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Ruto faces tough options as plans for top seat in 2022 polls create discord

Sunday March 15 2020

Deputy President William Ruto addresses people

Deputy President William Ruto addresses people in Kibirichia Stadium in Buuri, Meru. CHARLES KIMANI | DPPS 

OSCAR OBONYO
By OSCAR OBONYO
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Shielded by the Constitution from dismissal by the President — unlike past deputies — and buoyed by support from a sizeable number of lawmakers, Dr William Ruto has become a nightmare to political rivals.

Ford-Kenya party leader Moses Wetang’ula says that the battle between President Uhuru Kenyatta’s and his deputy’s camps should raise serious concerns for the two leaders and the entire nation.

“While we cannot force them to work in harmony, their body chemistry must be nurtured and guarded with zeal, lest real or imagined cracks between them are used to destroy our national cohesion, or for individuals to make political capital for personal gain,” says Mr Wetang’ula.

In 2010, Dr Ruto ran an energetic campaign against the enactment of a new Constitution, and although he lost at the referendum, he is ironically the biggest beneficiary of the current legal dispensation, without which he would be staring at a possible sacking.

Senate Minority Leader James Orengo, for instance, has repeatedly threatened impeachment, one of the available avenues of elbowing out the DP. This has enraged the DP and his supporters, with Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria retorting, “Wakimwaga unga, tunamwaga mboga (if they pour the maize flour, we will spill the vegetables)”.

The import of Mr Kuria’s sentiments on Wednesday is that the DP’s wing is ready for a destructive “eye-for-an-eye” kind of fight. Instructively, Mr Kuria is the MP for President Kenyatta’s rural constituency, and his words epitomise political defiance in the President’s Central Kenya backyard.

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According to a Rift Valley politician allied to the DP who spoke in confidence, Dr Ruto is bitter with President Kenyatta — who he strongly feels owes him a political debt — and ODM leader Raila Odinga.

The former MP alleges that it took the DP until mid last year to fully come to terms with the fact that the President had hatched a plot to block his presidential bid.

“I hope these guys realise that not vanquishing WSR (Dr Ruto) is not an option to them, because if they fail to do so the (political) payback will be devastating,” says the politician.

Having campaigned for and supported President Kenyatta in three presidential elections right from 2002, and also having supported Mr Odinga’s bid in 2007, the DP reportedly feels profoundly betrayed by the two political brothers whose Handshake in March 2018 changed the political landscape.

Minority Whip Junet Mohamed, says the DP’s actions are “no longer tenable”. He accuses Dr Ruto of defying the President and sabotaging his efforts to unite Kenyans and govern the country.

“Clearly his body and soul are not in this government, and soon he will have to make a choice of either working with the President or walking out. He has been warned several times and when the President finally strikes officially, he will have nobody to blame,” says Mr Mohamed, a confidant of Mr Odinga.

Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen opines the focus should be on why the President is supposedly indifferent to the concerns of his deputy.

The Elgeyo-Marakwet senator is categorical the DP is “going nowhere”, pointing out the DP is an integral part of Jubilee.

“He is a major stakeholder in this party and government. This is therefore our home. You cannot run away from your own home,” he says.

Mr Wetang’ula says that these developments are evidence that the 2013 peace deal between President Kenyatta and DP Ruto was founded on loose sand, for short-lived political interests.

“Ideally, one of the two leaders ought to throw in the towel. But having worked with the two and knowing their modus operandi, they are strong-willed individuals who will not give in,” says the Bungoma senator.

Political scientist Dr Richard Bosire offers three options for Ruto out of his current dilemma — leave the government and roll out his presidential campaign, stay put and fight from within or make up with the President.

“He first needs to tone down the high-voltage politics and stay in government, because if he bolts out, he automatically slides into the opposition. From there he will not enjoy governmental support and will be frustrated by the system and may not get sworn in as President even if he wins the poll as was the case with Raila in 2007,” says the don.

But describing the DP as a politician who has all along climbed the ladder by rebelling against his mentors and authority, the University of Nairobi lecturer doubts that Dr Ruto will play ball.

“He made a decision to be defiant and I do not see (President) Kenyatta taming him, because to him political defiance has yielded positive results and he has no reason to put a stop to it now,” says Dr Bosire.

When he first joined elective politics in 1997, Dr Ruto went against the advice of President Daniel Moi not to challenge Mr Reuben Chesire for the Eldoret North seat. He beat Mr Chesire.

In 2007, he defied Mr Moi again by rallying members of his Kalenjin community to support Mr Odinga’s presidential bid.

And when all odds were against him and President Kenyatta following their indictment by the International Criminal Court, Mr Ruto stuck to his guns and vied with President Kenyatta.

This time around the DP is going against the wishes of a man he has teamed up with over the past decade. This is Dr Ruto’s style and as he defiantly declared recently, there is no turning back.

But now, observes Dr Bosire, the DP is also against Mr Odinga and what he refers to as “the system”.

“The combination of Uhuru, a smooth system’s operator, and Raila, a seasoned political operator, is a formidable challenge for the DP to crack,” he says.

Pokot South MP David Pkosing urges the DP not to worry about his removal and focus on providing services to citizens and the political journey ahead.

“Others may boost off the system, but our sole option is the people. The DP has the people on his side and has connected well with them. The hustler narrative, which the common man relates to, will sweep across the entire nation come 2022.”

Dr Bosire calls on the DP to exercise self-restraint because his “virulent tweets” and “public ventilation of frustrations over the system” are generating political heat and animosity in the country.

In the meantime, the impeachment plot remains on the cards, according to politicians allied to President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.

Makueni MP Daniel Maanzo maintains that if and when the President, who is only using proxies at the moment, decides to personally support the move, the game will automatically change.

Dr Ruto and his team, he warns, need to be very afraid.

Nonetheless, Dr Bosire observes, the impeachment route is not an easy one.

“Even if the Kenyatta-Odinga team can amass the necessary numbers, there is also the question of the grounds of impeachment and in this instance the threshold of evidence is very high,” he says.

He adds: “Dr Ruto’s biggest undoing, though, is dishonesty. He claims to support his boss and to have embraced the BBI when in fact he fights it daily and continuously attacks Mr Odinga. Continuous fighting doesn’t necessarily guarantee results, sometimes it is strategic to stop the fight and fight again some other day,” says Dr Bosire.

For his part, Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei attributes the DP’s frustrations to a cabal of senior government officials. Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, his Permanent Secretary Karanja Kibicho, and Director of Criminal Investigation George Kinoti are among those being fingered by Dr Ruto’s supporters as deliberately frustrating the DP’s presidential bid.