Intrigues behind Ruto’s failure to name running mate

Ruto's Karen Residence

Deputy President William Ruto's residence in Karen where his allies met for the unveiling of the running mate.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

The long and tense hours of waiting for the unveiling of Deputy President William Ruto’s running mate from 10am yesterday ended in a major anticlimax following the announcement past midnight that the name will be made public today.

The announcement was made by Mr Hussein Mohamed, Head of Communications for Dr Ruto’s presidential campaigns, at a few minutes to 1am. 

“The Kenya Kwanza has had a series of meeting where several matters touching on the coalition were discussed, including the bottom up economic model,” said Mr Mohamed.

He added: “The running mate issue was also extensively discussed today. We are happy to announce that we have a decision at Kenya Kwanza. The decision will be announced tomorrow (Sunday).”

The decision to suspend the unveiling of the name pointed to a possible failure by Dr Ruto and his team to arrive at the running mate ahead of tomorrow’s deadline by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

Dr Ruto’s official residence in Karen became the theatre of a major daylong political standoff yesterday as the anticipated announcement of his running mate failed to materialise, exposing sharp divisions in the Kenya Kwanza camp.

The naming of a running mate that Dr Ruto, the coalition’s presidential aspirant under the UDA flag, had recently described as the “easiest” thing, ran into headwinds as the lawmakers from Mt Kenya split on whether to settle on Tharaka-Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki or Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua.

Sources told the Sunday Nation that while Dr Ruto had no problem settling for Mr Gachagua, a majority of Mt Kenya legislators rooted for Prof Kindiki. Alternatives to the two were also floated as compromise candidates to ease the standoff.

The stalemate that was reportedly broken past midnight — after an initial announcement that the running mate would be unveiled at 10am yesterday — following hours of tense negotiations, had forced Kenya Kwanza to refer to results of recently conducted opinion polls by UDA in Mount Kenya and other areas where the coalition has strong presence.

The polls are said to have placed Prof Kindiki ahead, followed by Kirinyaga Governor Ann Waiguru with Mr Gachagua coming third.

“We were to consider two parameters which were opinion polls conducted independently by UDA within the region and without to gauge how they were fairing on. Results were tabled and Kindiki was doing much better followed by Waiguru then Gachagua. We then told the DP to put the results aside. The margin was too narrow between them, it was just two, three,” said one of the MPs from Mount Kenya who spoke in confidence. 

“By 2pm, we had agreed that it was Prof Kindiki and what was remaining was managing the potential candidates, more so Gachagua because we had four candidates, the others being Ms Waiguru and Speaker of National Assembly Justin Muturi,” the source said.

At 5pm, Prof Kindiki and Mr Gachagua drove out of the meeting at Mr Ruto’s Karen official residence in what made it apparent that the team had failed to broker a deal. The duo, however, came back after about an hour.

A source told Sunday Nation that the two at the centre of the standoff were asked to leave to allow the MPs speak freely about the views on the two.

At some point in the meeting, the lawmakers from Mt Kenya, including their colleagues representing constituencies in diaspora with Central Kenya roots, took a vote on their preferred candidate.

Only three MPs are said to have backed Mr Gachagua — one from Nairobi and two from Nakuru county. What was expected to be the “easiest” exercise for DP Ruto to pick his running mate slowly snowballed into a major political crisis and public relations disaster.

Official communication had indicated that the unveiling would be done at 10am.

But when the lawmakers arrived, a meeting that was meant to precede the naming turned into hours of tense moments and anxiety among the potential running mates and their supporters across the country.

Amani National Congress (ANC) of Musalia Mudavadi is also said to have ganged up in opposing Mr Gachagua’s candidature.

Dr Ruto had early this week downplayed the issue:

“The issue of running mate is an important one, but it does not give us sleepless nights because we are an alliance built on people’s issues, not leaders’ positions. So that of running mate is the easiest of the issues,” Dr Ruto said at his Karen residence.

Earlier at about 3pm, there were signs that the team was about to call in the press to unveil the name but it turned into another hours of waiting at the gate for journalists who had been there for hours.

The DP is said to have had a lengthy discussion with MPs from the mountain with a view of having them take responsibility of the choice the coalition would settle on.  The plan was to have them own the pick and proceed to explain it to the over five million registered voters.

The Sunday Nation has established that around 40 MPs from the larger Gema constituency attended the meeting.

“Since the slot was reserved for our region, it is we the people of Mount Kenya who are supposed to decide on who should be given that particular slot. Initially, out of the long list, it was Kindiki and Gachagua and today (Saturday) it was expanded to include Waiguru and Muturi. We asked the DP to give us that opportunity to decide, we do not want anyone to decide for us. We wanted a leader who can unite the region,” the source said.

During the voting, Prof Kindiki trounced Mr Gachagua. There were, however, conflicting outcome of the vote. One of the leaders said only three members voted in support of Gachagua out of the 46 in attendance. Kindiki is said to have received the backing of at least 43 MPs.

But another source said only about 30 took part in the vote.  “We asked the DP that as leaders from Mount Kenya, we need to be given an opportunity to decide their fate. We did a secret ballot and there were 30 MPs.

Prof Kindiki managed to get 18 votes and we had agreed that the candidate must get 50 plus one or we go for a run-off but Kindiki achieved that.

With results of opinion polls and voting of leaders placed him ahead. We then agreed that is the leader, a person who will manage to unify us and gain acceptance across. Gachagua got 10 votes while Muturi and Waiguru got one each,” the source added.

Some leaders felt that Mr Gachagua’s image had been tainted by the cases he had in court unlike the Tharaka Nithi Senator whom they viewed that could be accepted across the country.

“After we were done, the boss (DP Ruto) accompanied by some few leaders like Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro who were supporting Gachagua had to manage him and that is why by 5pm, there was no white smoke,” added the source in reference to a tradition of picking the Pope at the Vatican where white smoke indicates a decision has been reached by the cardinals while black smoke shows lack of consensus.

Another source told the Sunday Nation that both Governor Waiguru and Speaker Muturi could not be accepted in the camp because they are Johnny-come-lately.

“There is no way a person who started supporting DP Ruto this year could be his deputy,” said the source. The Mathira MP, who holds a degree in political science and literature from the University of Nairobi (UoN), says that he has never approached DP Ruto asking for the position of running mate but it is a drive by some of his followers who believe that he is the best to be given that post.

“William Ruto has never asked me to be his running mate and I have also never asked him to consider me. What I hear is what people are saying and there is no problem and you are quite happy when people wish you well. This debate is a bit speculative,” Mr Gachagua told the Nation in an earlier interview.

He went ahead: “Whoever Ruto chooses as running mate, will get my 100 per cent support the way I have been supporting William Ruto. Us we believe in team work and we are giving him leeway and discretion to pick somebody he thinks they gel well with. Who can assist him in managing the affairs of the country. Somebody they got a good chemistry and above all, somebody acceptable to the population that will give him votes.”

However, the lawmaker who has become protégé-turned-foe of President Kenyatta, husband of Pastor Dorcas Wanjiku Rigathi and a father of two, says that being in public service makes him fit for the position arguing that he understands how a country should be governed.

Mr Gachagua, who served as district officer in Molo and Laikipia during the Kanu days, when provincial administrators wielded a lot of power and their orders were the law, says that he has equipped himself with enough experience for being a principal assistant to the Head of State and run a government without any push and pull citing his personal assistant role to President Kenyatta and the late former President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi’s head of public service, Prof Philip Mbithi.

“I have been in public service for a long time. I joined the government as a young officer in 1989 and served for a record 14 years. I was in the nerve centre of government when I was personal assistant of Prof Philip Mbithi (the Head of Public Service), I know and understand government. I also understand the civil service. I was also personal assistant to President Kenyatta. I am quite well vast in how the government runs and how to run a good government,” he said.

If appointed the running mate, Mr Gachagua says that he would bring numbers to the DP Ruto to help them form the next government of Kenya Kwanza Alliance.

With the DP seemingly enjoying support in Mount Kenya more than his main challenger Mr Raila Odinga, the Mathira MP attributes that to his mobilisation skills.

“Ruto is also looking for a person who will help him marshal votes and I am quite good in mobilisation and that is how we got away with the people. I have mobilised people for William Ruto in Mount Kenya because I articulate issues that are dear to the people but we have left it to him to choose whoever he wants,” he elucidated.

Prof Kindiki, a renowned legal expert who served in the Senate leadership, in an earlier interview had said he was ready to serve the country in any capacity as long as the people of Tharaka Nithi endorses it.

Reporting by Moses Nyamori, Silas Apollo and Onyango K’Onyango