Deputy President William Ruto is walking a tightrope in his Rift Valley backyard as leaders from the region continue piling pressure on him to speak out about the impending Mau forest evictions.
With less than 20 days to the end of the two-month ultimatum given to settlers, local leaders want Mr Ruto to intervene and stop the evictions.
But while his key allies have come out with guns blazing, accusing the government of seeking to commit human rights abuses, ignoring court injunctions, failing to respect the rule of law and the Constitution, and forcibly ejecting families from their private farmlands, Mr Ruto has largely ignored the matter.
Sources have now revealed to the Saturday Nation that Mr Ruto, the region’s political kingpin, is in a dilemma on whether to support the government’s environmental conservation measures or speak out against it for political expediency.
Three elected members of Parliament from the South Rift region, who spoke to the Saturday Nation on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that the DP has found himself in a catch-22 situation, forcing him to go silent over the matter.
“Yes, we would have expected him to intervene and speak out over the matter, but he has found himself between a rock and a hard place over the highly emotive phase two of the Mau forest evictions,” said an MP from Nakuru.
“He seems to have chosen to steer clear of the issue. Otherwise, this can be used by his political rivals to soil his name ahead of the 2022 presidential poll’.”
But a number of other leaders — both sitting and former MPs — are demanding that the DP speak out boldly about the matter, terming the looming evictions a human rights violation.
An elected MP from Kericho on Friday wondered why Mr Ruto is not intervening to prevent his people from “inhumane evictions”.
“The Deputy President is our kingpin and he should speak out and stop the evictions,” the lawmaker said. “Why has he remained silent, leaving our people to suffer?”
Other leaders, including one-time powerful internal security permanent secretary Zakayo Cheruiyot, say they are surprised by the “deafening silence” from Mr Ruto. “I thought the Deputy President will step in and stop these criminal activities by the Jubilee government,” he said.
“The intended evictions are heartless and will cause a major humanitarian crisis in the targeted areas.”
The former Kuresoi South MP said several people forced out of the targeted areas have moved to Nakuru, Bomet and other neighbouring counties.
“I want to warn the government to tread carefully on the Mau forest matter. You cannot just wake up one day and decide to close schools and subject people to inhuman conditions because of environmental conservation.”
A year ago, Mr Ruto’s attempts to support the government’s decision to evict settlers who had encroached on the forest in Narok South constituency backfired when some South Rift leaders disowned him.
Perhaps this explains why the DP, whose eyes are fixed on succeeding President Uhuru Kenyatta, has chosen to remain mum over the emotive issue.
The evictions have caused sharp divisions between leaders from the Maasai and Kalenjin communities in the Rift Valley, with the latter demanding that the exercise be stopped.
Last month, some leaders, led by former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto, met former Prime Minister Raila Odinga in Nairobi and held a meeting in Nakuru with Baringo Senator and Kanu chairman Gideon Moi as they sought to have the impending evictions stopped.
The meeting was also seen as Mr Odinga’s renewed political interest in the vote-rich region. The closed-door meeting was attended by, among others, former Governor Ruto, Mr Cheruiyot, former MPs Franklin Bett (Bureti) and Paul Sang (Konoin).
A source close to the DP said he is keen not to allow the Mau issue to ruin his political ambitions, especially as he seeks to consolidate his vote-rich Rift Valley region.
“Dr Ruto does not want to create an easy way in which his rivals will take advantage of to make inroads in his backyard and divide the region; he is very cautious.”