Deputy President William Ruto was under fire again this weekend following his remarks in Murang’a last week that many politicians said undermined a community, but which his handlers said had been taken “wildly” out of context.
The latest war of words was sparked by a video that went viral over the Easter weekend in which the DP appears to question the moral and political compass of a group of people he does not name, but whom he accuses of ruining political parties, uprooting a railway line and failing to manage their political bases.
But despite the intensity of the wrangling, the latest episode in Mr Ruto’s rather colourful and controversy-ridden political drama is neither shocking nor amusing. It has become too common, too regular, and, in the anti-Ruto camp, rather repulsively fashionable.
Critics say he is not fit to hold political office because of his brand of politics, which they claim is divisive, but his supporters swear by his political cunning and razzmatazz, eager to show that his march to State House is unstoppable.
The Ruto camp takes credit for several false starts within the Presidency as well as Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement, including President Kenyatta postponing a tour of Murang’a County, ODM’s failure to field a candidate in the Wajir by-election and Jubilee Party’s curious decision not to hold polls or a parliamentary group meeting.
Amid all the attempts to prop him up, Mr Ruto remains a man under siege, and the anti-graft war and the political pact between the President and Mr Odinga have only made life tougher for him.
Mr Ruto and his allies have expressed discontent with the Uhuru-Raila dalliance, while sections of his support base have claimed the war on corruption appears to be, in spirit, a war on the DP.
But President Kenyatta keeps defending his pact with Mr Odinga, saying, their handshake has nothing to do with ODM, Jubilee or succession politics.
On Sunday, Mr Odinga upped the tempo against the DP when he accused him of using the Church to launder money, while Central Organisation of Trade Unions Secretary-General Francis Atwoli and Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho have, in recent days, publicly declared that the DP is not fit to hold public office.
The DP's remarks in Murang’a that some of his opponents are not known for much other than for divisive politics and destruction of public property kept attracting vitriol from both the ruling Jubilee Party and the opposition.
Kenyans on social media accused the DP of publicly manifesting hatred towards Mr Odinga’s followers, who were accused of uprooting a railway line and demolishing houses during the 2007 post-election violence.
Mr Odinga’s spokesperson Dennis Onyango posed: “Because a presidency that once seemed so assured is turning into a wild-goose chase, William’s true character that once seemed so hidden in smooth words and false prayer is coming out for everyone to see.”
However, the Deputy President’s spokesman, Mr David Mugonyi, downplayed the battle, saying, “the country and mainstream media should not fall prey to the mischief peddled by social media activists and political clowns”.
Saying the DP had been quoted out of context, Mr Mugonyi added that the Ruto camp, and indeed the rest of Kenyans, expect “a more sober and responsible interpretation and analysis of events and issues”.
“This video has been taken wildly out of context in an attempt to rally support through desperate and alarmist misinformation,” Mr Mugonyi said.
“The propagators of the anti-Ruto spin are blinded with desperation to the point that they cannot realise that they are the ones profiling a whole community. Unless you’re telling me being Luo is equivalent to uprooting the railway, [to] which I disagree.”
But ODM secretary-general Edwin Sifuna was adamant that the DP had erred. He said a leader of the DP’s stature should be measured in his words.
Supporting Mr Sifuna’s sentiments, Amani National Congress secretary-general Barrack Muluka termed Mr Ruto “a loose cannon ball with a strong vindictive passion”, who holds an office he does not deserve due to a mixture of conspiracy of circumstances and fate.
“Let us pray that he does not ascend any farther than he has. He is a person who does not limit his vindictiveness to individuals whom he perceives to have offended him, but spreads it to a whole community. We’ve seen the results of electing such people into higher political offices, including wiping out of communities and even World Wars,” Mr Muluka said.
Within Jubilee, Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu believes Mr Ruto has defied President Kenyatta by refusing to stop his early campaigns for the top seat, while Kigumo MP Ruth Mwaniki says the DP’s tendency of storming Mr Kenyatta’s “political bedroom” of Mt Kenya without his permission is wrong.
At the Coast, Kwale woman rep Zuleikha Juma said the DP’s statement attacked not just Mr Odinga, but also his community, while in Nairobi, Dagoretti MP Simba Arati said it was “very unfortunate for that to come from a person who is supposed to be a symbol of unity”.
Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo accused the DP of referring to a community collectively, saying his statements amounted to ethnic incitement, hate speech and advocacy of hatred.
“The National Cohesion and Integration Commission must summon the DP,” Mr Amollo said.
But political observer George Gathutu read more into Mr Ruto’s firebrand politics. “While the President is keen on showing the investigative agencies’ political goodwill to fight graft, Mr Ruto has demonised the institutions several times, saying, they are being used to unfairly target some people. The President keeps talking on the fruits of the unity pact between him and Mr Odinga, while Mr Ruto calls Mr Odinga a wolf in sheep’s skin. He seems to have replaced Mr Odinga as the official opposition leader,” Mr Gathutu said.
Reporting by Ndung’u Gachane, David Mwere, Collins Omulo, Justus Ochieng, Rushdie Oudia, and Fadhili Fredrick.