The renewed vigour with which Deputy President William Ruto’s allies are taking on Jubilee Party matters and the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) is part of a strategy that may prove useful when the last cards of the 2022 succession power games are played.
In the absence of Jubilee Secretary-General Raphael Tuju, his deputy Caleb Kositany, a key supporter of Dr Ruto, is now in charge of party affairs.
And now the DP’s allies have put a demand on the table – President Uhuru Kenyatta must attend BBI rallies if they are to give their views on how to unite the country.
This is a Catch-22 situation as the BBI is the product of the ''handshake'' between President Kenyatta and ODM chief Raila Odinga, who Ruto’s allies say has no standing to receive views from the Deputy President.
Should President Kenyatta heed their call and attend the Nakuru March 21 meeting, he will be forced to choose between his deputy and Mr Odinga – a choice he would rather delay.
The group led by Mr Kositany argues that the rallies have degenerated into shouting contests and need order.
“The President is the elected leader, the chief executive of Kenya, and there is a big thing called BBI going on and he cannot leave it to people who are strangers to those of us who voted for him en masse,” Mr Kositany told the Nation on the phone.
Should Mr Kenyatta fail to attend the Nakuru rally, Mr Kositany said, “the Deputy President should be on hand to receive the document because we will not hand it to a stranger.”
“This was a noble idea, but the person selling it is doing a terrible job of it, and the good product is now suffering low sales. The President should, therefore, take charge of these rallies as a matter of urgency. He can even decide to stop them altogether because they have become ODM rallies,” the Soy MP said.
Although he says he supports the BBI, Dr Ruto has questioned, at every turn, the intention of the deal and what it means for Mr Odinga.
But analysts are divided on whether this is an act of genius or outright desperation.
Political analyst Javas Bigambo notes that the call from Dr Ruto’s allies is an invitation to a duel in which the President will have to make tough choices.
Dr William Ruto and his troops have equated the BBI to an Odinga-instigated plan to scuttle his chances at the top job, demanding that he and President Kenyatta should be seen as a package. Ruto’s allies say he and the Head of State are joined at the hip and so “love them both or hate them both”.
Further, they have questioned the decision to hold BBI rallies, which they insist have been turned into “divisive ODM events”.
“Ruto’s strategists want the President to stop being silent and come to the fore. They want to know early whether they are staring at an outright betrayal and also the President's intentions.
“Either way, the ground is already slippery. With swords already drawn, every statement from the opposing sides is an invitation to a duel.”
Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, who said he will attend the Nakuru rally, said the Tangatanga team did not know the secretariat, the organisers of the rallies, or even who determines the programme.
“BBI was meant to unite Kenyans, but we have seen rallies organised by shadowy people all biased against those seen to be supporting Dr Ruto,” said Mr Murkomen.
“One thing they will not admit to you is that these are just ODM rallies,” he added.
On his part, political commentator Herman Manyora said the push to have President Kenyatta attend the rallies marks “the highest level of desperation”.
Just a guest
“It comes out as if they want to use this as a card to say: ‘Look, we wanted him to come, he did not attend any of the rallies. So he does not support this thing fully’,” Mr Manyora, a University of Nairobi lecturer, deduced.
“But really, it makes them look bad. It just goes to show that if you are not in control of the day the rallies are held, or who speaks and when, then all you can be is just a guest. If those that control this thing want Uhuru to go, they will make him do so.”
But according to Mr Bigambo: “It is open for observation that the President’s failure to attend the BBI rallies has invited curiosity. While some argue that his presence upgrades the rallies to presidential functions, it all depends on how the organising and planning are done.”
This has seen Dr Ruto’s allies push the narrative that Mr Odinga is being used to finish their man, and Mr Bigambo notes: “Now that the BBI and issues discussed at rallies are seemingly polarising, and laying the ground for more divisions, could the President’s absence be deliberate? Under Kibaki, Raila was left to deal with the Mau Forest issues, and they cost him politically. Now the land question is central at the Coast and in Maasailand. Is it possible that Raila is being set up to head into the storm alone?”
Outspoken Belgut MP Nelson Koech said that while the President can choose not to attend the rallies, he should rally his troops to order.
“All we need the President to do is call a Parliamentary Group meeting and give us his orders on the BBI and, as his troops, we will fall in line,” said Mr Koech.
But Kirinyaga Governor and Mount Kenya BBI team leader Anne Waiguru thinks it’s all hullabaloo and that the President is a busy man: “Despite the fact that the President is free to attend the BBI rallies, it is doubtful that his busy calendar will allow. He will make the decision when the time comes. The calendar for BBI rallies is set by the BBI task force team and not by politicians and that includes the decision to have the meeting in Nakuru.”
“On the party, someone has already been appointed to take care of party matters in Tuju’s absence. The party leader has already given direction in this matter,” Ms Waiguru added.
The March 21 rally at the historic Afraha Stadium will host residents of 11 counties, namely Nakuru, Kericho, Bomet, Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Trans Nzoia, Elgeyo-Marakwet, West Pokot, Baringo, Laikipia and Turkana. Narok, Kajiado and Samburu counties spearheaded the Narok rally under the Maa people banner.
“The President should attend the Nakuru rally for the specific reason that it is the melting pot of Kenyan politics, the headquarters of the Rift Valley, and the most populous region in Kenya that voted for Uhuru almost to a man,” Mr Kositany said.
The BBI rallies started this year following the unveiling of the task force report in November last year. They have since been held in Kisii, Kakamega, Mombasa, Kitui, Narok, Garissa and last weekend there was one in Meru. Mr Odinga has attended all of them but President Kenyatta has not been to any.
Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria said that if he were to attend, the Head of State “will come just like any other Kenyan”.
But Cherang’any MP Joshua Kutuny, a vocal supporter of the BBI from the Rift Valley, dismissed calls for President Kenyatta to attend the rallies.
“The President can come at the point when we have a draft bill and are ready to go for a referendum,” Mr Kutuny said.
Senior Counsel Ahmednasir Abdullahi said BBI was President Kenyatta’s “political masterstroke”.
“When historians write about the life and times of President Kenyatta, they will realise that the BBI story was his biggest political masterstroke: Allow your political friends and enemies to fight while watching from a distance and without really expressing your views on the subject,” Mr Abdullahi said on Twitter.
Additional reporting by Justus Ochieng