It is one year after Moi’s death, but his larger-than-life political stature in the Rift Valley still looms large.
His backyard for decades, the former president bestrode the region like a colossus, wielding power and determining who survived the cut-throat politics.
Today, even in death, Moi’s political shadow of influence, which he cast on Kenya’s political landscape, still reigns and now hangs on his youngest son, Gideon Moi, and the young recruit that he once supported, William Ruto.
Less than two years into the 2022 General Election, the supremacy battle between Gideon and Ruto is shaping Rift Valley politics. Politically, both have excelled. While Ruto is Deputy President, Gideon is the Baringo Senator and both harbour presidential ambitions.
Mr Jesse Karanja, a former Youth for Kanu ‘92 operative, said the Moi factor is unsettling for DP Ruto: “Gideon Moi’s political might, due to his late father’s name cannot be wished away. Even in his death, the name of the late President will play a key role in the 2022 General Election. You cannot outrightly dismiss Gideon’s prowess. DP Ruto has everything to worry about the candidacy of the younger Moi.”
Mr Karanja notes that the Baringo Senator, despite being viewed by DP Ruto’s allies as a political greenhorn, is a key player in a bigger game, who enjoys great support from “the big boys” — President Uhuru Kenyatta, Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga and Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, among others.
But the DP, who is keen on inheriting Uhuru’s mantle, wants to retain a firm grip of the region he believes is his political stronghold. In the last three elections, he has managed to sway the voters to his side.
The death of senior Moi, who had cast a long political shadow over the Rift Valley since the 1950s, left a leadership void — and whether DP Ruto will inherit that position will be known in 2022, when the ultimate test is due.
Before Moi’s death last year, several political bigwigs, most of them key contenders in the 2022 presidential race, went to Kabarak to pay homage to a man who had led Kenya for over two decades. An Ruto’s attempt to visit Moi was thwarted by Gideon, an indicator of the soiled relationship between the two.
But even after fading away from the political psyche of the nation, Moi’s name still remains a powerful totem in the region, especially among the older generation, a situation the Baringo senator has often exploited to boost his political clout ahead of 2022.
Nominated MP and Ruto ally Gideon Keter says Senator Moi is a “political novice” who lacks charisma to unite and draw voters to his side. “The Rift Valley is fully behind DP Ruto and any person opposing him is wasting time,” he said.
“Ruto is just a stone’s throw away from the highest office. We will vote for him overwhelmingly in 2022 and support him to take over power after President Kenyatta,” Mr Keter told the Nation.
But whether the DP is going to rely on the previous relationship with Moi depends on who you ask.
“Ruto is his own man and will not depend on any endorsement from political bigwigs to clinch the presidency. He was the man behind President Uhuru Kenyatta’s campaign in the 2013 and 2017 elections. The same applied to former Prime Minister Raila Odinga in the 2007 General Election,” Mr Keter said.
Mr John Koech, a political commentator, doubts that Gideon will make any significant political impact in popularising Kanu and at the same time taming Ruto’s surging popularity in the Rift Valley.
“Ruto still remains the man to beat in Rift Valley in spite of the vain efforts by his foes to cut him down to size. DP Ruto defied senior Moi previously and still made it to his current position. He’s a self-made politician, who has made his name unlike Senator Moi, ” Mr Koech argues.
However, Ainabkoi MP William Chepkut believes Moi left an enviable development record in the Rift Valley and therefore his son Gideon should be handed the political mantle.
“Moi initiated several development projects during his tenure as president. He was our political father and we must reward his equally hardworking son with the presidency,” Mr Chepkut said.
After the death of his father last February, the Baringo Senator was handed the mantle to succeed Moi in national politics and was handed a replica of the baton that was synonymous with his father’s 24-year rule. While Gideon inherited Kanu leadership, he’s facing an uphill struggle to control the Kalenjin politics where DP Ruto has entrenched himself.
The biggest test facing Gideon and Ruto is on the fate of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), which will test the political waters ahead of the 2022 race. While Mr Moi has led a series of pro-BBI sensitisation meetings, the DP has stated repeatedly that the push to change the Constitution is not a priority at the moment.
The rivalry between the two has also upset the Rift Valley Council of Elders, which has, on several occasions, offered to steer reconciliation talks.
According to the elders’ patron Gilbert Kabage, the political divisions threaten to cost the region the presidency in 2022.
“They must unite and if they don’t reconcile and go the direction we want, then it will be very unfortunate. They risk losing the 2022 presidential election. Unity of the two is for the good of the Rift Valley region,” Mr Kabage said.