The hurdles Ruto must overcome to win in 2022
After his swearing in ceremony as Deputy President finally on Tuesday, the position of Mr William Samoei Ruto as the Jubilee Party frontrunner in 2022 is sealed for now. But the journey ahead is most unpredictable, complex and slippery.
His main challenger from the opposition remains unknown and the fact that the incumbent, President Uhuru Kenyatta, will exit the scene after serving two terms in office excites and complicates the next elections even the more.
But aware of the huge task ahead, Mr Ruto, who turns 51 later this month, has already activated his networks within and outside Parliament.
In the August House, he has strategically secured two key slots in the National Assembly and the Senate through his close allies Mr Aden Duale and Mr Kipchumba Murkomen.
While the Garrisa Township MP was largely expected to retain the position, it is the replacement of Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki with his Elgeyo Marakwet counterpart that has raised eyebrows.
Besides spearheading Jubilee’s legislative agenda in the two houses, Mr Duale and Mr Murkomen, who were members of the Deputy President’s defunct United Republican Party (URP), have lately led pro-Jubilee forces outside Parliament in sustained attacks against the National Super Alliance (Nasa), and in particular its leader Raila Odinga.
A case in point is during the funeral of Nyeri Governor Wahome Gakuru, where of all the speakers, the two politicians focused more on Mr Odinga than the late administrator.
Ex-Cabinet minister and political adviser to retired President arap Moi, Prof Amukowa Anangwe, believes that the Nasa leader is an obvious target of the pro-Ruto politicians, “who may feel threatened by the possibility of him entering into dialogue with the President, as demanded by most Kenyans and our international friends”.
According to Prof Anangwe, the Ruto team is going to fight off any negotiation deals with the opposition since such a development could ultimately change the political narrative and harm the Deputy President’s quest for presidency in 2022.
Besides operating within the wings of the defunct URP, Mr Ruto has solidified his support base among legislators from the Rift Valley region and the so-called pastoralist communities.
He holds regular consultative meetings with the two caucuses outside the wider Jubilee community, according to a source who has attended some of the engagements. This “solid base” will be important as Mr Ruto reaches out to allies in various voting blocs — something he has quietly been doing.
Mr Duale, the National Assembly Leader of Majority, is convinced the Deputy President is the most potent presidential candidate. He describes Mr Ruto as a “most loyal deputy” and valuable team player within the Jubilee fraternity who deserves to be rewarded with the top job.
“Besides, he has been around fairly long and created a solid network of political allies across the country. This is the network that has been very useful for Jubilee’s two successive wins and will no doubt prove handy in the coming years,” Mr Duale told the Sunday Nation.
The Garissa Township MP aptly captures some of the DP’s positive attributes as “aggressive, energetic and an indefatigable campaigner who is focused and who delivers”.
Mr Ruto, says Mr Duale, is also a hands-on operative, who personally works through or closely supervises a given political undertaking.
His views are supported by Pokot South MP David Pkosing: “We are very clear as Jubilee that our 2022 presidential candidate is Mr Ruto. He has served as an able deputy and as the next flagbearer of a solid coalition which has twice delivered the presidency, the DP is obviously the frontrunner in the State House race.”
Describing the Deputy President as a man of his word, Mr Pkosing observes that one of Mr Ruto’s likeable qualities is that he delivers on his promise: “Your problem with the DP is to convincingly explain to him what you need. It is never easy, but once he buys into it, you can as well retire to bed because it immediately becomes his problem. And he surely delivers.”
Mr Ruto is also credited for his easy accessibility by the political class including the ordinary citizens. At a personal level, his close associates confess that he is a generous man.
He has similarly replicated the same spirit countrywide through funds drives for various projects, including churches and schools. The source of his wealth has, however, remained a subject of debate with some opposition leaders accusing him of corruption.
Mr Ruto, who is a self-styled “hustler”, has fashioned himself as the true face of an ordinary Kenyan’s rise from humble begins. He repeatedly tells his audience that he is a son of a peasant who has worked hard to be where he is today. It is with the same vigour that the DP says he will work to improve the people’s lives.
However, the “hustler” and “pro-poor” tags have earned him more brickbats from the opposition, who regard him as one hiding behind poverty to fleece the poor and gain political mileage.
National Assembly’s Leader of Minority John Mbadi describes the Deputy President as most dishonest politician “whose D-Day is coming” when all Kenyans will reportedly abandon him at the ballot. He says Mr Ruto has stepped on the toes of virtually all top political leaders and that it will be hard for him to cobble alliances to help him win in 2022.
Lawyer Miguna Miguna is even harsher in his criticism. He says the Deputy President has a herculean task of clearing his name first in alleged land grabbing and corruption cases before seeking the highest office in the land.
Some of Mr Ruto’s backers separately point to his apparent high-handedness and abrasive nature as his main weaknesses:
“The one reason why some of the politicians in the Rift Valley, like former Bomet Governor (Isaac) Ruto, initially broke ranks with him, is because of his forceful approach to issues,” confided a legislator from the South Rift who did not wish to be named.
And although he enjoys the backing of President Kenyatta, Mr Ruto’s quest to inherit the populous Central Kenya vote will not be a walk in the park.
Already, resistance is quietly brewing, especially among poll losers in the Jubilee Party primaries and in the General Election in August.
Unsuccessful gubernatorial candidates, Mr Peter Kenneth (Nairobi) and Mr William Kabogo (Kiambu), have openly blamed their woes on the Deputy President.
Supporters of the two politicians and many others feel they are victims of Mr Ruto’s presidential ambition. They opine that the Deputy President has deliberately neutralised the political heavyweights in the region so he can have no serious challenge from the region come 2022. If this is truly the scheme, it also speaks to a different fact – that Mr Ruto is already a powerful political figure, able to influence voting patterns in Central Kenya region.
Nonetheless, friction between Mr Ruto and some politicians in the region continues to heighten. Mr Kabogo became the first politician in June last year to verbalise this tension when he told Mr Ruto that he would not automatically inherit Mr Kenyatta’s political constituency.
Speaking in Juja, the former Kiambu Governor said the decision as to who would become President would not be automatic.
Mr Ruto reacted by reminding the then Kiambu governor that Jubilee was a national party and not an ethnic entity. But most importantly he stressed that he was not expecting anything on a silver platter.
Mr Kabogo later withdrew the remark and apologised, but it appears he was a marked man, if the narrative of his loss in the Jubilee Party primaries is to be believed.
Whether or not members of President Kenyatta’s Mount Kenya will back his candidature, Prof Anangwe says it is a matter of conjecture: “Having delivered the vote twice to Mr Kenyatta, for Mr Ruto 2022 will be payback time. That demand is within the domain of rationality, but in elective politics it is a different ball game.”
The political scientist believes that the Mount Kenya vote will be crucial for Mr Ruto as “he has burnt bridges in most other regions, especially by repeatedly ridiculing their leaders”.
Everything will, however, depend on the kind of influence Mr Ruto will exercise in the next five years.
If his role diminishes significantly, then there are all sorts of political odds he may encounter, including having to compete with others for the Jubilee presidential ticket, or even having to quit Jubilee Party altogether due to political frustrations. Only time will tell how the dynamics pan out and how Mr Ruto responds to the challenges.