US pledges neutrality as Kenya polls gets into hyper-drive
By Nsikan Ikpe
Ahead of the August 8 presidential contest, concern is rising within the camp of incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta over the antics of Deputy president, William Ruto who is presently making friends and foes for the ticket with what has been described as his hard-ball politics
Indeed, checks show that Ruto is presently being seen as a politician who attracts both admiration and resentment in the fierce political competition ahead of the August 8 General Election.
Back to the heightening contest proper, though the Deputy President is himself not a presidential candidate in the August election, but he is seemingly fighting on more fronts than President Uhuru Kenyatta, winning himself love and loathing in equal measure. He also has choice and unflattering statements for his ‘enemies.’ And analysts say that given the nature of politics, where memories could be much deeper than the elephant’s, his caustic and acerbic remarks may indeed carry much further than he had intended.
One such example has to do with the case of former Devolution minister Anne Waiguru, whom he said was responsible for loss of cash at the National Youth Service “but is now busy cat-walking before us”.
On the man he seems to loathe the most, Opposition leader Raila Odinga, he calls him, “Yule jamaa wa waganga na vitendawili” (man of riddles and witchdoctors).
He has also implied that Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho was in criminal business while Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka, a former Vice President, was misled by Raila to prostrate on the tarmac in last year’s anti-IEBC commissioners’ protest.
Not done, he has equally gone beyond the verbal to have deeper fights with other Rift Valley leaders against whom he has fielded candidates in a bid to bring down politicians like Senator Gideon Moi and Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto as well as MPs who have disagreed with him; Alfred Keter, Johana Ng’eno and Zakayo Cheruiyot.
Others he has had tough fights with are Council of Governors chairman Peter Munya and former Justice Minister Martha Karua, who incidentally is also running for the Kirinyaga County governor’s seat alongside Waiguru. Wide-ranging interviews with critics and close allies of the man portray a politician who attracts both admiration and resentment in the fierce political competition ahead of the August 8 General Election.
Opposition leaders, who have isolated the DP for persistent attacks during their rallies, argue that Ruto is in their cross-hairs because of perceived arrogance and disrespect towards his critics. A break-away faction within the ruling Jubilee coalition, largely Ruto’s former allies in the now dissolved United Republican Party (URP), blame the rebellion in the Rift Valley on his perceived authoritarian leadership.
Equally, leaders of Kanu, which recently endorsed the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta after briefly flirting with the Opposition, albeit with strong disapproval of the Deputy President, accuse Ruto of fighting the independence party for articulating different viewpoints.
However, Ruto’s allies see these divergent groups united in their desire to tame the Deputy President as a scheme to halt the march of a politician seen as the ‘engine’ of the governing coalition. The staunchest of Ruto’s supporters claim his political achievements have made him the envy of many and those threatened by his rise are working tirelessly to bring him down.
“They know he is the future of Jubilee, he has risen politically more than them and appeals to the entire nation as an able leader besides his commitment to ensure a united Jubilee leadership. That is why they always dig on him in a bid to destabilise his grip. That is their only tactic to bring down the current Government ahead of the next elections,” argues Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen.
But Kuresoi South MP Zakayo Cheruiyot, who was elected on Ruto’s URP ticket in 2013 but has since fallen out with the DP, claims Ruto refused to listen to them (leaders) and turned into “a dictator”. “The DP put so much energy on 2022,” Cheruiyot said, alluding to Ruto’s desire to succeed President Kenyatta should he be re-elected.
“His ambition blinded him to the extent that he started fighting everyone who spoke his or her mind about the political arrangement he entered into with The National Alliance party,” Cheruiyot argues. He was referring to Ruto’s URP and Uhuru’s The National Alliance’s 2013 coalition agreement and the eventual merger of the parties into Jubilee Party that Cheruiyot and other rebel ruling coalition leaders, including Governor Ruto, have resisted.
Cheruiyot continues: “He ‘sold’ his genuine party and now Rift Valley people have a new home in Kanu and CCM (Mashinani Party), Vision Party and UDM.” The sentiments are shared by Kanu Secretary General Nick Salat, who explains that having worked with Ruto, his principle seems to be “his way or the highway”. “His is about him now and not tomorrow. He believes in programming everyone to his thinking,” argued Salat.
The Opposition’s National Super Alliance (Nasa) leaders Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula have stepped up their criticism of Ruto, who has derided them by claiming they have nothing to show for their collective “over 100 years” in power. “Ruto has placed himself in the line of fire because of his arrogance and disrespect towards other leaders. That is why he attracts such blame from the Opposition. I must say in terms of decorum and attitude towards other leaders, Uhuru is less boastful and less arrogant than Ruto,” argues Wetang’ula.
Keiyo South MP Jackson Kiptanui, however, says the direct attacks on Ruto on issues that are not even directly under his control as Deputy President are meant to give the impression that the Opposition does not have a problem with the President. “They want to create the impression that Ruto is the problem in Jubilee and that they are happy with the President. The intention is to portray the DP as not having huge support and that NASA has penetrated his region but it is all not working for them,” Kiptanui argues.
Jubilee nominated Senator Emma Mbura argues it is strategic to have the DP take on the Government’s critics ruthlessly to compliment President Uhuru, who at times appears diplomatic. “If the President and the DP had the same character the Opposition would be having a field day. The DP appears harsh and ruthless because he plays defence. That is the Jubilee leadership strategy,” Mbura explains.
ODM Chairman John Mbadi acknowledges that Ruto is ‘exposed’ because the President, by virtue of the presidency, commands respect, thus leaving his deputy susceptible to attack. “The presidency attracts respect in one way or the other in any jurisdiction and so Ruto is on the receiving end of the Opposition. He is the bad face of the Jubilee Administration,” claims Mbadi. “He steps on too many toes whenever he speaks,” explains Butere MP Andrew Toboso.
Funyula MP Paul Otuoma believes Ruto exposes himself to attacks because he seems to be playing the role of the Government’s mouthpiece. “President Uhuru is more of a hands-off person while his deputy is the complete opposite,” Otuoma opines. But Marakwet West MP William Kisang argues that by targeting Ruto, the DP’s rivals were merely concealing the Opposition’s attack on the President because it is Ruto who is close to Uhuru. “Ruto is working hard both at the grassroots and at the national level and by targeting him they hope to weaken the entire Jubilee house but that will not work because the DP has matured and is strategically playing his cards for the success of Jubilee,” said Kisang.
But both allies and critics agree that his apparent hold on the sizeable Rift Valley vote bloc and ambition for presidency in 2022 have made Ruto a target for political suitors. “A low-hanging fruit for NASA is the Rift Valley vote, which is being controlled by the DP; so his detractors feel disadvantaged. For example, Ruto was in the Opposition in 2007, nobody in Jubilee knows NASA better than Ruto. He speaks as a former insider,” explains Mukurweini MP Kabando wa Kabando. Kisang claimed that Ruto’s tight grip on the Kalenjin votes, which determines the outcome of national political contests, has also not gone well with his political opponents. “The Opposition’s main agenda is to split the vote by portraying him as disloyal to his people,” Kisang added.
Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria says: “The Opposition and a section of Rift Valley leaders are envious of him over his rise. They have bile against him due to what he has become. Raila is still bitter with Ruto since he still believes it’s him who denied him the presidency by supporting Uhuru. They know he is the engine behind the Jubilee government, which is why they have made him the target,” said Kuria. Chuka Igambang’ombe MP Muthomi Njuki adds that detractors are worried about his growing influence. “Ruto is the most aggressive in Jubilee, they know what he is capable of doing,” Njuki says.
Murkomen contends that Ruto poses the greatest threat to the Opposition’s political ambition, hence the campaign to discredit him. “They point at Ruto because they know President Uhuru will win in August anyway. Apart from the President, the DP is a stumbling block to the Opposition and all other leaders hoping to oust Jubilee,” he said. But Cheruiyot insists the South Rift region has genuine grievances. “There are some projects that he promised the residents like the rehabilitation of the Molo-Olenguruone road, which stalled as soon as it was launched,” said Cheruiyot. He also cited Keringet Stadium, whose contract was awarded to a contractor who he said left the site after excavations, as well as failure to effectively address concerns about agriculture, especially prices of maize and tea bonuses for farmers.
Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale claims: “Whenever he is in Kakamega, he insults me and tells people that the only economy I understand is that of bull-fighting.” “They are bitter that Ruto never consults them any more before making trips to Western, unlike in the past when they would be consulted in advance and even be asked to be present,” counters Mumias East legislator Benjamin Washiali. And Kilifi Senator Stewart Madzayo says: “The DP has a loose tongue and courts controversy every time he speaks out. He is not careful with words and this is not good for a leader of his stature.” Kwale County Woman Representative Zainab Chidzuga believes the DP has been a strong pillar of the Jubilee government.
Mombasa Jubilee point-man Suleiman Shahbal was also full of praise for Ruto: “The President and his deputy contest on the same ticket and therefore Kanu support for the re-election of the President essentially means endorsement of his deputy as well. The differences between Gideon (Moi) and Ruto do not affect Jubilee politics at the national level.” “Ruto is a brave politician who speaks out his mind although this is seen as arrogance by some politicians. Although he rubs some people the wrong way, the DP has always achieved visibility in Kenyan politics. Whether this will attract votes in 2022 is something that we should wait and see,” added political analyst Halim Shauri.