Ruto Coast visit exposes strains with local allies
Deputy President William Ruto week-long tour of Coast has stirred political waters in the region after months of a lull that had seen some of his allies abandon him.
The visit, coming just a day after President Uhuru Kenyatta’s tour of the region, point to a widening rift in the ruling Jubilee, with some leaders saying the visit amounted to undermining the Head of State.
Uhuru had just completed an inspection tour of development projects in the region covering Kwale, Kilifi, Lamu and Tana River counties when Ruto came calling with similar “inspection of development projects” visit.
“By coming to Coast just a day after his boss shows the two are pulling in different directions. Ruto wanted to assert his position as the fear-no-one politician who can chat his own path,” said Hassan Mwakimako of Pwani University.
But unlike previous visits, majority of local leaders among them governors, senators and MPs did not attend Ruto’s meetings.
Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya, his Taita Taveta counterpart Granton Samboja and some rebel ODM legislators who have been backing his 2022 presidential bid, gave the visit a wide berth.
The leaders appeared to have heeded calls by the President to refrain from early campaigns when he met them at State House, Mombasa. Majority of elected leaders from the region including all the six governors, senators and MPs had attended the State House meeting.
During previous visits, Ruto would be accompanied by more than 20 legislators, but some appear to have chickened out due to threat of being expelled from their parties and the pressure to stop early campaigns.
Mwakimako said Ruto is keen to wrestle about 1.7 million registered voters from Opposition leader Raila Odinga whose ODM party holds a majority of elective seats in the region. The six Coast counties overwhelmingly voted for Raila in the 2013 and 2017 polls.
“He must chat his own path and build a network that will help him win the hearts of the people,” said Mwakimako.
Kilifi political activist Joseph Chipa said Ruto’s visit was like sending a warning shot that he is an equal partner in the government and that he can chat a direction for himself.
“Ruto is using government projects to build and extend his network. He is a clever politician and there is no way Uhuru or Raila will be able to stop him,” said Chipa.
Apart from Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa who has remained steadfast in her support of the DP, others like Msabweni MP Suleiman Dori have since ditched the camp after he survived expulsion from ODM.
Owen Baya (Kilifi North), Gertrude Mbeyu (Kilifi Woman Rep) and Bejamin Tayari (Kinango) also seem to have also developed cold feet after ODM warned them of disciplinary action.
However, the DP has got a new catch in Mohammed Ali of Nyali and Naomi Shaban of Taveta who accompanied him during the tour.
Badi Twalib (Jomvu), Khatib Mwashetani (Lunga Lunga), Paul Katana (Kaloleni), Ali Wario (Garsen), Kassim Tandaza (Matuga), Christine Zawadi (Nominated) and Athman Shariff (Lamu East) have remained in Ruto’s camp.
“In the last three months, his popularity in the region appears to have gone down with some local legislators drifting away,” said Mwakimako.
Speaking during the tour, Ruto said no amount of pressure would stop him from inspecting development projects across the country.
Addressing residents in Tana River, Kilifi, Mombasa, Kwale and Taita Taveta counties, he said he would continue to commission projects despite the “political noise” against his visits.
“We will continue with the projects whether some leaders like it or not because wananchi need these projects,” he said in Mtwapa where he helped raise funds for a youth and women empowerment programme.
In Taita Taveta, Ruto stirred a storm when asked Governor Samboja to stop his efforts to have the county government dissolved and instead resolve the differences with the County Assembly.
In response, Samboja, who has been a close ally of the DP, accused him of meddling in the county’s affairs.
Samboja said he did not need advice from Ruto on how to resolve the budget tussle between him and MCAs.
“I will not allow anyone to insult us. It doesn’t matter whether you are the DP or governor. We deserve respect. Ruto should keep his 2022 politics out of Taita Taveta,” Samboja said
He added: “We respect the Deputy President but he must respect us. That is why since I began campaign to dissolve the county government, I have not stepped in his office. We have the formula to resolve our issues. Our petition will be taken to the President and not Ruto. What the President will say is what we will follow.”
Ruto said Jubilee was open to work with all leaders regardless of political inclination.
“We will work with anyone without considering which political party they come from…we will break the barriers of hate and focus on development,” he said.
The DP said the government was keen to ensure common wananchi are uplifted.
Ruto faulted Coast residents for being “too economical with Jubilee votes” during previous elections pleading with them to consider him in future.
Jumwa has asked residents to support Ruto and ignore the push for a review of the Constitution saying it was aimed at creating positions give relevance to “political retirees” in future elections.
“If we must change the constitution, then it should be for the benefit of the Charos, Kitsaus, Karisas and Damas…but if it is in the business of creating positions for a few individuals, then we will have the last say,” Jumwa said.