What you need to know:
- DP William Ruto, at the invitation of President Yoweri Museveni, visited Uganda last week for the umpteenth time.
- The DP is cultivating deep political and commercial ties with one of Kenya’s biggest trading partners
Deputy President William Ruto’s recent trip to Uganda has brought into focus the close ties he enjoys with the country’s strongman, Yoweri Museveni.
The deputy president is cultivating deep political and commercial ties in one of Kenya’s biggest trading partners and is reputed to have commercial interests in the country.
Coming at a time he has trained his eyes on succeeding his boss, President Uhuru Kenyatta, the trip was meant to achieve many things at a go. They include seeking Museveni’s support for 2022, fundraising and looking after his businesses in the country.
A close ally of the DP told the Sunday Nation that he also sought Mr Museveni’s intervention to patch things up with Mr Kenyatta. The DP believes that despite strained relationship with his boss, the window of re-uniting ahead of the next elections remains open.
“Being an elder statesman, maybe Uhuru can listen to him and retrace his steps,” a source based at DP’s Karen office said adding that Mr Museveni given he has been in power for almost four decades holds a lot of sway in the region’s politics.
In the talks, Mr Museveni was concerned that the DP’s brand of politics in which he often takes on his boss head on may end up working against his State House ambition. The elder statesman, who is said to support a Ruto presidency, reportedly asked him to adopt a less confrontational method in pursuit of votes.
“There is nothing impossible in politics. It is about interests. The President has been so rough on us but our saving grace has been the fact that we have the people. We have no problem if he wants to reconcile with us,” Meru Senator and a staunch Ruto supporter Mithika Linturi said.
Mr Ruto, on the other hand, hinted at backing Museveni to establish and assume leadership of the East African Federation.
“You owe us a debt. Before you retire and if possible in the next two or three years, you owe us the fruition of the EA federation,” he said at Matugga, in Wakiso district, some 20 kilometres north of Kampala CBD along the Kampala-Juba highway, where the Dei BioPharma Ltd, a multi-billion pharmaceutical drugs and mRNA vaccine manufacturing facility will be set up.
So if Ruto backs Mzee, as Museveni is colloquially referred to in Uganda, to go for EAC federation chief, what does the Kenyan Deputy President want in return?
Dr Ruto’s communication chief Emmanuel Talam said there was not much to read into the visit or the previous ones even as he confirmed that President Museveni initiated the meeting.
“The DP went to Uganda on the invite of President Museveni. He has been to Uganda several times before, mostly on the peace process among communities in both countries that live on the border,” Talam said.
“The visit by the DP was public. There are some leaders who just go to foreign countries and nobody knows what they go and do there.”
Besides the unveiling of the vaccine plant, the DP had a private meeting with Mr Museveni in the company of Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi.
The DP also celebrated Mr Museveni’s Operation Wealth Creation Initiative, which he compared to his own hustler campaigns. The initiative was launched five years ago to help folks elevate their farming from mere subsistence to commercial, even if on smaller plots.
The Kenyan deputy, who calls himself hustler, is angling for the presidency in 2022, an ambition that has also caused friction with his boss, President Kenyatta.
Away from the politics, DP Ruto has vast business interests in Uganda. He is said to own hundreds of acres where he does avocado farming that he exports to the West. He also runs a chain of petrol stations.
With agricultural investments in Uganda, including a rice farm in Bugiri, east of the country, it may seem natural that he will seek to befriend Museveni.
On Tuesday, Dr Ruto was the chief guest at the laying of the foundation stone for a Biological Drugs and mRNA vaccine manufacturing facility at Matuga-Wakiso District at the invitation of President Museveni.
He, together with his delegation consisting of Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi and business mogul David Lagat, visited the National Animal Genetic Resources Centre and Data Bank and was hosted by Uganda’s Agriculture Minister Frank Tumwebaze.
Mr Ruto allies say that being a potential State House occupant next year, he is keen to have a rapport with all regional leaders. He will soon visit Tanzania, they said. But it is the close ties with Mr Museveni that has caused concern among some powerbrokers in government who believe the trip was part of the resource mobilisation he has embarked on to aid his campaigns.
Mr Museveni, who has been in power for 35 years, is said to prefer Dr Ruto and not ODM leader Raila Odinga coming in after Mr Kenyatta. Being a landlocked country, Uganda depends on Kenya for its imports and the President is keen to have a friendly Head of State.
Until the death of Tanzania’s President John Magufuli, the regional power matrix was such that Uganda was openly pro-Jubilee administration while Magufuli stuck with the opposition leader, Mr Odinga.
DP Ruto is keen on expanding his networks beyond the country’s borders ahead of the polls.
But according to Machakos ex-senator Johnstone Muthama, who is also United Democratic
Alliance (UDA) chairman, DP’s trip to Uganda is part of friendship seeking.
“We are neighbours with Uganda. Their problems are our problems. This is the deputy president of the Republic of Kenya, the leadership of this country has invited Museveni for national events,” he said.
Keiyo South MP Daniel Rono said: “Museveni has just seen an enterprising young man that can change East Africa not Kenya alone.”
According to political analyst cum Javas Bigambo, the DP has a long way to go in diplomacy.
"So far his international ties are not particularly strong compared to Raila Odinga. But he seems to be making such steps, compared to Musalia Mudavadi. He needs to cultivate an international reputation the way Kalonzo Musyoka seems to have."
For Prof XN Iraki of the University of Nairobi, international friends remain very important not only to DP Ruto but 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.
By Justus Wanga, Aggrey Mutambo and Onyango K’onyango