The ugly side of early ’22 poll campaign
Claims of assassination plots (one of them against Deputy President William Ruto) heightened hostility between the DP and Opposition leader Raila Odinga turf wars between Kieleweke and Tanga Tanga factions of the ruling Jubilee Party—which culminated in Monday night’s violent political protests in Murang’a—are just some of the pointers to the ugly side of premature campaigns ahead of the 2022 General Election.
And although President Uhuru Kenyatta has repeatedly warned politicians against premature campaigns, his lieutenants have not relented in staging political rallies some under the guise of “working trips”.
On several occasions, Raila has hit out at Ruto over early campaigns. But akin to the Swahili adage, “nyani haoni kundule (a monkey cannot see its backside)”, Ruto and Raila are locked in a blame game over who between them is stocking the political embers, with premature campaigns.
Last month, Raila tore into Ruto’s political conduct accusing him of defying his boss’ warning against premature campaigns: “His premature 2022 presidential campaigns are designed to undermine the BBI and scuttle the constitutional reforms,” said Raila at a funeral in Siaya.
However, speaking at Upper Baricho Primary School in Kirinyaga last Saturday, Ruto claimed it was Raila who had plunged the country into an early campaign mood “through his persistent agitation for constitutional changes”.
Ruto-Raila ping pong aside, the political situation within the ruling party has turned toxic with Kieleweke and Tanga Tanga wings, believably allied to the President and DP, engaging in vicious political battles.
On Monday night, the situation turned ugly after youths in Murang’a engaged in violent protests following the arrest of Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro (of Tanga Tanga) following last Sunday’s fracas at Gitui Catholic Church in Murang’a, which disrupted a fundraiser graced by Nominated MP Maina Kamanda of Kieleweke team.
On Tuesday, Jubilee MPs allied to the DP claimed Tanga Tanga members were being persecuted by State machinery for allegedly holding political opinion contrary to that of Interior CS Fred Matiang’i and PS Karanja Kibicho.
The isolation of Matiang’i and Kibicho for blame is a pointer to a more serious and deeply rooted quandary as they are ideally the face of the President.
So lethal have the confrontations become that claims of assassination have featured. In June, Cabinet secretaries Peter Munya (Trade), Sicily Kariuki (Health) and Joe Mucheru (ICT), appeared before the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) over an alleged plot to eliminate Ruto. According to Munya, the move was geared at stopping Ruto’s 2022 bid.
On Sunday night, Kandara MP Alice Wahome, separately claimed a plot had been hatched to eliminate her and Nyoro.
She said the move is aimed at frustrating the Ruto-allied politicians in Central Kenya from supporting his presidential ambitions.
The grave repercussions of premature campaigns notwithstanding, MPs allied to the DP have vowed to continue “doing our thing”, according to Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wa, “because the Constitution guarantees our freedom of speech and association, which includes joining political caucus of choice”.
And exonerating Raila from blame for engineering premature campaigns, ODM’s secretary for political affairs Opiyo Wandayi said his boss and the party will continue drumming up support for the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI)—a product of the symbolic Handshake between him and Uhuru in March 2018: “This does not, in any way, amount to electoral campaigns. Ours is a push for electoral justice and harmony.”
It is understandable why the President’s words have fallen on deaf ears. The political stakes are so high for the top political figures.
As DP, Ruto is proverbially a heartbeat away from the presidency and is accordingly under intense pressure to be on the ballot in 2022. The Constitution further gives him little room for manoeuvre or negotiations with prospective political partners.
Article 148(8) of the Constitution states that “a person shall not hold office as Deputy President for more than two terms”. Thus, the DP has only two options—to vie for presidency or to opt out of the race.
And losing the election is not an acceptable option for Ruto who is serving a second term as second-in-command.
Holding onto the solid support of voters in his Rift Valley backyard for over two decades may prove complex. In 2007 Ruto managed to rally the support of his Kalenjin nation behind Raila and twice (in 2013 and 2017) behind Uhuru.
The same voting bloc will most certainly rally behind Ruto’s bid in 2022. However, total support may not be guaranteed in 2027 if his bid flops in the polls.
As for Raila, he does not anticipate another presidential electoral impasse. Just like the President, he looks forward to a smooth and democratic process that will earn him a favourable legacy.
With an anticipated freer and fairer process, courtesy of the BBI, the 74-year-old politician hopes to conclude his political career with an undisputed elector victory in the presidential contest.
But even if he does not contest, as he has recently hinted, Raila’s backers have vowed to stop the DP’s ascendency to the presidency by supporting a potent Ruto challenger.