Deputy President William Ruto has embarked on a mission to consolidate his support base while also reaching out to opposition strongholds with a series of manoeuvres geared towards putting him ahead of the pack for the 2022 presidential elections.
In recent weeks, the DP has begun a noticeable charm offensive in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Mt Kenya region as well Nasa leader Raila Odinga’s strongholds, especially the Coast.
In Mt Kenya, the DP is using a three-pronged strategy to capture the six million votes: Launching development projects almost every weekend, convening meetings with MPs at his Karen home and sending contributions to harambees organised by youth and women’s groups from the region.
Meru MPs were at his Karen home on Tuesday morning and he is scheduled to tour the region at a date that is yet to be agreed upon.
According to Tigania West MP Kanyuithia Mutunga, one of those who went to see the DP, the MPs went to lobby for implementation of projects promised by Jubilee government and reiterate their support for the President.
“It is not very easy to see the President due to his State duties and the DP, being his number two, is very effective. That is why we went to see him,” the MP said.
Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, who led his fellow Nyeri lawmakers to Karen last month, said politics did not dominate the topic because it is a “non-issue”.
“2022 is a done deal. We agreed in 2013 to support Ruto and there is nothing to discuss. We just went there (Karen) to push for some projects that will benefit Nyeri people like the Karatina market,” Mr Gachagua said.
According to leaders who have attended the meetings, the DP is pushing for specific projects that have stalled, endearing him to politicians with an eye on re-election.
For the last two months, the DP has also toured six counties in the region and more tours are lined up this month.
Last week, he was in Nyandarua and Nakuru. In February, he toured Nyeri, Kiambu, Meru and Murang’a. He is due back in Murang’a this month.
For the counties he has visited, the DP has come dangling goodies in the form of roads, dams and other mega projects.
In Nyeri, he opened roads in Kieni and Mathira and promised the completion of Sh35 billion dams.
He launched 30km Gatukuyu-Mataara Road in Gatundu North Constituency, Kiambu County, and Kiunyu-Gatanga Road in Murang’a on February 1.
“He needs those votes and we will ensure he gets them. He may not want to campaign this early but his visibility on the ground is endearing him to even more voters in Mt Kenya,” Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata said.
The senator and Murang’a Governor Mwangi wa Iria have been representing the DP in events in the county, especially harambees.
Mr Wa Iria has expressed interest in being Mr Ruto’s running mate in 2022.
Mr Kang’ata, on the other hand, will host the DP and other Jubilee leaders on April 6 for a funds drive.
The Deputy President has also been sending his contributions in Nyeri through Mr Gachagua, Nyandarua using Governor Francis Kimemia and Tharaka-Nithi through Senator Kindiki Kithure.
Nyeri Town MP Wambugu Ngunjiri has previously called for the end of the 2022 debate but on Saturday, he said he has been misunderstood.
“I have never opposed his 2022 bid,” he said.
“My biggest issue is that some people may try to own him by bragging that they are the ones bringing him to Mt Kenya. He should not be brokered. I am glad that he is going to the people directly,” the MP said.
But political pundits note that Mt Kenya voters have never voted for any presidential candidate who is not from the area since the advent of multipartism. Will Ruto be the first one?
“We will be ostracised if we do not back Ruto. As a community, we also have to realise that no tribe will ever be able to govern alone. We have to support him,” Mr Gachagua said.
But leaders have differed on how the deal between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga will affect the DP’s 2022 chances.
“It changes nothing for 2022. He, too, has to follow Ruto,” Mr Gachagua said.
But Senator Kindiki and South Imenti MP Kathuri Murungi called for caution in dealing with Mr Odinga.
“He is a political schemer and we hope he is not planning to do to Jubilee what he did to Kanu in 2002,” the senator said, alluding to the internal revolt that Mr Odinga led within the Kanu party that ended up costing Mr Kenyatta the presidency in that year.
At the Coast, the DP appears to be keen to take advantage of the recent truce between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga to penetrate a region that overwhelmingly voted for the opposition chief in the last two general elections.
Mr Ruto was in Mombasa on Friday before heading to Kwale on Saturday. He will be in Taita-Taveta on Monday.
During his tour, Mr Ruto got a rare welcome from MPs allied to Governors Hassan Joho (Mombasa) and Amason Kingi (Kilifi), both from ODM, and who are also eyeing the presidency in 2022.
In a rare show of friendship, nearly 20 MPs from the region who were elected on an ODM ticket gave Mr Ruto an open-arms reception and vowed to work with him.
The DP promised to bring development to the region as the MPs welcomed him to their constituencies.
Mr Ruto said: “We should now work to serve the people since our President and Raila Odinga have come together. We must now focus on development.”
Before the ceasefire between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, it had been difficult for the Jubilee mandarins to campaign freely at the Coast, which is struggling to recover from years of marginalisation.
Despite being the country’s major gateway to the interior due to the port of Mombasa and being a tourism hub, high poverty rates afflict the six coast counties of Mombasa, Lamu, Kwale, Kilifi, Tana River and Taita-Taveta.
The counties are, however, key to the country’s economy due to the Lamu Port-South-Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor project, the sea resources, the port, minerals, tourism, national parks and oil and gas potential.
The residents of the region, whose key leaders – Mr Joho and Mr Kingi – had been pushing for secession following last year’s polls, were waiting for political direction from the two and Mr Odinga ahead of 2022 polls.
On Friday, leaders allied to Mr Joho and Mr Kingi indicated they are ready to work with Mr Ruto so long as the government addressed locals’ interests and “kept Mr Odinga close”.
The mainly ODM MPs, who used to pour vitriol on Jubilee, discrediting its leadership and development record, turned up at Moi Airport to welcome Mr Ruto before accompanying him to Jomvu primary for the launch of a Sh1 billion road and a rally.
Host MP Badi Twalib said it is “God” who helped Mr Ruto to be elected DP and that Jubilee and Nasa will work together for development.
Magarini MP Michael Kingi, who is a brother to Governor Kingi, said: “If you want to win the Coast, you should address the land issue, including grabbing by tycoons and lack of title deeds.”
Changamwe MP Omar Mwinyi told the DP that the Coast has been neglected in terms of job appointments.
“Sometimes even getting a slot for my people to be employed at the port is futile because I was branded opposition. Now that the two have agreed, then we must now benefit,” he said.
Rabai MP William Kamoti said the handshake between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga marked a new beginning for the country.
Mr Ruto spelt out the government’s multibillion shilling projects in water and roads at the Coast, adding that the Jubilee leadership is keen on ensuring equity in the country.
National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale said Mr Odinga’s decision to work with the government puts the DP in a good position to be Kenya’s fifth president.
“From my own analysis, I believe that Raila’s decision, which I highly laud since it makes us a more cohesive nation, leaves the DP in pole position to be our next President,” he said.
Reports by Guchu Ndung’u, Lucas Barasa, Kazungu Samuel, Kipchumba Some and Charles Wanyoro.