By Emeka-Mayaka Gekara
When, in 2008, William Ruto donated foodstuff to internally displaced people at the Eldoret showground, many of them rejected the gesture.
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Human rights crusader Maina Kiai, who had accompanied Ruto, seen and acknowledged as a critic of the Mwai Kibaki regime, was forcibly ejected from showground by the angry victims of the post-election violence. Most of them were Kikuyus who had been uprooted from their homes in the Rift Valley in the violence that claimed an estimated 1,133 people and uprooted hundreds of thousands from their homes.
And when a rumour began circulating in central Kenya that President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga had settled on Ruto as the Internal Security minister during the March 2008 coalition negotiations, many reeled in disbelief.
At the time, William Ruto was the most hated politician in Mt Kenya. People from the region whose relatives had been killed could not reconcile themselves to the idea of Ruto as the minister in charge of police.
It was therefore unthinkable that President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ruto could cobble together an alliance that joined the two communities, and win the 2013 elections.
But two things made the alliance possible: the International Criminal Court, and Raila Odinga. The Economist dramatically characterised the Uhuru-Ruto pact as a “coalition of the accused’.
The two created a narrative that the ICC process was a scheme by foreigners and Odinga to lock them out of the presidency. They projected the then Prime Minister as their main rival, as the force behind the cases and rallied their communities and charged that they would be unsafe in an Odinga presidency. Their scheme succeeded.
Once they attained power, and in rosy support of him for supporting Uhuru to win the presidency, Ruto became a darling of Mt Kenya, often addressed as “our beloved deputy president” whenever he attended functions in the region. No Jubilee MP from the region could dare speak against Ruto.
Not any longer. He is now the punching bag of a section of Mt Kenya MPs who want him out of the 2022 presidential contest.
Under the arrangement pre-2013 coalition deal, Uhuru was to help Ruto succeed him 2022 after staying for two terms. But, with the ICC out of the way and Odinga having “defected” to government after a secret deal with President Kenyatta, is the UhuRuto alliance tenable? Ask nominated MP Maina Kamanda, his Nyeri town counterpart Ngunjiri Wambugu, former Jubilee party boss David Murathe and Peter Munga of the Kikuyu Council of Elders. Their answer is an emphatic no!
There is a raging anti-Ruto wave in central Kenya seemingly condoned by the President.
The Kamanda brigade has voiced the view that Mt Kenya, the President’s backyard, does not owe Ruto. Munga and his group of elders have suggested that Ruto should retire with the President, and that he has already been rewarded with the deputy presidency (allies of former President Mwai Kibaki made a similar argument in reneging on his agreement to support his then Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka ahead of the 2013 polls).
Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu claims the Deputy President’s allies are blackmailing Kikuyus living in the Rift Valley over possible violence if their Central Kenya counterparts won’t back him to succeed Kenyatta.
Tellingly, a new Kikuyu political song by Kimani wa Turacco titled – Tutiri thiiri wa mundu (Hatuna deni ya mtu) Kitaeleweka) – is enjoying acclaim in Central Kenya.
The song asks voters from Central region not to endorse Ruto’s presidential bid in 2022 just because he backed Kenyatta in two consecutive elections – 2013 and 2017.
The singer reminds his Kikuyu listeners of members of the community burnt in Kiambaa as testimony that they can forgive but never forget.
Like the council of elders, the song suggests that Ruto was paid his “political debt” by being appointed Deputy President.
“We can forgive but we cannot forget. Do not say they are saved. Being saved will not prevent him from plucking someone’s maize,” the singer says.
But Ruto has responded that no person, no community, no section of Kenya owes anybody – including himself– anything.
The anti-Ruto sentiment in Mt Kenya region gained momentum moments after President Kenyatta shook hands and signed a unity pact with Odinga on March 9. The thinking is here is that with Odinga on Kenyatta’s side, the deputy president was incapable of holding him hostage because his biggest rival had turned ally. The other is that Ruto was no longer a threat to the President.
Kamanda and his group have publicly called on the deputy President to resign over claims that his he is obstructing the war on corruption.
The critical question is while the President has reprimanded the Tanga group associated with Ruto for waging early campaigns, he has been silent on Kamanda and his ilk, who have been going round castigating his deputy.
Clearly, the politics of the handshake seems to have changed dynamics with Ruto suggesting that it is geared to derail his dream of attaining the presidency.
This has put Ruto warpath with Director of Criminal Investigations, George Kinoti and Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji, who he accuses of working with a “cartel” – evidently Raila Odinga and Kenyatta – to target him in the war against corruption.
‘The deputy president is a man on his own… Those who are saying mount kenya owe him nothing are speaking for a silent majority’ — Jubilee mp
Ruto and his allies claim the fight against corruption has been selective and that Kinoti is being used to trump up charges against cabinet secretaries and officials and associated with him. He claims the war lacks integrity, is fought on convenient half-truths and with political outcomes in mind.
Predictably, he blames his increasing woes on Odinga’s pact with Kenyatta, accusing opposition chief of fanning confusion within Jubilee and taking advantage of the handshake to scuttle their development agenda.
The two last month engaged in a public spat over the Kimwarer and Arror Dams scandal in which billions of shillings were stolen, with Odinga asking the DP to leave the matter to investigating agencies. The DP had gone public with a suggestion that the amount declared to have been lost was exaggerated.
But it is the President’s March 22 declaration in Namibia that not even “his closest political ally” would be spared in the war that has caused excitement. Many social media users reckoned that the President was alluding to Ruto. The President’s handlers later suspended the President’s social media handles to edit a clip to remove an “offending” segment (to the DP).
A jubilee MP from Mt Kenya who sought anonymity to speak freely on the matter said the fact that the President has not admonished the Kamanda group and the Kikuyu Council of Elders is telling.
In a sense, he is careful to avoid a backlash from Ruto’s Rift Valley base that could widen the political cleavage in his Jubilee party and disrupt implementation of his Big Four agenda, upon which he has staked his legacy.
“Ruto is a man on his own,” said the MP. “Those saying Mt Kenya owe him nothing are speaking for a silent majority,” confided the MP.
Meanwhile, Kalenjin politicians are crying betrayal and demanding assurance that the President and his community will back the DP. Save for a hurried stopover at the DP’s office last month, the President is quite ambivalent.
The shoe is on the other foot for Ruto. (