishu senator, governor and Mr Ruto before President Kenyatta makes his speech.
Preparations were under way at the facility as Rivatex officials met with an advance security team from State House. The textile firm is owned by Moi University and located within Kapseret Constituency. It is being relaunched following recent efforts to rescue it from collapse after two decades of neglect.
The President’s visit comes just days after he appeared to indirectly take on his deputy on Sunday over suspicions of fuelling a revolt against him in his Central backyard when the two attended the annual Akorino conference at Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi.
He has never been to Eldoret town since the 2017 elections but attended a Kenya Defence Forces passing-out ceremony at Moi Barracks last November. Prior to the polls, he and Mr Ruto made several campaign visits to the county and Eldoret town was their favourite stopover.
It was during one of those visits that the President urged the residents to vote for him to finish his term and hand over the mantle to Mr Ruto.
In one of the videos that recently resurfaced on social media, the Head of State made it clear that he would finish his term and then Mr Ruto would take over when he addressed a large crowd during a political rally in Eldoret.
The DP’s office confirmed that Mr Ruto will be attending the function Friday.
The relationship between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto has deteriorated since the former’s handshake with Mr Odinga in March 2018.
The handshake has been praised in various quarters, except the DP’s camp, for helping tone down the country’s political temperatures following the fiercely fought 2017 presidential polls.
On several occasions, the DP has questioned the intentions of Mr Odinga in the deal, accusing him of trying to wreck the ruling party ahead of the next polls. Mr Odinga, who was appointed the African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development upon the recommendation of the President after the handshake, has dismissed the DP’s fears, saying they only agreed to unite the country, fight corruption and deal with challenges linked to past electoral disputes.
Mr Ruto’s fears have, however, not dissipated. He has intensified “development tours” across the country, attracting the anger of the President last year who castigated him for wandering idly and dismissed the tours as “kutangatanga”(loitering).
The DP turned around the slur and used it to advance his numerous travels, saying he was doing so on behalf of the President. Allies around him have since formed Tangatanga movement.
The President has since stripped his deputy of the duty of monitoring government projects and transferred the role to Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’I, who he put in charge of the powerful National Development Implementation and Communication Cabinet Committee. Last Sunday, in one of the clearest indications that he was losing patience with those around him who did not want to toe the line, he warned of stern action against members of the Tangatanga group, especially those from Central Kenya.
Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, a member of the group, did not respond to the Nation’s requests for a comment on the President’s visit, but last Sunday, while attending a function in his Elgeyo-Marakwet County, dismissed ODM politicians asking the President to endorse someone other than the DP.
“The President endorsed Mr Ruto a long time ago. We are not aware of any changes since he did so. Those pushing him to endorse someone else should stop,” he said during an event attended by the DP.