Ruto vs Gideon: President Uhuru’s tough choice
When President Uhuru Kenyatta exits the political stage in 2022, he will be faced with the tough choice of returning favour to two men who have shaped his political career but who currently do not see eye to eye.
The first debt is to former President Daniel arap Moi, who fished him from political oblivion and cast him into the national limelight by making him his successor in the 2002 General Election, which Mr Kenyatta lost resoundingly to Mr Mwai Kibaki.
By anointing the rookie politician instead of the other experienced hands in Kanu, President Moi was most probably returning a favour Uhuru’s father and Kenya’s founding president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, had done him in the formative years of his career.
STUCK WITH HIM
Mzee Kenyatta picked Mr Moi as vice-president in 1967 and stuck with him, even as members of his kitchen cabinet belittled him as a “passing cloud” and plotted to prevent him from automatically succeeding him as the constitution provided.
When he picked Uhuru, President Moi most probably expected the political greenhorn to return the favour at some point in the future.
The president’s youngest son, Gideon, was inheriting his father’s Baringo Central parliamentary seat, which he had held for nearly half a century.
Even more importantly, Gideon, who is now the Baringo Senator, it was thought, would assume the leadership of the Kalenjin community, of which his father had been the de facto leader for close to five decades.
Furthermore, they were inheriting a party which President Moi had predicted would rule for 100 years.
Mzee Moi had probably envisioned a relay, where the scions of the first two presidents would exchange the baton of leadership to each other into the unpredictable future. But destiny had other plans.
For one, Kanu did not rule for 100 years, in the literal understanding of Mzee Moi’s words.
POLITICAL DEEP END
Although Moi thrust him into the political deep end, it is another of the former president’s protégés, Deputy President William Ruto, whose sacrifice in 2013, made it possible for Uhuru to realise his presidential dreams. It is to him that President Kenyatta owes his second debt.
By subordinating his own ambitions for the top job to those of Uhuru, and for aggressively hitting the campaign trail, the DP is largely credited for helping Mr Kenyatta pull off an unlikely victory in 2013, even with the millstone of the International Criminal Court (ICC) cases hanging around their necks.
Critics dubbed their candidature the “ICC ticket” and prophesied that it would go nowhere, a position apparently shared by his political mentor, the former president, who decided to abandon his 2002 “project” in favour of Mr Musalia Mudavadi for the 2013 General Election.
Furthermore, Mr Ruto, over the years, since Mzee Moi’s retirement, has vanquished his protégé’s son Gideon for the leadership of the Kalenjin community, a ladder the former has used to climb to the apex of the Kenyan politics at the expense of the latter.
All these make the DP an automatic successor to President Kenyatta in 2022. However, the recent visits by Mama Ngina and President Kenyatta to the former president at his rural Kabarak home and Kabarnet Gardens in Nairobi are raising political eyebrows in several quarters.
Last Sunday, President Kenyatta paid a courtesy call on the retired president at his home in Kabarak. This week, Gideon and his father placed advertisements in local newspapers congratulating President Kenyatta after his victory in the October 26 repeat poll, which was affirmed by the Supreme Court on Monday.
The Kanu secretary-general and a confidant of Gideon, Mr Nick Salat, would not be drawn into the substance of these meetings but said his party boss’ name would be on the ballot in 2022.
“I am sure of that,” he told the Sunday Nation.
When asked whom he expects President Kenyatta to support between Mr Ruto and Senator Moi, he said: “Time will tell. It is too early to speculate on this issue, but as you well know, the President and the senator go way back together. They are childhood friends.”
But the National Assembly Majority Leader and a confidant of the DP, Mr Adan Duale, dismissed the notion that the President might betray Mr Ruto in the end due to long-term political and family bonds with the Mois.
“That’s wishful thinking,” he said. “The chemistry between the President and the DP is one which most people don’t understand. I have interacted with them closely and I can tell you, nothing can break that bond. The President recently said he will be the DP’s chief campaigner in 2022. That speaks for itself.”
In the lead-up to the August 8 General Election, Kanu dallied with the opposition National Super Alliance a bit, but eventually threw its weight behind President Kenyatta in consideration of Cabinet appointments.
“We are expecting about two Cabinet Secretary, four Principal Secretary and several ambassadorial positions,” said Mr Salat.
President Kenyatta got a taste of what is coming during the burial of former nominated MP Mark Too in Eldoret early this year, when Senator Moi, speaking almost entirely in Kalenjin, took on the DP in front of the bemused Head of State.
But besides the issue of loyalties, the political clout each of the two currently holds could be a determining factor, according to Mr Micah Kigen, who unsuccessfully vied for the Keiyo North parliamentary seat in the August 8 elections.
“As Mzee once said, leadership is not about friendship,” he stated, referring to President Moi’s famous words to then vice-president, Prof George Saitoti, at the height of the vicious scheming within Kanu to succeed him in 2002. Prof Saitoti died in a helicopter crash in 2012.
Kanu’s fortunes have plummeted since it lost power in 2002 and is today a shadow of its former self.
As a vehicle for 2022 presidential ambitions, the younger Moi will have to work much harder to rebuild and market the party and himself across the country.
On the other hand, Mr Ruto has been on a meteoric rise and has built a varied and extensive political base ahead of 2022.
He has consolidated his Kalenjin base and has aggressively established links with other parts of the country.
When his United Republican Party folded, alongside the President’s The National Alliance and a host of other smaller parties, resulting in the formation of a single political outfit, the move was perceived as unwise.
But the Jubilee Party is today a behemoth that puts him at a clear advantage in the 2022 presidential race.