William Ruto

DP William Ruto addresses his supporters in Getonganya town, Migori County, yesterday.

| Tonny Omondi I Nation Media Group

DP Ruto’s six big gambles in march to State House

With the August General Election fast approaching, Deputy President William Ruto has made six make-or-break gambles in his journey to succeed his boss, President Uhuru Kenyatta, that analysts warn could be his waterloo.

Besides the decision to give regional parties a wide berth, Dr Ruto has chosen to shun regional kingpins in favour of mostly first-term MPs as a strategy for rallying support for his State House bid across the country.

The DP has also declared himself the spokesperson of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s restive Mt Kenya region, which he and his boss used in 2013 and 2017 to ascend to power.

What is not clear is how big an impact declaring himself as the region’s kingpin, in what is seen by some as undermining President Kenyatta, will have on his campaign.

“Someone comes to our region where our leader President Uhuru Kenyatta is still alive and in power and calls himself kingpin of Mt Kenya, what kind of disrespect is that?” posed Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni, an ally of Mr Kenyatta.

The DP has also emerged as a master of double-speak, taking credit for Jubilee’s successes while blaming the failures on President Kenyatta’s pet project — Building Bridges Initiative.

The DP’s double-speak on Jubilee projects has not augured well with allies of the President, who accuse him of trying to sabotage the Head of State to capitalise on it for his political ambitions.

“He (Ruto) undermined him in his political strongholds, sabotaged his policies and government agenda, and incited and continues to incite the nation against President Kenyatta,” said Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu.

Dr Ruto has also adopted the strategy of praising President Kenyatta while in Mt Kenya region but attacks him when he is elsewhere.

Once in Mombasa, the DP spoke about matapeli (conmen), in reference to his past support for President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, which he implied was yet to be reciprocated.

However, whenever he ventures into Mt Kenya, there seems to be an unwritten code, even among his fiercest allies, to watch their words.

“Under President Kenyatta I have learnt a lot and I aspire to inherit his track record and build on it while improving it to encompass new horizons. I guarantee the President that his space and legacy is well protected and he will remain my friend as we take over, God-willing,” Dr Ruto said.

The DP has also opted to make himself the sole campaigner in his presidential bid, refusing to delegate as is the case with his chief competitor, Mr Odinga, who often uses key leaders in his camp to sell him as he campaigns in other regions. Instead, Dr Ruto has chosen to work with mostly first-term MPs.

But perhaps the biggest challenge is the DP believing that he can dismantle the tribal factor in his presidential quest. Whether or not he will succeed in rallying ‘hustlers’ to vote without regard to their tribes will be his biggest test in 2022.

With rivals ganging up against him, the Dr Ruto has framed 2022 elections as a competition between those banking on ethnic mobilisation and his own campaign fashioned around respect for one’s job, no matter how small.

A beneficiary of ethnic mobilisation that delivered victory for him and President Kenyatta in 2013 when they rallied their two communities almost to a man — a feat they repeated in 2017 to be re-elected, now with multiple forces ranged against him — the DP has seemingly reviewed his strategy.

Dr Ruto has in the past dismissed the One Kenya Alliance (OKA) of ANC’s Musalia Mudavadi, Kanu’s Gideon Moi, Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka and Ford Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula as a tribal grouping.

But political analysts warn that since the country’s politics has been ethnicised, he is set for an uphill task in disassembling this mentality.

According to Prof Egara Kabaji of Masinde Muliro University, the manner in which he is carrying out his campaigns might have excited the youth but when it comes to voting, there is a likelihood of them following their ‘tribal chieftains’.

“If Ruto manages to dismantle the belief that we all have to vote along tribal lines and vote class instead of tribe, then he is on the right path. If he does not manage it then he is in for a rude shock,” said Prof Kabaji.

Political analyst Javas Bigambo argued that to dismantle the tribal narrative, Dr Ruto needs to intensify the hustler narrative and the fundamentals of the bottom-up economy.

“Dismantling tribal politics will not succeed just yet. As DP Ruto makes that effort, his opponents are solidifying tribal cells and constellations which they will use for political mobilisation. They are representing tribal interests. As such, tribalism is about to have an effect on the presidential election outcome. It may have a 45 percent effect, the other factors being economy, technology, and perception,” he explained.

Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata said their agenda on the economy resonates well with Kenyans, more so the youth, hence no point of looking for regional kingpins

“Ours is a formula of unifying all common persons regardless of regions and chieftains. We believe in a united Kenya devoid of tribalism. It's better to lose an election whilst unifying Kenyans than win while dividing them,” he said.

Another gamble of Dr Ruto has been his refusal to work with small parties. His hard stance has attracted protests from three of his allies — Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria of Chama Cha Kazi, former Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri of The Service Party and Isaac Ruto of Chama Cha Mashinani, who argued that they cannot repeat the mistakes of the ruling Jubilee Party.

Mr Kuria and Mr Kiunjuri are now non-committal on supporting the DP’s presidential bid.

“We have been in politics for a long time and they will be taught a lesson by the electorate for arrogance, hubris. Let them not think they have achieved it and it will be a painful lesson for them,” Mr Kuria said.

Prof XN Iraki of the University of Nairobi argues that the decision by the small political parties to join the fray was a strategic one.

“The small parties will bargain with big ones for post-election big posts if they win seats. They are also a fallback position in case someone fails to get a nomination through big parties either through rigging or unpopularity … they will mint money through nominations or being bought outright,” Prof Iraki said.

Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua said they are not going to enter into a coalition with individuals whom he said do not have followers despite having parties .

Aside from the ‘hustler’ messaging, the DP has often paraded scores of MPs to project his camp’s power, but analysts argue relying on lawmakers, who do not necessarily command a regional following, is risky since more than 60 percent of MPs lose their seats at general elections.

Political commentator Herman Manyora says the DP is taking a huge risk by betting against regional kingpins. “The DP must appreciate that Kenyan politics is based on tribes and their kingpins. Besides the Rift Valley, Ruto does not have the support of any other leader of a tribal bloc. There is also a high possibility at this point that Ruto will face a united force comprising the One Kenya Alliance and Raila Odinga,” Mr Manyora argues.