BY IAN RAMAS
Call it vanity or evident disregard for forces of ethnic gravity, ruling Jubilee Coalition apparatchiks are convinced that Deputy President William Samoei Ruto will, as a matter of routine, handily ascend to power in 2022. Perhaps this explains their enthusiasm over the Jubilee Alliance Party (JAP) as Ruto’s requisite vehicle to State House. Somehow, this cabal of all the (next) President’s men – to paraphrase the title of the American political blockbuster by journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein – that draw MP Aden Duale, and Senators Kipchumba Murkomen and Kithure Kindiki, among others, may just be right.
As the mechanic of politics, Ruto can scuttle the current Opposition construction and employ JAP to fuse (merge, in Kenya’s political lingua franca) the two key politico-ethnic voting machines – Kikuyu and Kalenjin. Not really a maxim. Didn’t Jomo Kenyatta, Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta scramble some spur-of-the-moment multi-ethnic coalitions to power to State House?
“There is a proposal that in 2017 we shall be under one political coalition. We would want the constituent parties to collapse into one party,” said Kindiki, considered Ruto’s likely running mate in 2022. “The new party will be a power to reckon with. We know who our flag bearers for the next 15 years will be. The others should also tell Kenyans who will carry their flag in the coming polls,” Duale weighed in, in apparent reference to Uhuru and his heir apparent, Ruto.
But will Ruto’s political mechanics work? Can the newfound JAP offer him the essential politico-ethnic boogaloo? That’s the dilemma; his dilemma. “The equation is far from being certain. The political arithmetic doesn’t easily add up,” says a political scholar at Eldoret’s Moi University. “Ahead lie exciting terms; and they’re very indeterminate!”
Implicitly, minefields bestrew Ruto’s State House quest. And the obstacles are two-fold: Public perception about his integrity (fidelity to good governance and rule of law) and Kenya’s treacherous ethnic voting pattern. This is Ruto’s waterloo, say political analysts.
The Lang’ata Primary School land-grab case is inadvertently ominous to Ruto’s fortunes. Nobody has come forth to claim his involvement, if any. In fact, the supposed owners of Weston Hotel have made it apparent that Ruto is hardly a shareholder in this tourist facility along Langata Road. But press caricatures and online platforms have been inundated with reports linking the DP to Weston Hotel.
You can hardly fault this perception. The Adrian Muteshi land case apart, Ruto has sued senators Johnstone Muthama, James Orengo, Elizabeth Ongoro, Boni Khalwale and Suna East MP Junet Mohamed for linking him to the high-profile grabbing of Karen land. Just last year, the court acquitted him of corruption charges relating to embezzlement of forestland.
And, alas, it’s not just land-grabbing that stalks Ruto, nay Jubilee Coalition. The power, energy, and agriculture (sugar and maize) sectors are reportedly awash with fraud. Interestingly these departments are headed by cabinet secretaries allied to the United Republican Party (URP) wing of the coalition.
Ruto may be a good mechanic of his own vehicle – the Kalenjin nation. Nevertheless, his political fortunes rest with his friends or political associates – and by extension Mt Kenya political leaders’ loyalty to political covenants, in particular presidential succession accords. It’s not a fallacy that Mt Kenya region has been rather less enthusiastic to back a non-Kikuyu for State House. Jomo Kenyatta viciously trashed a bond he had with his deputy, Oginga Odinga. Upon seizing power, Kibaki pretended not to recognise the man whose Tosha axiom propelled him to power in December 2002.
Implicitly, cynics expect Uhuru to preserve this vicious cycle of political infidelity. But he has publicly stated his intention to have Ruto succeed him although it’s not clear yet how he can make this possible, for he has just one vote. He can only campaign for Ruto and hope that his fellow Kikuyus will want to look beyond their Mt Kenya region for a president.
The fog is still thick. But Mt Kenya’s political drift will be clearer once Uhuru is re-elected – if it happens. Multitudes in Central Kenya christened Raila njamba (hero, in Kikuyu language) during his tours in the area in 2003. They would later treat him as a villain when he took on Kibaki for the right to occupy State four years later.
Thus, Ruto’s faith lays in the trust that Odingaism is at the centre of the deceptive “Kikuyu” brand of exclusion politics. Didn’t Moi, with the help of the all-powerful Charles Njonjo, take over from Kenyatta? Yes, but the functional word is take-over not hand-over. Moi, decades-on end, battled claims that he employed tactics aimed at destabilising the Kikuyu economy – to the extent that a top politician from Central Kenya once claimed that his tribe made a mistake to relinquish the presidency to “these herdsmen from the Rift Valley”.
To succeed Uhuru, Ruto has to constellate the Mt Kenya bloc – and then reach out to non-Kalenjin voters. He will have to work hard to override history.
There hasn’t been any apparent ruckus in Jubilee. In public displays of affection, Uhuru and Ruto are chums – even without sporting similar ties. It is thus baffling that unity is suddenly on top of Jubilee’s heap of priorities. In fact, it’s a clarion call to action.
Is there something that hasn’t boiled to the fore? “Coalitions are very delicate and so much happens within them that hardly come to the fore. Maybe something is happening in Jubilee that we are yet to see boil over. Maybe they are out to pre-empt something,” says the Moi university scholar.
That something is simmering within the coalition is not in doubt. All may appear well but “behind the scenes (are) struggles pitting members (of TNA and URP) … against each other” said The Standard in a recent article. Uhuru and Ruto’s “troops are involved in fierce undercuts with each side accusing the other of political mischief”.
Isaac Ruto, the Bomet governor, once the DP’s political soul mate but now a fierce critic, is said to enjoy the support of TNA diehards out to counter the DP’s influence in the vast Rift valley. Already there’s talk to the effect that the governor can replace the DP in case of a fall-out in the coalition. “While they want to portray Uhuru as the gentleman, they are at the same time seeking to portray Ruto as the face of impunity,” says Homa Bay Town MP Peter Kaluma.
There’s a story the Jubilee machinery would be keen to leave under wraps: Gideon Moi’s likely role in the post ICC Ruto era. Is he or isn’t he interested in Ruto’s DP seat?
Indeed, it is hardly a secret that TNA politicos uncomfortable with Ruto’s position in the coalition arrangement regard Gideon as deputy president in-waiting. He is likely to play a key role if the DP is convicted by the International Criminal Court based in The Hague, Netherlands. Gideon may also feature in Uhuru’s political structure if Ruto attempts to pull out of Jubilee arrangement – or is shoved aside.
There’s no love lost between the DP and former President Daniel arap Moi, analysts say. Effectively, in the State House construction of Kenya politics, Ruto is a rank outsider. He is considered the altar boy.
The heavy legal artillery that demolished Uhuru’s case at The Hague seems to have stalled in the Ruto defence. It was dramatic in the Uhuru case; it is conspicuously absent in Ruto’s case, according to a URP top official.
“There are … murmurs in the URP camp that TNA has not been enthusiastic about Ruto’s case, given the vigour with which it rallied African Union to oppose proceedings against the President … there are also concerns that Ruto has been quietly shuttling from Nairobi to The Hague, in contrast to the fanfare that surrounded Uhuru’s one trip to status conference on October 19, 2014, the third largest newspaper, The Star, recently wrote.
TNA apparatchiks are said to be unhappy with Ruto’s frequent trips to Meru, Coast and western Kenya. They are convinced that the DP is already marshalling multi-ethnic back-up for a presidential run in 2017.
It is against this backdrop that those opposed to Jubilee Alliance Party find its formation strange – if not strategic. It’s meant to deal with Ruto’s ambitions, critics say. Once he folds his URP, he may not have enough time to start and popularise it ahead of 2017 or 2022.
“Kenya is a democratic state and we will not join it just to fight someone who is thought to be strong. We are not here to fight anyone. Kenyans will elect the people they prefer in 2017, 2022 and beyond,” says Meru governor Peter Munya. “We do not want to be part of a plot to return us into the single party era.”
JAP, according to some Jubilee insiders, is an extension of Kenya’s exclusion politics – which saw Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki whimsically kill adversarial parties. “URP is Ruto’s soul. If you target it, you’ll have knifed the deputy president’s soul,” says a URP insider.
This explains why the TNA spin machine went into overdrive to allay apparent fears that JAP targeted Ruto. “It is a well-known fact among our supporters that President Kenyatta will serve his two terms and then pass on the baton to William Ruto. There is no reason why we cannot start uniting Kenyans now as we prepare to sweep the board in the next General Election,” TNA MP Maina Kamanda told the media.
Indeed, analysts were fast in isolating TNA’s desperate attempt to draw a link between JAP and Ruto. “They are aware that Rift Valley is suspicious given the history of political parties created at the eleventh hour to isolate dissenters,” says the URP official. NARC and PNU were opportunistic parties, and they served their objective. Kanu “swallowed” the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) before Raila Odinga could construct it into a meaningful political outfit.
It may be hardly difficult for Ruto to respond to concerns about his fidelity to good governance. But he may find it increasingly tough to constellate the Mt Kenya vote.