Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s complicated relationship with archrivals Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga has been brought to the fore, once again, following the DP’s aborted Monday trip to Kampala.
With a continued strained relationship with President Kenyatta, the DP’s dalliance with the Ugandan strongman has raised political eyebrows, with analysts now drawing a Raila factor in the relationship that has been cemented in the past six years.
The relationship between the DP and President Museveni was out of the Ugandan leader’s views of Mr Odinga, as well as Dr Ruto’s own foreign policy plan in case he wins in 2022, said Prof Macharia Munene of the United States International University’s (USIU).
“President Museveni likes to portray himself as anti-imperialist. Somebody who is portrayed as an imperialist project -- which is how Raila was portrayed in both 2013 and 2017, Raila was seen as a project of the British and Western powers -- whoever is seen as an imperialist project cannot be Museveni’s friend. It appears at the moment, the anti-imperialist, at least in Museveni’s eyes, is Ruto and that is why Ruto is attracted to Museveni,” Prof Munene argues.
According to the international relations scholar, it is likely that the relationship between the two is based on business deals as well as Dr Ruto building his international networks.
“Ruto does not want that when he becomes the president, he has a neighbouring head of state who is hostile. The duo also has business understanding, maybe farms here and there. All these big people have farms everywhere,” the professor argues.
President Museveni’s friendship with Kenyan leaders has been shifting from one political camp to another.
In the past, Mr Museveni appeared to be very close to former president Mwai Kibaki before eventually aligning with ODM leader Raila Odinga.
In February 2012, the Ugandan leader met Mr Odinga in the latter’s home town of Kisumu, and a fortnight later, the two met again at State House Entebbe over the East African Community (EAC) political federation.
At the time, President Museveni’s calculation was that Mr Odinga enjoyed unrivalled popularity and was a shoo-in successor of President Mwai Kibaki in the impending March 2013 polls.
However, political realignments in Kenya ahead of the March 2013 elections saw the birth of the Jubilee Alliance that defeated Mr Odinga’s Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) in the presidential race.
President Museveni switched gears and backed the Jubilee leaders, taking the lead role in condemning the International Criminal Court for indicting President Kenyatta and his running mate over crimes in the 2007/2008 post-election violence in Kenya.
For the DP, his relationship with Mr Museveni seems to mirror the one the ODM leader built with the late Tanzanian president John Magufuli.
“The way it is; Museveni appears to be becoming to Ruto what Magufuli was to Raila. Of the two, Ruto and Raila, Museveni appears to have chosen his candidate and it is Ruto,” argues University of Witwatersrand’s political scientist Gilbert Khadiagala.
The Johannesburg-based professor, a former chairman of the university’s Political Science Department, argues that the Ruto-Museveni relationship is also beneficial to Dr Ruto’s 2022 State House run.
“Museveni has never hidden his disdain for Raila, and Ruto just seems to have jumped in the fray, taking advantage of that. Two, Museveni is not going away any time soon. He, therefore, needs a reliable partner in the region,” Prof Khadiagala, who has studied Mr Museveni, says.
So close are the two that in 2015, to the chagrin of the Kizza Besigye-led opposition faction, the DP went to Uganda to campaign for Mr Museveni.
Monday’s aborted trip would have been the seventh in six years — and only the second in the past three weeks — for the DP.
He attended the unveiling of a vaccine manufacturing plant in Matuga-Wakiso district last month.
On Monday, when DP was blocked from travelling, also set to travel with him were Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi, businessmen David Lagat, Harun Aydin, David Muge, Simon Mogun and Nelson Kisalit.
Prof Munene says that the information the government has against Mr Aydin is the reason the DP could not travel.
Mr Sudi told the Nation that Mr Museveni and Dr Ruto had planned to meet privately in Kampala.
“Last time we met with Museveni and this time around, Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu MP) and myself were going to meet with Museveni’s handlers, which we have done, as the boss was to meet Museveni and that is all, there is nothing we are hiding,” Mr Sudi said.
Governance expert and political analyst Javas Bigambo says the DP having close ties with President Museveni without the blessings of his boss can be construed as malice and insubordination.
“As such, it gives President Kenyatta the leeway to sabotage Ruto from whatever front he may like, without room for explanation. Sadly, this is going to make the succession politics and the 2022 General Election highly emotive, such that without the benefit of wisdom and hindsight, the rival groups may compel Kenya to walk the slippery path of possible pre-poll or post-poll violence. It must be seen that the playing field is leveled for a free, fair, transparent and verifiable election,” says Mr Bigambo.
He adds that the Ruto-Museveni relationship cannot be welcomed by his political nemesis like Mr Odinga ahead of the 2022 polls
“There are substantive and political issues that are projected from the DP Ruto Uganda escapades. His quest to consolidate ties with Museveni on a possible foreign policy front cannot make his competitors happy,” Mr Bigambo opines.
For the DP’s Uganda trips not to raise eyebrows, the country’s second-in-command, who has made his intention to vie for president known, he has to involve Cabinet secretaries, he adds.
“DP Ruto has to appreciate that his private interests in Uganda or elsewhere are under scrutiny due to his position in government. In the end, it is in good faith that he has to work with the President and peers in the Cabinet for the national good,” he says.
The University of Nairobi’s Herman Manyora say the Uganda visits were a significant score for the DP in the context of the 2022 presidential elections.
“If you are aspiring to be president, you always want to have an international reach. If that reach gets you to a neighbour like President Museveni — a strong leader in the region — then that is one invaluable asset. Museveni has his own footing and standing in Kenya, and a word from him, or being seen to have his support, is a plus,” Mr Manyora said of the DP’s trip last month.
During the visit, Dr Ruto, like on all his previous visits, was full of praise for Mr Museveni.
He called on the Ugandan president to actualise his favourite topic of the East African Federation before the end of his current term.
“You owe us a debt. Before you retire, and if possible, in the next two or three years, we want to see the coming into fruition of the East Africa Federation. We are here as leaders and citizens of East Africa to support you and other leaders in the region to eliminate barriers that impede trade, investment, movement of labour and people working together,” Dr Ruto told Mr Museveni.
The DP also celebrated Mr Museveni’s Open Wealth Creation initiative, which he compared to his own ‘hustler’ campaigns, which he said would help create wealth.
Mr Manyora believes there is more in the Museveni-Ruto relationship.
“There are Kalenjin-speaking and related groups in Uganda and it has been whispered before that those from Kenya will vote for Mr Museveni in Uganda, and vice versa. Being a pastoralist community allowed to move freely, that is not a far-fetched claim to make,” the University of Nairobi political commentator says.
The DP has also been meeting ambassadors and other foreign dignitaries in the past six months, for his presence to be felt among the envoys despite the push and pull between him and his boss.
Late September 2020, he led about 40 Jubilee MPs to the Olngesher Lool Ilmerishie ceremony of the Matapato clan in Maparasha Olchoro Oibor, Kajiado Central, hosted by 13 European Union (EU) ambassadors at the residence of Mr Simon Mordue, the EU ambassador to Kenya, a clear indication that he is manoeuvering his ways on the global stage to be at par with his political nemesis, the former Prime Minister.
“Delighted to have hosted Deputy President @WilliamsRuto at a meeting today of EU ambassadors. Enjoyed the lively and open exchange of views on the Big4Agenda, and Kenya’s development and political future,” tweeted Mr Mordue.
He also met Mr Timi Frank, a Nigerian dissident on the run, alongside former Nigerian vice-president Atiku Abubakar during his trip to Dubai in 2020.
For Prof XN Iraki of the University of Nairobi, international networks are important, not only to the DP, but to any serious presidential candidate.
"International friends are very important, DP will need their goodwill and possibly money as investors or loan givers. And whispers to fund the campaign which are likely to be very expensive; every source of money will matter in 2022," said Prof Iraki.