What you need to know:
- By going against his own government, Dr Ruto is likely to face a backlash from the President.
- Owing to a tumultuous tenure in office, pundits believe the President is hanging onto the BBI as the sole and realistic mark of his legacy.
Deputy President William Ruto is a troubled man. He has lately been struggling to shed the recently acquired “watermelon” tag over his unclear stand on the anticipated referendum on the Constitution.
While a majority of his “Hustler Nation” supporters have been pushing him to take an outright “No” stance on the upcoming vote, there are those in his inner circle who think it is too early to go against his boss, President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is one of the drivers of the law changes.
This week, the DP, while hosting leaders allied to him at his Karen residence, is said to have voiced fears that defying the President on the BBI drive could dent his 2022 presidential campaign, as the government machinery will likely be unleashed to counter his wave.
Sources within Dr Ruto’s camp who attended the meeting at Karen on Wednesday say he told the charged troops that heading the “No” campaigns would give his political nemesis, ODM leader Raila Odinga, a platform to use the State-backed campaign to redeem himself while the DP has to deploy personal resources now and later in the presidential campaign.
He further argues that an outright opposition of the President is likely to have implications on his agenda to succeed him.
“The DP will not go for a contested referendum, that is for sure,” said one of his allies who was at the private Karen meeting. “Even if they do not factor in issues we have raised, we will not fight about it. We have to keep our strength for a bigger fight. We cannot lead ‘No’ as this will give Raila momentum for 2022.”
Divide the country
The DP on Thursday admitted that in an event that the issues he has raised are not considered and he feels the process is threatening the unity of the country, he is ready to step back.
“The President and I do not have the luxury to run a process with the potential to threaten the unity of the country…if it gets to a point where the option is to divide the country or to step back, I will step back,” said Dr Ruto.
“The President and I share the position of not allowing a divided country…me and him have suffered as a result of a divisive process. We will not travel that journey again. I will do all I can to push for us to have a consensus without the win or lose.”
But yesterday, Bomet Senator Christopher Lang’at and Keiyo South MP, Daniel Rono seemed to suggest that pro-BBI team is pushing DP’s camp hard for a contested referendum to provide avenues for Mr Odinga’s political rejuvenation using government resources.
“Raila and team are trying very hard for DP to lead the “No” campaign so that they can use State resources to boost his political mileage,” said Dr Lang’at.
“We will not give fodder to Raila to use to market himself by saying No,” he said.
Dr Ruto’s director of communication Emmanuel Talam reiterated that the second in command wants consensus “because that is the best thing for the country. He has nothing personal to lose or gain in the referendum”.
Mumias East MP Benjamin Washiali says 80 per cent of issues the DP raised at Bomas have been sorted out, therefore, it is not wise to go against his boss when there is still a window for some of the contentious matters to be addressed.
“He wants consensus for the wellbeing of this nation. He cannot confront his boss,” said Mr Washiali, an ardent defender of the DP.
Taking Mr Kenyatta head-on would mean dropping all pretences that he is the President’s assistant, a narrative he has so far sustained despite apparent contradictions, and brave the consequences.
By going against his own government, Dr Ruto is likely to face a backlash from the President.
“It is unwise to come out openly to face his boss. In fact, it is us who told him to avoid it at all costs,” said Senator Lang’at.
“My boss the President is involved in this process, it is my duty to ensure that I make a contribution to make the process succeed,” DP Ruto said in a TV interview on Thursday night.
He has expressed reservations on three issues; the content of the BBI report, how the process is being conducted and the timing.
The DP and his allies called for the referendum to be held together with the elections in 2022 so that the money saved can be used to help the economy recover from Covid-19.
They also want a multichoice referendum to allow Kenyans to vote for clauses they want and reject those they don’t instead of a yes or no vote on the whole document.
Mr Ruto also called for more consensus on various issues among them the appointment of the Judiciary ombudsman, affirmative action, returning the 47 women reps elected to the National Assembly and more proposals in Article 11 to empower pastoralists, farmers and small businesses .
The DP, however, refused to be drawn directly to questions whether he will lead the “No” campaign if the referendum is held by August next year as planned.
He was also cagey on what direction he will take if his call for consensus is not taken up.
“You know me; I usually take clear positions on issues. But I’m the deputy president today and I have the interest of every Kenyan at heart,” Dr Ruto said at a presser held at his Karen home in Nairobi.
By him openly opposing the BBI, it could puncture his presidential ambitions especially if he loses in the vote. But opposing the drive gives the DP an opportunity to weigh his popularity ahead of his big battle in 2022.
The DP would be able to know from which regions he can attract more votes and even help him solve the “running mate challenge”.
Belgut MP Nelson Koech said, “Let us not reduce this debate to a “yes and no” contest. We are saying, it’s never too late to do the right thing.”
According to Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa, despite being empathetic to Kenyans considering the hard economic times due to the virus crisis, the political meetings have been reduced to burials, a move which is likely not to work in their favour.
Yet it is not Dr Ruto who is only in a dilemma. President Kenyatta finds himself caught up between the two political forces. The Head of State has been exhibiting public affection to the former Prime Minister, while at the same time holding closed-door meetings with his principal assistant.
With some of the DP’s proposals finding their way in the final BBI report, Dr Ruto’s backers have not only celebrated the “coup” against Mr Odinga, but they are now optimistic all is well between their man and his boss.
Elgeyo-Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen recently implied that it is Ruto’s political nemesis, Mr Odinga, who is now out of step with the goings-on in the BBI process.
There are claims of growing disquiet within the Orange party over the President’s alleged hand in the inclusion of the some of the issues raised by the DP in the final BBI report. Some view it as a political dalliance that could lead to their party boss being thrown under the bus.
Former Cabinet minister Prof Amukowa Anangwe, who worked briefly with Mr Kenyatta in the late President Daniel arap Moi’s Kanu regime, attributes the current developments to the President’s tact and the resolve to right past wrongs.
He believes the President is a well-meaning leader, who does not wish to see the country go to the dogs under his stewardship.
“His delicate balancing act is aimed at avoiding extreme and dangerous polarisation of the country. This can sometimes be difficult in practice when dealing with equally self-willed and adversarial political leaders who perceive politics as a zero-sum game. To some extent, therefore, Kenyatta is smart in the ways he exploits the levers of State power to his advantage in a seamless manner,” opines Prof Anangwe.
Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu concurs, terming the President a “political genius”, who has benefitted by being underestimated by his rivals all the time: “People assume that he’s where he is because he’s his father’s son.
However, the fact that he has managed to rally all his past competitors behind a political cause that he initiated only two years ago, tells you that very few understand the depth of his political capacity.”
But according to Nandi senator, Samson Cherargei, President Kenyatta has failed terribly in the BBI process “just like his failed leadership of the economy, not to mention a divided country”.
“The fact that he can’t vouch for consensus in the BBI points to a mockery to his legacy, in which up to now there is nothing to write home about,” said the senator, a harsh critic of the President.
Owing to a tumultuous tenure in office, pundits believe the President is hanging onto the BBI as the sole and realistic mark of his legacy.
That is why he is reaching out to his deputy, Mr Odinga, Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, Mudavadi, Wetangula, Kanu chairman, Gideon Moi and Chama cha Mashinani leader Isaac Ruto, among others.
These efforts could, however, be undermined by rivalry among the politicians. The President is similarly an interested party in whoever succeeds him, but so far he remains cagey on the subject.
Mr Odinga too is fighting a narrative, which is quickly gaining ground that he has been short-changed in the BBI process – a matter that could impact his relations with the President and probably his 2022 presidential bid.