A video clip of West Pokot youths on a roadshow drumming up support for Deputy President William Ruto’s election as president in 2022 is doing the rounds on social media.
The caravan is bedecked with a banner boldly proclaiming, “Vijana West Pokot for Ruto 2022-2032 Tumeamua”.
Despite supporters of Dr Ruto insisting that they had not defied President Uhuru Kenyatta’s call to stop premature campaigns for 2022, the clip appears to be just what the doctor ordered for rivals of the deputy president.
Aware of the damage such organised groups could cause in his relationship with Mr Kenyatta, Dr Ruto moved quickly to disown them.
“Such activities are being sponsored by our enemies to drive a wedge between the Deputy President and the President,” an insider confided to the Nation soon after Dr Ruto released a statement distancing himself from politicians and groups purporting to be campaigning for him to become Kenya’s fifth President come 2022.
Critics found that line hard to sell, saying Dr Ruto had bowed to mounting pressure to call out his lieutenants or risk losing the goodwill of the President and the Jubilee Party, an influential factor in the succession.
“At no time has the Deputy President approved, canvassed or engaged in any other (sic) form of preparation for a presidential or other campaign after the last presidential election.
"Secondly, he does not, and has never approved, consented to or supported haphazard, sketchy, messy, premature political canvassing,” read the statement released by his press secretary David Mugonyi warning political players not to invoke his name in their activities.
The statement was met with disbelief among his supporters and rivals alike but was in line with the views of some pundits who said he should take a tactical retreat in the face of the uncertainties of the political terrain since the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga.
“The Deputy President is a democrat and believes that campaigning must be done at the appropriate time, in an organised, systematic manner,” the statement read.
This is despite Dr Ruto making more than 400 trips to various parts of the country in the past year on “development tours”.
During those rallies, politicians accompanying him have rooted for his 2022 presidency.
He has, during the rallies, taken contrasting stances — not mentioning the politics at all, saying he would seek the Jubilee nomination to vie for the presidency, that he has Mr Kenyatta’s support while at the same time lambasting rivals looking to be endorsed by other politicians.
But immediately after the statement was released, some MPs and lobby groups vowed to defy it.
Tharaka MP Gitonga Murugara said the sentiments will not stop the DP’s supporters from telling the people to support Dr Ruto in 2022.
One thing that will change, however, is the removal of “team Tanga Tanga” — a term referring to those who were following Dr Ruto in development tours and coined after President Kenyatta accused Dr Ruto of loitering — from political lingo.
This, he said, would save them from being seen as going against Dr Ruto.
“Politicians who believe in him for the 2022 presidency will continue believing in him and will join him for whatever function but they will stop campaigning for him openly,” Mr Murugara said.
Leaders of over 16 lobby groups formed in the Mt Kenya region to campaign for Deputy President William Ruto's 2022 presidential bid also vowed to root for the DP.
The coordinator and the leader of the groups, Mr Maina Karobia and Simon Gitahi, respectively, explained that they believe in Dr Ruto’s capacity to lead the country.
“In 2013 during the formation of Jubilee coalition, the President said he would lead the country for 10 years and later support his deputy for 10 years. We will continue advancing that statement and reminding people about it,” Mr Gitahi said.
The decision to halt campaigns may have been informed by several factors, including political sideshows, rising divisions in Jubilee, fears of a falling-out with the President and the possibility of politics overshadowing the Jubilee development agenda.
The West Pokot roadshow along the streets of Kapenguria town lasted hours, with placards and public address systems chanting slogans endorsing Dr Ruto for President in 2022.
The group insisted that Dr Ruto is in control of the region though the governor and senator were elected on Kanu tickets.
This blatant open campaigns provoked tensions in the county, catching the eye of the presidency.
Also, the campaigns have triggered divisions within Jubilee that led to the resignations of vice-chair David Murathe and the emergence of three groups — the Tanga Tanga squad, a pro-Ruto group, and the Kieleweke squad, a faction that is calling for a halt in campaigns while insisting that the DP will not be the automatic party candidate and are led by Nyeri Town MP Wambugu Ngunjiri.
Then there are the fence sitters whose political eyes are focused on the presidency within or without Jubilee and are symbolised by Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, Murang’a Governor Mwangi wa Iria and former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth.
“The DP has realised that his actions are splitting the party further. Now he should order his troops not to talk about 2022 during his events.
"He personally may avoid the talk, but his Tanga Tanga team are the problem. They do not serve his interests by engaging in premature campaigns,” Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu said in an interview with the Nation on Thursday.
Mr Kuria said it would be unethical for him as a presidential candidate to comment on the strategy and conduct of another candidate.
“How other candidates conduct themselves is none of my business,” he said.
But Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei blamed Dr Ruto’s political enemies for the claims that he has started early campaigns.
“Dr Ruto has never campaigned for the presidency and has just been bringing development closer to the people. Our opponents are panicking and want to use all angles to bring him down but they will never succeed,” the senator said.