Ruto: Political genius or reckless gambler?
It could either be a big gamble or an act of genius for Deputy President William Ruto who has adopted an unfamiliar political campaign strategy of directly engaging ordinary wananchi instead of regional kingpins.
While opposition chief Raila Odinga appears keen to build an alliance using regional leaders such governors, senators and community heavyweights, Ruto has been going round the country accompanied by a group of political greenhorns drumming up support for his Hustler movement.
In fact, Ruto has been accusing President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila of assembling tribal chiefs to fight his State House ambitions.
While Raila attracts the support of Uhuru and regional bigwigs such as Governors Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega), Hassan Joho (Mombasa), James Ongwae (Kisii), Charity Ngilu (Kitui) and recently won the hearts of Mt Kenya county chiefs such Kiraitu Murungi (Meru) and Ndiritu Muriithi (Laikipia), Ruto seems to have placed his faith on mostly first term Members of Parliament and support of the Kalenjin nation.
Besides the regional leaders, the activities of Cabinet Secretaries is indicative that the government machinery has been activated for Raila with the leaders of the other political parties being asked to support his 2022 presidential campaign.
There seems to be a clear strategy as demonstrated by the Mt Kenya Foundation to help the former Prime Minister to gain the confidence of regions that traditionally voted against him, especially the Kikuyu nation, which was initially tilting heavily towards Ruto.
And probably an indication that the tide could be shifting, key leaders from Mt Kenya region have endorsed Raila, with signals that some of Ruto’s allies could be marking their time.
One of Ruto’s allies in the region, former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri, who lost his ministerial position due to his Ruto links, admits that the ground in Mt Kenya was gradually shifting to the DP’s disadvantage, saying “things are not the way they were two months ago”.
“The people are beginning to speak about issues that were never being talked about.
Two months ago, nobody was talking about the mountain being climbed by any other person.
We had known that only one person who had looked for votes, my friend William Samoei Ruto, and it was unthinkable Raila Odinga could make it to set foot in Mt Kenya region.
We thought that if he dared, he would get stoned,”said Kiunjuri, who was being touted as a possible Ruto running mate.
Mt Kenya Foundation
Kiunjuri said that while Raila was keen on consolidating support from regional leaders, professionals and small parties across the country, Ruto, who is associated with the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party, has taken a lone ranger approach that could shrink his support base and injure his presidential ambitions.
He cautioned leaders allied to the DP against belittling Uhuru, who has openly shown that he was backing Raila, by suggesting he will have no influence in the 2022 succession.
“Even if you disagree with Uhuru Kenyatta, he still has influence and whatever he will say there is someone who will be injured. Even if I had 10 people and you took away one from me, the number reduces.”
Raila also has the support of governors Lee Kinyanjui (Nakuru), Martin Wambora (Embu), Muthomi Njuki (Tharaka Nithi), Francis Kimemia (Nyandarua), James Nyoro (Kiambu), the powerful Mt Kenya Foundation and a host of current and former MPs.
“UDA is saying that they want to go it alone and that other leaders must fold their parties to join them.
As they do that and continue chest thumping, Raila is in Mt Kenya region and is saying that he has no issue with them. Ndiritu and Munya have agreed to work with him through their Party of National Unity.
When he went to Meru, he told Kiraitu he doesn’t have issues with his party that is being rejected by UDA,” Kiunjuri said.
But Ruto has been dismissive about what he calls tribal alliances.
There has also been a strong push for the One Kenya Alliance leaders to back Raila.
The alliance brings together Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi of Amani National Congress, Kanu’s Gideon Moi and Moses Wetang’ula of Ford Kenya.
“I want to tell you that, as you plan to team up, these Kenyans are not interested in your coalitions, they don’t even want to know who you are competing with but are only interested in their social-economic transformation to be able to get money in their pockets,” Ruto said recently.
Prof Edward Kisiangani, a member of Ruto’s think tank, told People Daily last evening what the DP has done is to empower the bottom of the base and a few regional leaders are panicking.
“Kingpins are the biggest fraud borne out of a few people who want to think on our behalf. There is no fight between classes, it is work.
Ruto is not desperate to become president he wants to change the thinking that kingpins must be on the table.
All he wants is to empower the base so that it does not hand over bills to the top.
They need good healthcare, food on their tables and jobs for their children, not handouts.”
He added: “Ruto’s association with ‘hustlers’ is a game changer; there is nothing about rich versus the poor.
How many regional leaders have paid your bills? With the right structure you can make your family comfortable.
Those are angry people who want us to cheer for them when they defecate on us.
What does Raila, Kalonzo or Mudavadi have to show for their kingpin statuses?”
Political pundits argue that the move by the DP to disregard regional leaders who have political influence among their people could be his biggest undoing and could lead to a major exodus from his movement. Others argue that Ruto’s insistence that his allies must fold up their parties and join UDA could lead to a revolt in favour of Raila.
Dr Richard Bosire, a Political Science lecturer at University of Nairobi, says given that Kenyan politics were still laced with tribal interests, and the experience leaders went through after they folded their parties to form Jubilee in 2017, it was unhealthy for Ruto to suggest they collapse their parties and join UDA or ship out.
On the other hand, Raila has indicated that he will sign coalition agreements with like-minded political outfits, a move that could open a window for new allies.
“The DP has refused to learn from what they did in 2017 when they coerced small parties in order to form the Jubilee Party.
Kiunjuri and Kiraitu have an experience on what happened and they do not want to go through the same again and here the DP is telling them to join UDA.
They, together with Moses Kuria, Martha Karua and Munya want to keep their parties because of past experience,” said Dr Bosire.
“Also, the DP’s abrasiveness and chest thumping is getting many people dejected. Any fallout will injure his candidature,” Kiunjuri said.
While using Meru as an example, he said Kiraitu controls about 55 per cent support while Munya has 45 per cent which could go to Raila’s basket.
Other leaders from the region, among them former assistant minister Kilemi Mwiria, EALA MP Mpuru Apuri as well as respected professionals such as Titus Ibui who is the vice chair of the Mt Kenya Foundation and former Public Service head Francis Muthaura have also thrown their weight behind the ODM leader.
“In Meru, Munya and Kiraitu have joined the Raila camp. Those leaders are opinion shapers, meaning that if Raila didn’t have anything in Meru, the two leaders can bring 30 per cent.
If you do the same for Murang’a, they also bring 30 per cent. The margin in our presidential votes is by about one million votes.
If Mt Kenya region casts six million votes, and Raila gets 30 per cent of that, it is about 1.5 million votes,” said Kiunjuri.
“If you go to the North Eastern region, key leaders came together and formed a party called Upya and they are working with Raila.
Today Raila and Ruto have about 50-50 per cent support each in the region. If you go to the Coast region, his support is 50 per cent; in Eastern he has his percentage.
And that is why we must talk to our people and we should decide whether we want to be in the opposition or in government,” the former minister said.
But the DP’s allies argue that his approach of circumventing regional leaders will endear him directly to the people.
Keiyo South MP Daniel Rono, a staunch Ruto supporter, defended the DP’s approach of circumventing regional leaders, saying it endears him to the people directly.
“The DP is the leader of the Hustler nation and the hustlers are the majority in this country.
You do not need a kingpin to reach hustlers if they support you. We are requesting those with small parties to fold them and come, we strengthen what we have because that is where the people are and the DP knows it. If they choose not to, they will be hanging on a thread.
And If they decide to side with Jubilee and Raila, they will be digging a deep grave or going to the desert where there is no water,” Rono told People Daily.