They say in politics, there are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests.
But while this is true of President Kenyatta’s succession plan, it is remarkable that he is working so hard to bring down his deputy William Ruto in the Mt Kenya region while trying to shore up ODM leader Raila Odinga.
The paradox is that it is Mr Kenyatta who helped Dr Ruto build himself from an almost zero rating in the region by 2012 to his current stature, with all types of people being whipped up to isolate him.
After the disputed 2007 presidential election that plunged the country into chaos – only quelled with a power-sharing deal between President Mwai Kibaki and his main challenger Mr Odinga – Dr Ruto, who was among the outspoken backers of Mr Odinga, wasn’t a popular figure in Mt Kenya.
And, ironically, Mr Kenyatta was among the politicians who worked hard to demonise Mr Odinga in the region, especially since 2007 when the ODM leader faced off with President Kibaki.
It’s a propaganda campaign that Mr Kenyatta and his allies efficiently and ruthlessly implemented, if the difficulties he is facing trying to undo it as he markets Mr Odinga as his preferred successor is anything to go by.
President Kenyatta himself acknowledged his role in fanning anti-Raila sentiments as he told a recent meeting in Sagana that he waged a smear campaign against Mr Odinga but which he regretted.
He explained to the forum convened to quell the rebellion against his administration in Mt Kenya that the community should trust his judgment as president when he said Ruto isn’t the right person to succeed him, even as he showcased his government’s development record in Mt Kenya.
The President’s former allies in Mt Kenya who have rebelled against him to promote Dr Ruto’s presidential candidacy have told him his negative campaign against Mr Odinga can’t be undone in his lifetime.
“We must be direct and truthful with you: We cannot sell Raila Odinga in our region …The successful effort you made to persuade the people and render Raila Odinga unacceptable in Mt Kenya cannot be undone in your lifetime,” 41 Mt Kenya MPs allied to DP Ruto told the President in a scathing letter in January last year.
Dilemma his own making
Even some of the President’s allies from the region who have stuck with him acknowledge that his dilemma is partly of his own making.
“Our President is in a dilemma since after the country came out of the 2007/8 post-election violence, Dr Ruto was among some politicians who became so unpopular in the Mt Kenya region,” said Gatanga MP Nduati Ngugi.
“If research was done on Ruto and Mt Kenya around that time, results would be obvious that he would not have managed to hold a public rally in any open space of the region – even from the safety of the skies.”
Mr Ngugi said it is the President who shopped for Dr Ruto so as to form a joint ticket to heal the emotions of the post-election violence and battle their cases at the International Criminal Court, where they had been named among six suspects alleged to have borne the greatest responsibility for the mayhem.
“What the President had in mind was reconciliation and healing of the conflict…Unbeknownst to him, Dr Ruto seized the moment to sneak deeper into the political soul of the Mt Kenya region and cemented himself to a point he today has the guts to declare publicly that he has dislodged the President as the area kingpin,” Mr Ngugi argued.
But he also recalled that “it was the President who told the Mt Kenya region that Mr Odinga was the common political problem in Mt Kenya”.
Made Odinga look bad
“He made Mr Odinga look so bad when he convinced us that he (Mr Odinga) was designing to have him jailed at The Hague… He mobilised us to help send him home for good in the 2017 elections,” said Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua.
But Mr Gachagua said he was still at a loss as to “how Mr Odinga became the most trusted in the President’s last term in power and how those who have never voted for him, those whose evidence of insulting and undermining the President is littered all over, became the ones to be spruced up to take over state power”.
He said the President used to be taken very seriously by Mt Kenya voters “before he started digressing and taking them to a direction so strange to logic”.
Recent by-elections in the Rift Valley, Nyandarua, Murang’a, Kiambu and Meru counties, said Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki, have “a reliable consistency that Mr Kenyatta was very successful in branding Dr Ruto as a trusted friend of the Mountain and also in holding Mr Odinga in pure suspicion – and the problem is that he himself has now been categorised as a problem in the succession interests of Mt Kenya”.
Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika also wonders how former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth, who is on record saying Mr Kenyatta should have been jailed at The Hague and vied against him in the 2013 presidential race – together with Narc Kenya’s Martha Karua – is today’s first choice of a running mate to Mr Odinga.
Agriculture CS Peter Munya, in his recent meeting with Murang’a County coffee farmers at the Ihura stadium, said that “the kind of a mind this Dr Ruto has is so deceptive, so cheeky and mischievous, and in pursuit of a personal advantage, he would not spare even friendship and long-held respect”.
Side-lining his boss
Mr Munya lamented that the President welcomed Dr Ruto into Mt Kenya, held his hand and delegated functions and powers to him in total surrender, only for Dr Ruto to take that kindness for weakness and started side-lining his boss and his pillars and established his own.
“But he who builds knows how to demolish…The President knows the joints he used to build Dr Ruto in Mt Kenya… He would require no manual to demolish him…and the task has just started,” Mr Munya said.
Long-time career administrator Joseph Kaguthi says “anyone who knows how Dr Ruto gained political following in the Mt Kenya region has lots of sympathies for the President”.
Mr Kaguthi said Dr Ruto amplifies well the narrative of the horse that asked a homeowner for space in the house to hide its head but eventually hauled its whole self inside, displacing its host.
“Indeed, politics has no morals sometimes…Politics being the art of the possible, Dr Ruto was quick to seize the grand opportunity of making political capital in the President’s backyard as the President, who is quick to trust, watched unperturbed,” Mr Kaguthi said.
As the President was mesmerised by the genius stroke of his patriotism by working for peace in the restive Rift Valley, Mr Kaguthi added, Dr Ruto was busy turning the favour into future political capital.
“Now see, if Mr Kenyatta had not introduced Dr Ruto into the grassroots of the Mt Kenya region and thrown in a kind word for him to a point he told his kinsmen that he (would rule) for 10 years and hand over to his deputy, we would not be having guarantees today that the DP would address the region in one of the many remote villages he visits,” says New Partnerships for African Development (Nepad) chair Elias Mbau.
The President, he said, would succeed in his scheme because “God in his throne knows for sure that Mr Kenyatta’s intentions in demolishing Mr Odinga and building up Mr Ruto then was in good heart and for the common good under the circumstances that prevailed then and, too, that in the current state of affairs, he stands once again for the best interests of the country”.
The magnitude of the President’s work is herculean, said Kandara MP Alice Wahome, “and I wouldn’t fancy being in his shoes right now”. She added that “the President got to devise a miracle very fast to undo the more than 85 percent following that his deputy has in Mt Kenya and replace it with the three percent on average that Mr Odinga gets”.