By Kenyatta Otieno
William Ruto, the former Christian Union leader who once led university student delegations to see former President Moi, is facing the political battle of his life. In 1992, he got in with the infamous Youth for KANU (YK’92), cutting his political teeth under Cyrus Jirongo, whose outfit played extremely dirty to help Moi win the first multiparty elections.
Ruto then helped one William Saina rig out Reuben Chesire during 1992 KANU nominations for Eldoret North Constituency. He would later beat Chesire, who was Moi’s preferred candidate in 1997, to clinch the seat. Afterwards, he had a brief association with former YK’92 leaders and Kipruto Kirwa in the United Democratic Movement, a political outfit crafted by young KANU MPs after December 1997.
In one conversation a while back, Kirwa says Jirongo went back to Kanu after the elections, but only after asking the consent of UDM members; Ruto did not. And when a journalist asked Ruto about UDM, he responded that he did not even know what UDM stood for! That marked the beginning of mainstream politics for Ruto, as a thorough system boy who could lie without batting an eyelid.
As KANU’s elections director, he stuck with Moi’s choice of an unpopular Uhuru Kenyatta as his preferred successor in 2002, exhibiting remarkable steadfastness, and even campaigning against the 2005 draft constitution, which was defeated. When Raila Odinga’s NO camp prevailed, the Kalenjin began to warm towards his ODM towards 2007 elections, and they wanted Ruto in with them.
He hesitated and for good reason; associating with Raila meant going into the opposition proper; he did not want that. Accustomed to the trappings of being in government, his affiliation with Kanu, and therefore the opposition, was out of loyalty to his benefactor, Moi, not principle. But he saw a chance to inherit Kalenjin loyalty, and jumped on the bandwagon.
The controversial swearing in of Mwai Kibaki’s PNU, subsequent post-election violence and the PNU-ODM coalition government brought out Ruto’s real colours. He would soon fall out with Raila and bolt out to UDM, and later URP. It is at this point that he began to be associated with mega scandals beginning with the maize saga. It is reported that when it erupted, he almost came to blows with Martha Karua during a cabinet meeting when she accused him of engineering it. His infamous violent streak, hitherto well camouflaged, had come to light. He was promptly fired, but he was allowed the dignity of stepping down.
The criminal charges against him and his boss at The Hague is a well-documented episode. The cases collapsed. Ruto was properly in government now. The system owned him.
Chesire, the man he once helped rig in, once claimed that Ruto punched him in the face at State House. Cyrus Jirongo also made some highly personal but revealing statements about the DP in Trans Nzoia during the funeral of Jacob Juma. These two accounts paint him as a vindictive man who is unafraid of using his power to get what he wants. It is rumoured that this is a streak that scares those who would support his bid.
During the referendum in 2010, Raila chose to support the constitution. That decided it for Ruto; he joined the opposing side in a vigorous but eventually futile campaign to discredit the document. Going through news archives, it is difficult to point out his bone of contention, leading to the inevitable conclusion that his only problem was that Raila Odinga was in the YES team. His enterprise for vendetta – abandoning a landmark social cause because of his dislike for one man – had revealed itself.
When he became Deputy President in 2013, his URP allies, which was in charge of key ministries like Energy and Agriculture, engaged in grand corruption schemes that saw the likes of Davies Chirchir and Felix Kosgei axed in an attempt by President Kenyatta to sanitise his administration. Then, like now, his cronies cried foul, citing a systematic scheme to tarnish the name of the DP. Then, like now, that didn’t fly.
When TNA and URP folded to form Jubilee Party, I question, in this magazine, if Ruto knew what he was getting into. He would rue that decision, I decided. Today, the wheels are turning; JP may be Ruto’s political pit.
After last year, Uhuru has been covertly critical of his deputy. He wants a clean run, he has stated. Ruto sees that as a betrayal of their arrangement. But the DP cannot publicly throw a tantrum about it, as it would disenfranchise him from the Central Kenya block he so desperately needs. Now it is whispered in the DP’s circles that if the Kikuyu fail to support him, they will “deal with them” in Rift Valley. It is not a whisper the Kikuyu elite uncomfortable with a Ruto presidency is talking lightly.
After giving out title deeds in Embakasi in May, President Kenyatta let the cat of the bag when, in an off the cuff remark, he inadvertently called Ruto a loiterer.
Although the DP attempted to make light of the remark during Madaraka Day by submitting an oral report from his loitering escapades, the damage had been done. Those who know will tell you, not every political statement justifies a substantiation.
At the beginning of the 20th Century in 1908, Americans protested horse driven carriages in cities because of the ensuing pollution.
There were about 120,000 horses in New York then, which drew a lament from citizens about contamination and air pollution. Their replacement was automobiles, whose adverse environmental effects are fifty times worse. Uhuru Kenyatta has not been the president he promised he would be, and Kenyans report a lot of complaints. But there are those who argue, replacing Ruto with Uhuru might to be a case of replacing horses with cars.
The political environment after the last poll was not going to make it easy for Uhuru to cement his legacy. To help his cause, the President reached out to Raila Odinga for that masterstroke of a handshake.
As things stand, ODM is in a partnership with the ‘TNA arm’ of Jubilee Party, and the DP’s camp is already feeling disenfranchised.
Ruto is in panic mode. Of course, he is a political genius, and might just have the right cards to play, but a pacifying result is hardly likely. The high table has been laid; let’s wait for invitations to dinner in 2022.
It is nothing peculiar, really, for all illustrious political careers must end in failure. It is the rule. (