Ruto's grand strategy to clear hurdles in path to presidency

Wednesday March 18 2020
By NATION TEAM

Deputy President William Ruto on Saturday made an about-turn on the referendum talk, the latest in a raft of political strategies he has put in place to shake off political competition from within and without Jubilee Party, in his bid to ascend to the presidency in 2022.

It may be four years to the next General Election, but the curse of early campaigns seems to have struck again despite the camouflage of development tours and calls to lower political temperatures.

Mr Ruto appears to have upped his game at a time the odds appear stacked against him with analysts warning the curse of incumbency, with the attendant hard economic times, could return to haunt him.

HEAVY TAXES

The Jubilee administration has initiated many mega projects which, initially billed as creating employment and boosting the economy, have instead pushed the debt burden to astronomical levels and saddled Kenyans with heavy taxes.

To compound Mr Ruto’s woes is an energised opposition leader Raila Odinga, who has been making statements which appear to the Deputy President’s allies as having President Uhuru Kenyatta’s blessings.

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And while President Kenyatta has in the past dismissed calls for a referendum, saying he was keen on delivering on his promises, he has in recent days only watched as Mr Odinga drove the law change push forcefully, even at one time saying it is part of the agenda he agreed on with the Head of State in their March 9 ‘handshake’.

REFERENDUM CALLS

Some Central region leaders such as nominated MP Maina Kamanda have also come out to support the push for constitutional change, which some sell as a route to reforming the governance structure to make it more affordable. But the reform push is viewed with suspicion by others who believe it could be a backdoor to create positions, including that of a prime minister.

“We support the referendum. We have no problem with it, but let those who want the Constitution changed agree on what we should change. Let them also give us a date,” Mr Ruto said yesterday at Chuka in Tharaka-Nithi County.

Mr Ruto, however, said he would vote against the constitutional amendment if the changes are geared towards benefiting Mr Odinga.

ISOLATE HIM

“We have projects in water, housing, value addition and manufacturing among others. When they are through with the referendum debate, they will call us to participate in the vote,” the Deputy President said.

Mr Ruto may have changed tack for one main reason, to tactically avoid being attacked as the face of the opposition to the referendum that has the potential of reducing the burden for Kenyans.

On Friday, Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny urged Mr Ruto to join the pro-referendum bandwagon or risk being isolated.

“(Mr) Ruto has to be careful in the way he handles this issue on referendum as it can isolate him from the rest of the people in government and scuttle his efforts to unite the country and solidify his political base ahead of 2022 elections.”

MINI-SECRETARIAT

Yesterday, the Deputy President's right-hand man, Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, also backed calls for a referendum, but with the rider that it could hurt the Big Four agenda.

“If our party leader President Kenyatta and his DP Ruto ask us to abandon the Big Four agenda and go for a referendum, then be assured that we shall do that,” he said in Elgeyo Marakwet.

Mr Ruto’s latest about-turn is only the latest in a list of measures his allies say he has put in place to ensure he surmounts hurdles placed in his way early on without damaging his 2022 presidential bid.

Multiple sources told the Sunday Nation that even though the Deputy President publicly says his focus is solely on development, a mini-secretariat in Nairobi’s Karen coordinates his political activities away from the hustle and bustle of the his office in the city centre.

POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE

“All his people, call them strategists, are mostly operating from Karen. That is a political office, so to speak,” said a close ally who spoke off-record so as not to be seen to be leaking campaign strategies.

Mr Ruto’s early game plan, which he has been perfecting, is to use elected grassroots leaders to hammer his message home — from ward representatives to MPs and governors.

Soi MP Caleb Kositany, a confidant of the DP, says Mr Ruto is also increasingly relying on political intelligence from his network across the country that he has developed since the early 1990s.

Mr Ruto is also poaching opposition grassroots leaders to sell his message in areas he deems hostile to his candidature — mainly Western and Coast regions.

In Coast, for instance, Mr Ruto held a meeting with Kilifi ward reps last week in what was seen as a new tactic to penetrate the grassroots.

MEETING LEADERS

The previous night, the DP met Taita-Taveta Governor Granton Samboja and the county’s ward reps at Voi Wildlife Lodge.

Governor Samboja, Voi MP Jones Mlolwa and his Wundanyi counterpart Danson Mwashako have openly showed their support for Ruto’s presidential bid.

The five-day visit to the Coast saw the DP tour Tana River, Kilifi, Mombasa, Kwale and Taita-Taveta counties where he issued title deeds and commissioned several projects.

On August 30, Mr Ruto hosted MCAs from Kakamega County at his Karen office. The day before he also met with Nakuru County leaders in the same office.

 In the morning of August 28, he met with MCAs from Vihiga County and in the afternoon, he met Murang'a County leaders led by Governor Mwangi wa Iria.

A week earlier, Mr Ruto had met with Kirinyaga County leaders led by Governor Anne Waiguru.

VOTE-RICH REGIONS

Mr Ruto has differed with Mr Odinga following the defection of several opposition MPs to his camp since the beginning of this year.

Those who have shifted loyalty to Mr Ruto include Suleiman Dori, Aisha Jumwa, Badi Twalib, Mohamed Ali, Ali Mbogo, Kassim Tandaza, Ken Chonga, Mlolwa and Mwashako.

In Western Kenya, former Kakamega senator Boni Khalwale has urged Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi and his Ford Kenya counterpart Moses Wetang’ula to jump ship and form an alliance with the Deputy President.

In an interview with the vernacular Mulembe FM radio last Tuesday, Dr Khalwale said: “All I’m doing is to ensure that leaders from the Luhya community position themselves strategically to be able to bargain go for the presidency with the support of other communities from vote-rich regions including the DP’s.”

CHEMISTRY WANING

Mr Mudavadi has, however, insisted he is not planning to join Mr Ruto. The Deputy President appears to be particularly targeting Mt Kenya, Coast and Western in what one of his strategists termed as the three swing-vote regions during the 2022 election, having locked the Rift Valley.

Mr Ruto has held at least 20 rallies in the Mt Kenya region since the year began, 10 in Coast and eight in Western, particularly Bungoma County.

The public altercation between Mr Ruto and Mr Odinga over the proposed referendum also exposed a political card the Deputy President appears to be keeping under the table ahead of the next elections.

The Deputy President claimed he was aware that Mr Odinga was scheming to rock the Jubilee boat ahead of the next polls.

Mr Ruto's remarks come at a time when there is perception that his political chemistry with the President has been waning. The two are now rarely seen together and, where they meet, the body language has been telling.

PLAN B

“The Jubilee Party leadership no longer reads from the same script,” said an MP from Rift Valley who is close to Mr Ruto, suggesting obliquely that there is always a “Plan B” if the hostility in the ruling party becomes unbearable.

The MP added: “What the DP is doing with his countrywide tours is consolidating his base by raiding regions perceived to be opposition strongholds and bringing on board leaders including governors and MPs to his side before a decision is made on the unifying political outfit of choice.” But Mr Kutuny yesterday warned that exiting Jubilee was a bad idea.

Other challenges facing Mr Ruto are the Mau Forest evictions and the delay in paying maize farmers in the Rift Valley — two issues which are dear to his Rift Valley vote bedrock.

The maize question is so dicey that farmers were paid nearly a year after they delivered maize to the government stores only after President Kenyatta furiously intervened.

Reports by Peter Leftie, Alex Njeru, Wanjohi Githae, David Muchui, Vitalis Kimutai, Lucy Mkanyika, Kazungu Samuel and Anita Chepkoech.