Like the last time, President William Ruto is off the blocks in the race for presidency in 2027 as his main rivals — who coalesce around opposition chiefs Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and Martha Karua — appear stuck in their agitation over last year’s presidential election results and the high cost of living.
Even as he tries to steer the country’s ship through the stormy waters of the moment, Dr Ruto has kicked off his re-election bid in earnest with a re-focus of the leadership of his political outfit, the United Democratic Alliance (UDA).
The appointment of former Kakamega County Senator, Cleophas Malala as the new Secretary-General of the ruling party is the first powerful statement in this direction. Compared to his predecessor, Veronica Maina, Malala is a political animal, who is fast and suave – just the right credentials needed to drive the President’s re-election bid.
In fact, by Malala’s own admission, he is cut out for the role. His key business, he says, is to play politics – “good and positive politics that will boost our party leader’s re-election bid”. The new Secretary-General points out that UDA does not wish to find itself in the same predicament as the Jubilee Party, which concentrated on governance and service delivery and forgot the politicking element – with damaging effects in last August’s polls.
At the same time, the President has separately kick-started the process of putting in place the next set of referees of the 2027 polls. As a politician and prospective participant, Ruto is obviously an interested party in this process.
Already, he has overseen the exit of former Vice-Chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Juliana Cherera and three other commissioners, who are perceived to have been leaning towards the rival camp in last year’s elections, and has gazetted names of panelists who will interview and recommend names of the next IEBC chairman and six commissioners.
In a way, therefore, the Ruto 2027 campaign has begun and there is no better starting point than the western Kenya region – the backyard of two of his principals, Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi and Speaker of the National Assembly, Moses Wetang’ula.
Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila also enjoys a huge following in the region, at least going by last year’s elections, in which his side of the Azimio La Umoja-One Kenya coalition swept the board in the parliamentary and gubernatorial races, claiming over 70 per cent of the seats.
It makes political sense, therefore, for Ruto to gain entry in the region with a view to politically neutralising Odinga, his key rival at the moment and most likely in the 2027 polls – either directly or through another flag bearer fronted by a political formation allied to the former Prime Minister.
And even within the Kenya Kwanza coalition, Ruto has not shied away from taking the battle to Mudavadi and Wetang’ula’s doorsteps. Amid loud protests from the partners, he went against the initial gentleman’s agreement that had mapped out the western region as ANC and Ford-Kenya zones by fielding candidates in the area on UDA tickets.
In a fervent plea to residents of his home county of Vihiga, Mudavadi pointedly switched to the local Luhya dialect to dissuade voters from electing an MP allied to an “outsider party”. His protests went unheeded, though, as voters in his home constituency of Sabatia elected an MP allied to UDA.
And when another opportunity came up in Bungoma County, after Wetang’ula resigned as senator to settle for the Speaker’s seat at the National Assembly, UDA insisted on fielding a candidate – much to Wetang’ula’s chagrin. It was clearly a case of Ruto releasing a balloon in the air to test his popularity, and sure enough he was not disappointed when his candidate, Mwambu Mabonga, emerged second with 45,907 votes to Ford-Kenya’s Wafula Wakoli, who was declared victor with 66,032 votes.
The President has a good foothold in the western region already, with six seats to his credit courtesy of Didmus Wekesa Barasa (Kimilili), Fred Kapondi (Mt Elgon) and Daniel Wanyama (Webuye West), Clement Sioya (Sabatia) and Mary Emaase (Teso South) and Kakamega Senator Dr Bonny Khalwale.
Khalwale observes that when the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary-General, Francis Atwoli, in 2019 equated Wetang’ula’s and Mudavadi’s parties to kiosks whose purpose is to engage in “political business”, many laughed off the claim as a wild joke while others castigated the COTU boss for his unkind remarks. But the senator considers the vocal trade unionist’s observation to have been spot on.
According to Khalwale, the era of political parties that masqueraded as national parties only by name and not composition is over: “If we hope to make an impact on the political scene as a community or region, then we should be part of a political formation that transcends the communities of Kenya, and that is why Malala and I are more comfortable in UDA than either ANC or Ford-Kenya.”
He argues that the only way Odinga ably manages to reinvent himself every election year, for instance, is because he is a member of a strong national party. Accordingly, he calls upon Mudavadi and Wetang’ula to join bigger and broader political vessels in order to stay afloat, otherwise “they will continue sitting on the fence and only waiting to be auctioned at the eleventh hour by leading presidential candidates”.
The President is perhaps too smart and swift for the local political bigwigs – as well as Odinga, who has dominated western politics for decades – to admit. Before teaming up with the Mudavadi-Wetang’ula duo, Ruto struggled to win support in the region without much success.
In Ruto’s scheme of things, his approach is solid and western Kenya has been sorted out. Malala’s appointment as SG makes him the face of UDA and, by extension, the government. This is a good overture to the people of the region, particularly in the populous Kakamega County, where Odinga’s rival camp claimed 12 out of the 13 parliamentary seats, including that of the Woman Representative.
In Bungoma, the President can count on the near-fervent support that his ally, Wetang’ula, enjoys in the region, while in Busia – where the real tough task lies – he can build on the one seat the UDA has in Teso South and latch onto the influence of his Sports CS, Ababu Namwamba, and Principal Secretary for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Susan Mang’eni.
Dr Henry Makokha, a commentator on political affairs, concurs that Ruto is bound to gain acceptance in the region. He attributes this achievement to a smart move by the President to win over the Mudavadi-Wetang’ula pair, thereby pulling them away from Odinga and in the process dividing and scattering the western vote further.
“This is a well-thought-out and well executed plot. Ruto’s foot is firmly in there now and going forward, he can only continue to share the spoils with the other players, unless, of course, Mudavadi and Wetang’ula re-unite with Raila to lock him out. But this is a very unlikely scenario under the current circumstances,” opines the political analyst.
Nonetheless, there is no denying that the latest developments could shake-up trust and stability within Kenya Kwanza. With regards to Malala’s exit from ANC, for instance, there are claims that he bolted after differing with his former party boss, Mudavadi. After losing the Kakamega governor’s contest to ODM’s Fernandez Barasa, Malala reportedly reached out to Ruto for appointment to a Cabinet Secretary or Principal Secretary position. Ruto is said to have turned him down, insisting that as an ANC member, his appointment needed to be sanctioned by the PCS.
Those close to Mudavadi claim that the Prime Cabinet Secretary was unhappy with the way Malala handled the August campaigns, especially with regard to expenditure of the party’s campaign funds. It is because of this stand-off with his party boss that Malala is believed to have switched camps to UDA.
This position is supported by ANC’s national chairman, Kevin Lunani, who maintains that the party’s leadership is unaware of any negotiated arrangement between the former senator and the PCS, or the President, to switch camps to UDA. The chairman is also categorical that the ANC will not fold to join UDA in the run-up to the 2027 polls.
Malala’s switch to UDA is bound to ignite friendly fire within the Kenya Kwanza coalition, especially between the President’s and Mudavadi’s allies. Although Malala states that the end game of his move is to bring all political outfits in the coalition under one party, the politician is curiously asking his supporters “to follow me to UDA”.