Out with the old, and in with the new, is President William Ruto’s political game plan. He has, since ascending to power, appointed many new faces to his inner circle in what is shaping up as a grand scheme to edge out veteran politicians ahead of his 2027 re-run.
Dr Ruto has also elevated some of the young lawmakers from different regions across the country to be in his power circle, forming a strong backbone for his political inroads.
In his Rift Valley backyard, a coterie of youthful politicians has emerged, sweeping away former powerful individuals who mainly gained prominence during the Kanu regime. From governors, MPs to MCAs, the region has more young elected leaders than there are in any other region.
At the same time, the President has handed young politicians powerful leadership positions in the National Assembly and the Senate, placing them at the heart of Kenya Kwanza administration’s legislative agenda, a key ingredient to their re-election.
Dr Ruto has surprisingly picked little-known faces to plum government jobs in his attempt to reach out to regions that did not back his presidential bid. This, analysts say, is aimed at propping up new leaders while dimming luminaries.
His decision to appoint Dr Raymond Omollo to the powerful Interior Principal Secretary position while shunning veteran politicians with more influence gives credence to his plan of promoting fresh blood.
The trend is replicated in some of the critical parliamentary committee leadership. The Cabinet is, however, a mixture of the old guards and young Turks.
In the Senate, 36-year-old Aaron Cheruiyot (Kericho) is the Majority Leader, with 45-year-old Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu) as his National Assembly counterpart. Similarly, South Mugirango MP Sylvanus Osoro, 34, is holding the plum Majority Whip in the National Assembly.
Some of the youthful politicians holding key positions in Parliament include Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro (chair, Budget and Appropriation Committee, 37), Molo MP Kimani Kuria (chair, Finance and National Planning Committee, 31), Nyali MP Mohammed Ali (Parliamentary Service Commission, 43), Kilifi South MP Owen Baya (National Assembly Deputy Majority Leader) and Belgut MP Nelson Koech (chair, Defence Committee).
The President’s allies say he is keen on propping up a new crop of leaders for both succession and success of his administration.
“The President absolutely believes in the leadership of young politicians and that is why he has given the young Turks key positions in his administration, including the leadership of both Houses,” says Mr Baya.
Mr Osoro, Mr Baya and Mr Ali are among youthful politicians driving UDA’s bid to win over their regions, thus edging out veteran politicians.
But some of Dr Ruto’s critics say he likes working with young politicians who cannot challenge his authority.
“Most seasoned politicians have been around for a while and understand who Ruto is and can rarely work with him. The young politicians are easily lured and swayed,” says nominated MP and ODM chairman John Mbadi. “His mindset is in the people he can manipulate and control. Even the people he has picked to be in his Cabinet cannot question him. He will basically be calling the shots in everything. You can see he has so many advisors on nearly everything.”
Governance expert and political commentator Javas Bigambo says Dr Ruto’s ascent to power was largely bolstered by youthful politicians, hence his inclination to appoint them to positions of power. By elevating them, Mr Bigambo says, Dr Ruto is reminding the youth that there is always a reward for political loyalty.
“He is also telling the older generation that their time is up. He is trying to send a message that the leadership baton has been sent to the younger generation. Those young politicians who supported him were also fighting for their survival and needed to be rewarded.
“The older people were against his candidature, but the younger politicians unapologetically defied the system and went out to support him,” says Mr Bigambo.
Just like his predecessor, Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, who had created his own power men, Dr Ruto seems to be following in the same footsteps and has even gone a notch higher by focusing on capturing various regions with the aim of elbowing his opponents out. The goal is to maximise his chances of re-election in five years.
Dr Ruto has placed his most loyal and trusted allies in key committees that will be the fulcrum of implementing his agenda.
Political analyst and lawyer Danstan Omari says that trusting youthful politicians with key positions may, however, end up backfiring. He cites former President Uhuru Kenyatta, who had trusted the youth in his first term but ended up replacing them with some old hands in running of government. He says the decision to pick young politicians could also mean Dr Ruto is scared of working with established leaders.
“His Cabinet is a mixture of the old and those in their middle age, but in Parliament he has gone for young politicians. He is basically looking beyond 2022, as voters are mostly youths,” says Mr Omari.
“But someone would ask if the president is scared of well-established people. The answer for me is yes. He wants people who take instructions from him and people who want handouts for survival; basically errand boys and girls.”