Deputy President William Ruto is arguably a man on a mission.
An outsider in his own government, Dr Ruto has encountered several hurdles in his bid to succeed his boss, President Uhuru Kenyatta, including losing some of his roles as DP and steady purge on his allies from key parliamentary and party positions.
This has, however, neither slowed down nor stopped his grand march to State House.
Dr Ruto seems to have developed a thick skin, sometimes even taking his boss head on as he makes his first presidential run, where he is one of the front runners.
“I’m a man on a mission. I have no space to retreat nor the luxury to surrender,” Dr Ruto said last year following President Kenyatta’s calls for his resignation over constant criticism of the Jubilee administration.
But just how did Dr Ruto, 56, rise through the country’s murky political waters to the top of the country’s politics to position himself as a front runner in the battle to succeed President Kenyatta?
Even though he plunged into politics at a tender age of 26 and got his space in the late President Daniel arap Moi’s circles, Dr Ruto has styled himself as a ‘hustler’ who rose from selling chicken to the coveted post of Deputy President.
And now, he has set his sights on the presidency, giving his main opponent, Azimio presidential candidate Raila Odinga — an experienced political tactician who has made four unsuccessful attempts at the top seat — a run for his money.
The DP’s allies insist that despite his first attempt at the top seat, he has the best chance to clinch the presidency in the August 9 elections.
United Democratic Alliance Chairman Johnson Muthama and Belgut MP Nelson Koech say their projections point to a Ruto victory.
“The August elections will be decided by Kenyans and from where I sit, Deputy President William Samoei Ruto is poised for victory.
“The decision will be made on the ballot and will be based on what Kenyans want and not what the government of the day wants,” Mr Muthama told Nation.
Kibicho, Mucheru assertions
Mr Koech disputes assertions that Dr Ruto’s main opponent, Mr Odinga, was ahead of him as per the National Intelligence Service (NIS) claims by Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho’s and ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru’s recent assertions.
“President Uhuru having declared Raila as his project, do you expect junior NIS officers to tell Mucheru or Kibicho that their king is naked? And given that these are the same people who sponsored the opinion polls released last week, are they disputing the findings of their contracted pollsters?” posed Mr Koech.
Having joined politics at 26, the DP was appointed secretary of the Youth for Kanu (YK ’92), a youth wing established to popularise the ruling party among young voters in the run-up to the 1992 multiparty politics.
His first ascension to power was, in 1997, at 31 when he trounced Kanu stalwart Reuben Chesire to become the Eldoret North MP, paving the way for his appointment as an assistant minister and later a Cabinet minister in the Moi and the late President Mwai Kibaki’s administrations.
Dr Ruto was visible in the 2002 succession politics, leading President Kenyatta’s campaigns, before Kanu was swept to the opposition by Mr Kibaki who led the National Alliance Rainbow Coalition (Narc), a union consisting of estranged Kanu adherents, including Mr Odinga, who were unhappy with Mr Moi’s pick of Mr Kenyatta as his successor.
In the run-up to the 2007 elections, Dr Ruto would part ways with President Kenyatta from Kanu, a scenario that has been reflected 15 years later with his move from Jubilee to form his UDA party, to chat his own political path.
Back other contenders
During an interview on NTV on Sunday night, Dr Ruto disclosed that he first offered himself for presidency in 2007 and 2013 but on the two occasions, it did not materialise and he had to back other contenders.
“Of course it didn’t materialise in that election in 2007. We went through a process and in that process I wasn’t the candidate, I decided to support somebody else,” the DP said, referring to his support for Mr Odinga in the 2007 polls.
He noted that come 2013, after a lot of evaluation and consultation and having looked at the situation at the time, he again made a decision to back somebody else – Mr Kenyatta.
“I came into politics not by design. I just found myself there. One thing led to another and I found myself in the middle of it. So far it has given me an opportunity to serve and it’s been a wonderful moment serving.
“So with time you find that you have something to offer to your country and of course in this election, I think I am now prepared enough,” Dr Ruto said.
In 2007, the DP teamed up with Mr Odinga, Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi (now in his Kenya Kwanza camp), Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala and former minister Joe Nyagah to form Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) which was birthed following their successful opposition to the change of the Constitution during the 2005 referendum.
He was part of the Orange party’s apex team christened ‘The Pentagon’, which would become his springboard to political fame, having, together with former ministers Henry Kosgey and Dr Sally Kosgey, wrestled Rift Valley political base from President Moi’s grip.
Had he been successful in clinching the ODM ticket in 2007, Dr Ruto would have made his first attempt at the presidency, but came third after Mr Odinga and Mr Mudavadi in the ODM presidential nominations conducted by the party’s delegates at the Kasarani gymnasium.
Following his major role in Mr Odinga’s campaigns in 2007, the DP was faced by the International Criminal Court (ICC) trial for his alleged role in the violence that followed the disputed presidential election.
Together with President Kenyatta, Mr Kosgey, former Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura, ex-police commissioner Mohamed Ali and radio journalist Joshua arap Sang’, they were indicted by ICC over crimes against humanity.
Having found themselves in the unfamiliar territory, Dr Ruto and Mr Kenyatta would later join forces through their parties, United Republican Party (URP) and The National Alliance (TNA) respectively, a ticket that drove them to power in the 2013 elections.
The trials at the ICC in The Hague arose from the near-civil war that engulfed the country following the controversial re-election of President Kibaki that his main challenger, Mr Odinga, rejected as he too claimed victory.
In the subsequent mediation talks, Dr Ruto was among the three negotiators on Mr Odinga’s side.
Annan mediation talks
It was the talks that culminated in the February 2008 peace deal that saw Mr Odinga named Prime Minister in the Grand Coalition Government.
The mediation talks were brokered by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Siaya Senator James Orengo and Dr Sally Kosgey, both of whom are rooting for Mr Odinga, now the Azimio flagbearer, and Mr Mudavadi were also part of the ODM negotiating team.
President Kibaki’s PNU was represented by Ms Martha Karua, now Mr Odinga’s running mate, Mr Moses Wetang’ula, now in Dr Ruto’s fold, Prof Sam Ongeri, who is supporting Mr Odinga, and Mutula Kilonzo, who died in 2013.
Mr Kilonzo was named in the team as Mr Musyoka’s ODM-Kenya had backed President Kibaki after the election, which saw the Wiper leader named vice-president.
Deputy prime minister
Then Kanu chairman Uhuru Kenyatta, who had, as opposition leader, taken the unprecedented decision to back the incumbent in the 2007 elections, was subsequently named one of the two deputy prime ministers, the other being Mr Mudavadi.
The appointment of Mr Kenyatta is reported to have been the genesis of the falling-out between President Kibaki and his minister Martha Karua, who felt she had done much for his re-election and deserved the deputy premier’s post.
Ms Karua later quit Kibaki’s Cabinet but 15 years later would rejoin Mr Kenyatta’s fold and named Mr Odinga’s running mate with the president’s blessings.
Mr Kenyatta chairs the Azimio top decision-making organ, The Council, which had the final say in Ms Karua being named Mr Odinga’s second in command.
For his role in Mr Odinga’s 2007 election campaigns, Dr Ruto was named Agriculture minister in the Grand Coalition Government, but the two would later part ways, with the Prime Minister attempting to sack him in 2010.
President Kibaki intervened to save Dr Ruto, who the previous year had survived a motion to censure him in Parliament, which had been moved by then Ikolomani MP Boni Khalwale, who is now one of the DP’s vocal backers in Western.
Although in unfamiliar territory despite backing President Kenyatta in 2013 and 2017, Dr Ruto, now an outsider in his own government, has set his sights on the top seat.