Deputy President (DP) William Ruto is secretly building a religion centred political constituency through his near weekly harambees in churches and lately, in mosques, Sunday Nation can reveal.
The DP, close associates reveal, is persuaded that religion could be the key to his State House ambition in a country deeply polarised along tribal lines.
His strategists say that after ethnic alliances, religion ranks high up as a potent tool for mass-mobilisation the DP is betting big on to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta.
As such, he is investing in an elaborate network that has seen him strike direct rapport with at least a religious leader in each of the country’s 1,450 wards, dedicating a day every week to personally connect with them.
Every Wednesday, the DP and his staff at Harambee House Annex and Karen offices observe a day of fasting from dawn to dusk. It is a day set aside to meet religious leaders from across the country and call others in various parts of the country.
His press secretary Emmanuel Talam said the staff has had to adjust to the new way of doing things.
“It is a personal-family Christian ritual. As staff we respect it. It also strengthens those of us who join in the fast,” he said.
Majority Whip in the National Assembly Ben Washiali, a staunch Ruto ally, says they plan to visit every church in the country before the 2022 General Election.
“We will continue visiting to pray with them for the task ahead of us is not easy except if God goes with us. We have built many churches and mosques in the process,” the lawmaker from Mumias East said Saturday.
Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter, a key cog in the DP’s strategy team once told this publication that the DP fasts every Wednesday as he believes that the journey he has embarked on not only requires physical and financial commitment but also divine intervention.
“Leadership comes from God and even as you go convincing people to elect you, you want to find favour in his eyes as well. They (Wednesdays) remain days of prayer and reflection,” Mr Washiali said.
With it, the DP hopes to achieve political mobilisation through religion, a first one in this part of the world.
A hitherto untested strategy, the DP is already causing ripples not only in the church but also among his political rivals. His close dalliance with religious leaders has seen him attend up to three church services on a given Sunday and sometimes holding Harambee on Saturdays for the churches.
It is now said that bishops, priests and pastors have the DP on a speed dial, a feat most have never achieved with an elected leader in their years in the ministry.
And as a signal that he is not campaigning the traditional way, Mr Ruto has configured his diary such that he is in Nairobi on week days and ventures out of the city during weekends.
Despite the harambees he attends every weekend, Mr Ruto has been using the pulpit to unleash tirade against his political opponents. And for a man who drops Bible verses effortlessly, he conveniently picks lines to drive his message home, a strategy aimed at going to the hearts and minds of Christians.
Prof Joseph Galgalo the Vice Chancellor of St Paul’s University that trains pastors admits that religion has throughout history been used to endear the masses and has sometimes been (mis) used by politicians to ascend to power.
“Unfortunately this falls under utilitarian uses of religion. The religion gives the scheming political class a platform to lure the faithful into electing them,” he said.
But Prof Galgalo downplays religion as a strong political constituency.
“It may be true that we (Kenya) are 83 per cent Christians but less than 20 per cent of this is ready to commit to the moral choice. It therefore follows that if in the unfortunate event a pastor were to use the pulpit to shepherd the believers to a particular political direction, they would easily obey the ethnic voice especially if the ethnic call is not in tandem with what the pastor wants. That is the reality,” the administrator who is also an ordained Anglican priest said.
Last weekend alone, the DP helped raise some Sh10 million for churches in Uasin Gishu, Vihiga and West Pokot counties with a personal donation of Sh3 million. The same weekend saw him give Sh2 million at Sekerr Catholic Church in West Pokot.
Speaking at Kapseret, the DP said he would continue to work with churches as a way of connecting with his maker.
“I am happy to be associated with churches. That is why I ensure that I come so that we raise money for the work of God,” he said.
Conservative estimates by the Sunday Nation show that DP has in the last two years donated in excess of Sh500 million to churches and muslim institutions.
In December last year, DR Ruto together with the Bible Society of Kenya and the Bible Translation and Literacy organised a fundraiser for Bible translation at the Nairobi Club, an event that saw Sh300 million raised.
Mr Kenyatta who was in attendance said; “This project is important as it is geared towards ensuring that every single Kenyan, regardless of where he or she was born, will have the opportunity to read the Bible in a language that speaks to their heart.”
During the event, Rev Peter Munguti, the National Director of the Bible Translation and Literacy, said the Bible has only been translated into 21 languages compared to about 60 local languages in Kenya.
While he has avoided having strategic visible kingpins in any region as all voting blocs have their own luminaries around which they coalesce, Dr Ruto has made countless visits to churches in the Mount Kenya region and Western, two vote rich areas. He has cleverly avoided elevating any of the local leaders as his regional point man or woman in the regions.
Instead, he is always accompanied by a host of elected leaders from the region.
For example in Mt Kenya, MPs Alice Wahome, Rigathi Gachagua, Ndindi Nyoro and Kimani Ichung’wa will always be present in Dr Ruto’s functions but none of them has emerged as first among equals in their support for Dr Ruto.
Indeed the same is true in Western Kenya where MPs Didmus Barasa, Mr Washiali and Mr John Waluke are always with him.
By appearing not to favour any elected leader Dr Ruto, we gathered, is keen to have the church do his bidding at the grass roots.
He has embraced the mainstream churches such as Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian Church of East Africa as well as the evangelicals across the country and with it, the scramble to get into his diary is so intense that insiders say his weekend church activities have been booked up to June 2020.
But again not all the prelates are playing ball. There are those who are of the view that the church should keep ‘a decent distance’ from politicians.
Although the Anglican Archbishop Jackson olé Sapit is on record stating that the Anglican church was pondering banning politicians’ driven harambees in church, little has been seen in the ground with some bishops endorsing either Dr Ruto or those who are opposed to his presidential ambitions.
“Whereas we acknowledge the role the harambee spirit has played in the development of our society, the Anglican church is evaluating holding of fundraisers in their sanctuaries by politicians, the Christians including politicians are expected to worship God with their resources quietly as the Bible teaches, the bishop and the Christians should hold fundraisers outside church buildings,” Bishop Sapit said in April.
His directive has for instance been heeded by Bishop Julius Wanyoike of Murang’a South Diocese but Bishop Joel Waweru and Timothy Gichere of Nairobi and Mt Kenya Central dioceses respectively have gone ahead to invite politicians in their respective churches.
As Bihsop Waweru goes ahead to ‘prophesy Dr Ruto’s win in 2022’, Mr Gichere holds that the church can’t differentiate between dirty and clean money a move that has continued to divide the church.
Embu Catholic Bishop Paul Kariuki strongly defends the DP from criticism emanating from his countrywide ‘tours of developments’.
Speaking last week at St Peter and Paul Cathedral Parish in Embu, the bishop compared Dr Ruto’s political enemies to houseflies that are always bothered by the handwork of a bee.
Bishop Kariuki blamed the DP’s political enemies for always finding faults and ‘ignoring the many development projects’ he has initiated across the country.
“Wako kama inzi, kazi yake inatafuta pale kumeoza. Wanaanza kuambia nyuki wacha kutangatanga kama vile Deputy President anaambiwa anatangatanga (they are like flies after a carcass. Now they are telling the bee to stop working hard),” said the Bishop amid laughter from the congregation.
Many a time, the DP has come out to strongly cast his lot with the church whenever there is a controversial decision. He sided with it during the 2010 referendum to oppose the new Constitution.
Recently, he criticised lawmakers who plan to introduce a bill in Parliament to regulate harambees in churches.
He has equally come out in support of self-regulation each time a debate on the need to regulate the church via legislation has surfaced. He does not want to rub the prelate the wrong way.