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Handshake must now rise way above narrow Stop Ruto agenda

Saturday July 20 2019

Deputy President William Ruto

Deputy President William Ruto addressing residents of Kiamaiko, Nairobi, after attending a church service in the area on July 14,2019. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

ISAAC OTIDI AMUKE
By ISAAC OTIDI AMUKE
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On Sunday, Deputy President William Ruto shocked many when he tweeted: “So our democracy is so liberal that the SG of the ruling party has become the chief strategist of the opposition! Maajabu.”

This was in reaction to the Sunday Nation’s cover story, in which ruling party Jubilee’s secretary general and Cabinet Secretary without portfolio Raphael Tuju was reported to be playing a significant role inside African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development Raila Odinga’s kitchen cabinet.

SCORNFUL

Erstwhile foes, Mr Tuju and Mr Odinga warmed up to each other following the March 9, 2018 handshake between Mr Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta. The Odinga-Kenyatta truce neutralised the anti-Jubilee sentiment, especially in the ODM leader’s Nyanza backyard, where Mr Tuju stood out like a sore thumb.

That the governing party’s secretary general has gone too deep into Mr Odinga’s political machine too soon must come as a surprise not only to Dr Ruto but to many political observers, yet it is the Deputy President’s lamenting tweet that caught attention.

By publicly reacting to the Sunday Nation story in a half-sarcastic and half-scornful way, Dr Ruto was once again chiding the Odinga-Kenyatta power arrangement, of which the likes of Mr Tuju are enforcers. It was a continuation of the jabs the pro- and anti-handshake brigades have kept trading, a game in which the Deputy President has become a master of sorts since it plays right into his dynasties-versus-hustlers narrative.

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These developments, among others – including Dr Ruto’s recent sentiments in Eldama Ravine where he urged residents not to be intimidated by anyone, saying he was ready for whatever comes his way as he marches towards 2022 – go to show an ever emboldened Deputy President, who either has nothing to lose, is willing to risk and lose everything, or has thrown caution to the wind altogether.

Being the deputy party leader of Jubilee, Dr Ruto is above Mr Tuju in the party’s pecking order, meaning the Deputy President could have chosen to address his issues with the secretary general using internal party structures. The fact that he resorted to Twitter further illustrates the spectacular falling apart of Jubilee, where it has become the norm for dirty linen to be hanged in public for anyone who cares to enjoy the view.

ISOLATED

However, the overarching message the Deputy President seems to be sending is that he will neither retreat nor be silenced, such that if his stay and clout within Jubilee is curtailed, he will make his thoughts known on Twitter.

That said, no one can entirely blame the Deputy President for resorting to this scorched earth guerrilla tactics where anything and everything goes. Following the handshake, Dr Ruto has been sidelined and isolated both politically and administratively within Jubilee and in government.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiang’i has been given more clout – some see him as a de facto chief minister – with a number of Cabinet secretaries, particularly from the Mount Kenya region, appearing to be disregarding seniority within the administration by developing the habit of looking Dr Ruto in the eye and speaking at him as semi-equals.

To the Deputy President’s mind and those of his foot soldiers, these difficulties are a direct result of the handshake. And if Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta chose to deal with him in this way, then Dr Ruto must wonder why he would need to be considerate when dealing with the two principals or their surrogates? In the final analysis, both Dr Ruto and the handshake crew have shown their hand.

BATTLE-READINESS

The important question therefore is: Who between the Deputy President and those in the Odinga-Kenyatta axis will be the “bigger person” and spare the country the dirty linen race to the bottom?

Some may disagree, but by continuously standing up to Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta, Dr Ruto could be earning points as the underdog who is sticking his neck out against the overbearing sons of the founding fathers.

This means that the more the Odingas and the Kenyattas imagine they have no formidable challenger, the more Dr Ruto gets emboldened, well aware that the handshake political conglomerate underestimates his battle-readiness. Importantly, there can be no guarantees that the Deputy President won’t be significantly consequential.

This then begs the question: What are Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta to do to avert the escalation of the already political mud fight? The handshake team, if they were to operate above fray, need to show the country that theirs is beyond the narrow Stop Ruto agenda, and start communicating a different message to the country, using a different language.

Failure to do so will see them remain stuck at the on-going mud-wrestling level.

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