Tripping badly: Why Raila has got it all wrong with the Rift Valley

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Deputy President William Ruto with former President Daniel Moi at Lelgotet firm , Tinderet , Nandi County.Photo/DPPS

In 2013 shortly after the election of Uhuru Kenyatta, retired President Daniel Moi reportedly told the Kalenjin people that if they had listened to him in 2002, it would have been their turn at the presidency. To him, they had wasted a good decade in defiance after they rejected his choice of Uhuru Kenyatta and had paid for it dearly when Kibaki became president. While it sounded like Moi was having the last laugh, others were left wondering what exactly he was saying. What he didn’t tell those listening was which Kalenjin would have been president in 2012 had Uhuru had become president in 2002. You can be certain he did not have William Ruto in mind. You would be right to suspect that he probably had his son Gideon in mind. Moi’s hold on the vote rich Rift Valley would have ensured this arrangement would have been done and dusted.

Until his retirement in 2002, President Moi held great sway over the Rift Valley, a block he had represented since his Legco days in 1955. In 1963 he was elected as the President of the Rift Valley Regional Assembly further giving him a firm grip over the region.

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The King-making block

Today the Rift is the single largest vote bloc in Kenya. In the last voter records, it is home to 3.7 million votes, a figure that is set to rise to over four million in the next few months. As per the last census, there are a total of ten million Kenyans living in the Rift Valley accounting for a fourth of Kenya’s population. It has 14 counties with Nakuru as the most populous at 1.6 million residents.

The death of pastoralism among the Kalenjin has seen their population greatly swell and is projected to be the second largest community in the next few years and the largest by 2040. As the single largest vote bloc, whoever has the heart of the Rift Valley has the Presidency. It is as simple as that. The disclaimer however is that it is generally also a divided block with each sub-region tending to vote its own way. This may account for about 25 to 35 per cent of the Rift votes and tend to exist in the fringes (extreme north and south as well as portions of the Western Rift). However, the bulk is likely to vote Jubilee because the Kalenjins and the Kikuyu form the largest part of the voting numbers and they have two principals within the Jubilee line-up.

Understanding the Rift Valley

After the abolishing of the administrative provinces, the Rift Valley today exists more in the minds of the people that once lived within its geographical boundaries. It has since morphed into a ‘psycho-political’ bloc meaning that the politics of the region are defined through the associative characteristics of the old Rift Valley as it was understood in the 70 years that the province existed. The Rift Valley was a mammoth province created to put together three main pastoralist communities – the Turkana, Kalenjins and Maasai into one fold. It was also home to the bulk of the settler community who occupied its choicest lands particularly in the highlands.

The province was nearly evenly divided between these communities which tended to hold onto the pre-capitalist mode of production (livestock, pastureland, watering points, salt-licks, un-monetized markets among others). Access to these was largely dictated by weather patterns that saw them engage in itinerant pastoralism for the thriving of their livestock. It was therefore not surprising that the Rift Valley became the home of the drive to create ‘Majimbo’ or a federal state to preserve the resources that supported their ancient ways. They were deeply wary of incursions and forays by foreigners and non-indigenous people. Over the years however, the people of the Rift Valley began to appreciate the resources they had and began to adopt the modern economy although the vestiges of the old ways remain hard to crack to this day.

The livestock economy in the Rift Valley today is a major driver of intra-regional conflict pitting various communities against each other. The Rift Valley therefore needed a resource nationalist to hold them together. Moi at first positioned himself as a resource nationalist even reportedly willing to delay independence to give time to his people to catch up with the rest particularly in education. When he was appointed Vice President, he slowly withdrew himself as a resource nationalist and the vacuum that was created saw the rise of the likes of Jean-Marie Seroney, William Murgor, Dr. Taaita Toweett, William Morogo Saina, Chelagat Mutai, William ole Ntimama trying to protect the ancient heritage of their people. They tried to prevent incursions by other communities into the Rift but largely failed. Today the Rift Valley is home to every community in Kenya but the core is still largely around the original three – Kalenjin, Maasai/Samburu and Turkana. Today, the Rift Valley is poised to be a great oil & gas producing region.

The Battle for the Rift Valley

For a while now, former President Moi has tried to recapture his hold on the Rift Valley but has largely failed. And so has his son Gideon Moi. It is clear that indeed William Ruto has a far too powerful influence over the Rift Valley and he is not about to let go. Back in 2007, Raila managed to rally the Rift to vote for him in what Kibaki’s strategists had dismissed as impossible. It turned out that his friendship with Ruto paid handsomely and so he won the Rift Valley – but not the presidency. The Rift Valley became the epicentre of the post-poll violence that arose and the international intervention saw Raila Odinga become Prime Minister. In a way, the Rift Valley had made him and then he began to turn his back on the region. His mistake was to allow personal differences with William Ruto to turn political. He tried to fire Ruto who had become a cabinet minister in his side of the Coalition Government. It failed and instead augmented their differences. In the run-up to the 2013 poll Raila his strategy in the Rift was largely flopping. He suffered the humiliation of being associated with the drive to jail William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta in the ICC. Even after they were acquitted, he did not seem quite happy about the development which instead portrayed him as having hoped that they would be jailed to get a smooth path to the presidency.

The rise of Ruto as Rift Valley Supremo

In the vacuum that arose from Moi’s retirement in 2002, William Ruto was suddenly thrust into the front seat in Rift politics. Many still remember him standing next to the defeated Uhuru in 2002 as the latter read the sombre speech conceding defeat. It was as if fate had destined them to stand with each other. And so it would be that a decade later, the duo found themselves on the same political path and thanks to a special set of circumstances, they ended up in State House. The restless man that he was (is), Ruto walked out of the Kanu and joined up with Raila Odinga in the run-up to the 2005 Constitutional referendum.

It is therefore true that in many ways, it was Raila Odinga who made Ruto. Raila needed a points-man in the Rift Valley to represent the onslaught against the Wako draft. Ruto was that man. Ruto rallied the Rift Valley against the Wako draft and two years later he was very instrumental in leading the Rift Valley to back Odinga in 2007. After the fallout in the months that followed the formation of the Coalition government, Ruto swam the waters against the tide falling out with Raila on various matters. He proved to be his own man in 2010 when he led the ‘No’ campaign in that year’s Constitutional referendum. His side lost but he had succeeded in garnering a respectable 30 percent of the vote which was spread evenly across the nation.

Why Raila is failing in the Rift Valley

After the region failed to back him in 2013, Raila Odinga has tried to make some considerable forays into the Rift Valley. He is currently a favourite among the Maasai, Turkana and portions of the Western Rift. The most populous group – the Kalenjins are now at odds with him. He has reached out to Isaac Rutto who recently launched his own party – Chama Cha Mashinani with which he intends to defend his gubernatorial seat. However, as things stand on the ground, Rutto may be personally popular but it is very unlikely that he will direct any presidential votes to Raila Odinga. As Chama Cha Mashinani has no presidential candidate, Rutto will definitely need to support Uhuruto if he is to survive. It will be suicidal for CCM to openly support or campaign for Raila Odinga.

Raila has also met and discussed the up-coming Itare dam project with the Kipsigis saying it is likely to destroy the Tea industry. Without complete facts and little or no experience in such environmental matters, the Kipsigis have quickly realized that it may just be political posturing aimed at boosting his presidential chances. He is unlikely to gain much from hyping his opposition to the dam.

Raila hyping up Jubilee corruption is also hurting his chances with the Kalenjins. While it is true that the Jubilee’s record in fighting corruption is at best dismal, corruption perceptions among the people are quite varied. In fact it may just be like the ICC in which the people voted for Uhuruto if only to save them from the ICC. They may still vote for Uhuruto again to save them from Raila.

More importantly Raila has refused to address the real concerns of the Kalenjin people – the high costs of farming inputs (seeds and fertilizer), poor and unregulated market prices of agricultural products, farmers lacking cushioning from erratic weather patterns, poor infrastructure among others. He recently brought up the issue of the ICC to attack Uhuruto which has only further dampened any hopes of a comeback in the Rift. The ICC issue is still a fresh wound among the Kalenjin as it seemed an indictment over the entire community (three of the Ocampo six were Kalenjins). The ICC should have no role in Cord rhetoric at all. Overall, it hurt that party more than they care to admit.

There are leaders who stood by Odinga in the Rift Valley and paid a great political price for it. Some of these include Henry Kosgey, Sally Kosgey, Magerer Lang’at and Franklin Bett. Although some have since decamped mainly to Jubilee, Raila should have maintained at least one or two of them for the sake of the party’s name in the region. The last to leave was Magerer Lang’at who was humiliatingly hounded out of office following accusations that he was a Jubilee mole within ODM. After the senatorial by-elections in which Magerer was defeated, Raila should have reached out to him and rehabilitated him. As it stands, Raila still has no major points-man among the Kalenjin and that should worry him.

Working with Gideon Moi

The formation of NASA as an omnibus political body, may just serve to help bring on board several political parties that are not fielding presidential candidates. One of those Nasa has considered working with is Kanu under Chairman Gideon Moi. The party however, is greatly divided about being in Nasa and the President reportedly asked Gideon Moi to stay away from it. In fact Kanu is something of a ‘loyal opposition’ party. Raila must reach out to Gideon Moi exploiting the personal differences he has with William Ruto. He must find space for him in their power sharing arrangement. There are Jubilee plenty of rebels that he can reach out to particularly as the party nominations are getting messier. William Ruto on the other hand has treated his own rebels within Jubilee with kid gloves and has been unwilling to let them go. Alfred Keter for instance remains in Jubilee despite his acerbic rhetoric against it. This has marked out the differences between Raila’s leadership style and Ruto’s. Ruto realizes that he needs everyone going to 2017 and is still working with his worst critics. In fact he has even ceased to publicly criticize or ridicule Gideon Moi and that might ensure he continues to politics of the region.

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