Moi's shadow looms large as Gideon, Ruto fight for Rift

Wednesday March 18 2020
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Deputy President William Ruto (left) and Senator Gideon Moi take part in the funeral service of former president Daniel arap Moi at Kabarak on February 12, 2020. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By OSCAR OBONYO

Because of his larger-than-life political stature in the Rift Valley region, Deputy President William Ruto and his supporters desperately tried to get Daniel arap Moi’s blessings before he passed away.

And even after his eventual death, they anticipated Ruto to naturally inherit the former President as regional kingpin, only for that honour to be passed on to Moi's youngest son, Gideon.

The symbolic anointing of Gideon as political leader of the Moi family serves as a significant checkmate against Ruto, who is currently the highest ranked politician from the region.

On Wednesday, during the funeral of Kenya’s second president, members of Moi’s Chepkeres clan handed over a baton to Rongai MP Raymond Moi, who swiftly passed it on to his younger brother.

The baton, synonymous with the older Moi during his quarter century tenure as Head of State, is a symbol of power and authority.

DYNASTY TALK

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While Wednesday’s symbolic exercise does not guarantee the Baringo Senator automatic political authority over members of the Kalenjin community, it accords him a fighting chance to win over the people of the wider Rift Valley region.

And the fervent support from former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) secretary-general, Francis Atwoli, among other leaders, points to a wider political scheme at play.

Speaking at the funeral, Mr Odinga charged that Gideon had every right – just like any other Kenyan – to seek political office, including the highest in the land, without being labelled a member of a 'dynasty'.

This must have been in reference to politicians allied to the DP, who have regard a political alliance involving the sons of Kenya’s former presidents and vice-presidents as “a union of political dynasties”.

Trade unionist Atwoli gave the clearest indicator of the gist behind the Gideon “anointment” when he challenged the senator “to be ready for a bigger political task ahead”.

He challenged him to “stand up to protect Mzee Moi’s legacy” and assured him of support from the rest of Kenyans who wanted to return favour for the support they enjoyed from the senior Moi.

CAMPAIGN DRIVE

The secretary-general of Kanu party, Nick Salat, reveals elaborate plans to revamp the cockerel party across the nation.

Upon observing 40 days of mourning as per dictates of tradition among the Kalenjin, Salat says his party leader – Gideon – will be rolling out a countrywide powered campaign beginning with the Rift Valley region to popularise the independence party.

The campaign drive is bound to put Gideon on collision course with the DP, who is solidifying his Rift Valley backyard base ahead of his 2022 presidential bid.

While the Kanu official is cagey about Gideon’s presidential ambition, he maintains that Kanu’s primary desire is to popularise the party.

And, if the DP stands in the way, “he may well end up as part of the collateral damage”.

With the passing away of leading lights of the independence party - founding President Jomo Kenyatta, influential post-independence ministers Tom Mboya and James Gichuru and now Moi, who embraced Kanu in 1964 after defecting from his Kadu party - could this be the beginning of the end of the “Baba na Mama” party?

From a vibrant and powerful party at independence to a pale shadow of its former self, with only a handful of legislators in Parliament today, Kanu may well be on the verge of collapse. Indeed a huge task is now on Gideon's shoulders.

POLITICAL IMPACT

However, a former Cabinet minister in Moi’s government, Prof Amukowa Anangwe, doubts that Gideon will make any significant political impact to popularise Kanu and at the same time tame Dr Ruto's surging popularity in Rift Valley.

“Beyond the Moi family, Gideon will continue to be overshadowed in intra-Rift Valley politics by Ruto, except for exceptional surprises. Ruto defied Moi senior and made it big in Rift to the chagrin of Gideon.”

Terming the baton handover to Gideon as a purely family matter, the political scientist maintains Ruto is the man to beat in Rift Valley in spite of the vain efforts by his Kalenjin foes to cut him down to size.

“All things being equal, Ruto has little to worry from the Moi family. He has thrived before against their resistance and he is likely to prevail in Rift Valley”.

However, Herman Manyora, a commentator on political affairs, warns against outright dismissal of Gideon’s political might.

Noting the Baringo senator is a key player in a bigger game, who enjoys great support from “the big boys” (President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Odinga), Manyora opines that Ruto has everything to worry over the symbolic gesture of handing over baton.

BBI AGENDA

Indeed, the younger Moi is in some political working arrangement of sorts with Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, particularly over the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), which Ruto has given lukewarm support.

On Wednesday, Raymond hinted that he and his brother were looking forward to teaming up with the President and the ODM leader in popularising BBI across the country.

But even more telling is the claim by Tiaty MP William Kamket that the late Moi had twice summoned him to his home in 2017 and asked him to tell Gideon to politically work with Mr Kenyatta.

Dr Ruto’s relationship with the Moi family has not particularly been rosy in recent times.

Dr Ruto is on record in 2018 of accusing Gideon of using his father's sickness to settle political scores with him.

At some point, nominated MP David Sankok claimed that Gideon was misusing his father as a political weapon to sanction and humiliate those wishing to visit the then ailing former President. This was after the DP was reportedly blocked from visiting Moi at his Kabarak home in May 2018.

While Ruto unsuccessfully made spirited efforts to meet and get blessings or make peace with Moi, his allies now maintain this was not necessarily an important mission.

LEADERSHIP SKILLS

And the MP has additional advice for the senator: “Remember it is your father’s leadership skills that endeared himself to the people of Rift Valley and not some baton handed to him by your grandfather. Work hard to prove yourself.”

A Kalenjin MP, who did not wish to be named because of “immense respect for the grieving Gideon”, fears things could become real elephant for the senator:

“We dearly respected Mzee Moi and some people voted for Gideon partly because they did not wish to annoy his father, whom they feared could collapse in shock and even pass on. Now that Mzee is gone, Gideon may have it very rough.”

To the contrary, though, Manyora believes Rift Valley residents could in fact warm up to the senator on account of sympathy and indebtedness to his late father.

The University of Nairobi don opines that Gideon could even be fronted as presidential candidate by coalition partners determined to lock out Ruto from the presidency in a similar head-to-head scenario in 2002, which pitted Mwai Kibaki against Kenyatta, leading to the split of the populous Kikuyu vote.

Reacts Prof Anangwe: “It would be preposterous for any political formation to field Gideon as president in 2022. However, he is likely to feature somewhat in the next government if the Uhuru-Raila axis and their allies manage to neutralise Ruto before 2022”.