What you need to know:
- Second-in-command seems to have opened too many fronts at once or revealed his arsenal too early in State House quest.
- Ruto allies insist the showdown in Parliament has shown he commands the single largest bloc of MPs.
A string of losses Deputy President William Ruto has suffered in recent political contests and their implication for his presidential bid has excited rivals, who see in them his waning influence.
To rivals, the DP’s losses have exposed his soft underbelly, busted the myth that he has the numbers and shattered the aura of invisibility that has given his “Hustler Nation” mantra traction.
But Ruto allies argue that the latest showdown in Parliament has demonstrated that the DP commands the single largest bloc of MPs, at 83, more than any other party leader on his own.
And, far from exposing his weakness, they say, the fact that he’s putting up a resistance despite the heavy state machinery deployed to crush him shows his steely determination that further emboldens his support base.
After refusing to openly go against the Constitution of Kenya Amendment Bill, 2020 despite prodding by Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) architects President Kenyatta and Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party leader Raila Odinga, observers say he has shown his hand by the manner in which his allies voted in Parliament.
University of Nairobi political analyst Herman Manyora says the developments suggest the DP is all bark but no bite.
“Politics is a question of numbers and it’s becoming increasingly clear that William Ruto may not have them. My advice to him is to withdraw his troops and try again in 2027 or 2032,” the don said.
But Murang’a senator Irungu Kang’ata insists this argument is misplaced.
Most powerful politician
“The BBI vote in the National Assembly shows Ruto is the most powerful politician in Kenya. He has 83 MPs, Raila has 57 and Uhuru 53. For the first time since reintroduction of multiparty politics, we have a non-Kikuyu politician who has penetrated Mt Kenya region,” Mr Kang’ata said.
This is a message his allies are keen on hammering.
“We are not losing sight of the main task ahead, which is to see a change in the leadership of this country next year. And in any case, 83 is not a small number under the command of one person as compared to 230 under the command of seven of so-called party leaders,” said Belgut MP Nelson Koech, adding that they will not lose focus on their major goal because of “small fights”.
But, according to Mr Manyora, the DP’s failure to marshal his troops, and even losing some of his key allies to rivals, is telling.
“With time, many of us have come to agree that Ruto may not become President. It’s a question of numbers and it’s clear Ruto may not have them,” he said.
“What the DP has been doing is living a lie. He’s living in utopia. He needs to come back to reality and realise that he’s losing votes,” Joshua Kutuny, Jubilee Party deputy secretary-general said.
The Cherang’any MP said the DP will soon run out of excuses to explain his losses. Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, another critic of the DP, said he lost direction when he decided to remain in government while at the same time opposing its policies.
“The DP assumed that he could have his cake and eat it. Until he stops trying to oppose the policies put in place by the President, he will continue losing,” the Nyeri Town MP said.
Isolated in his own administration, the DP appears to have opened too many fronts at once or revealed his arsenal too early, both critical mistakes in the battle for the house on the hill.
With a mixture of bravado, internal coups and the 2018 Handshake between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, the DP has been put to his defence, constantly being backed into a corner.
This was seen in the by-election defeats, the removal of his key allies from crucial parliamentary posts, as well as the BBI Bill.
Confident almost to a fault about his chances in the 2022 State House run, the DP has dismissed his competitors, with the exception of Mr Odinga, whom he says he will beat, but sees as a worthy opponent.
But the passage of the BBI Bill by more than two-thirds of the members in both Houses has now raised questions about the DP’s grip on his team as well as his political chances.
The axing of majority leaders Kipchumba Murkomen (Senate) and Aden Duale (National Assembly), majority whips Susan Kihika (Senate) and Benjamin Washiali (National Assembly), Jubilee deputy secretary-general Caleb Kositany as well as various parliamentary committee chairpersons allied to him has raised doubt about the DP’s influence.
The defeats in the Kabuchai and Matungu parliamentary by-elections and the Machakos senatorial race and the passage of the BBI with the support of 10 of Ruto-allied MPs in the National Assembly and only 12 of the 67 senators maintaining the camp’s resistance, was so significant, some of the President’s allies now see an impeachment as a possibility.
“We hope that with the BBI vote, the question on who has the numbers has been settled once and for all. If he [Ruto] continues with his defiance, these numbers give us the confidence and we could escalate things to the next step [impeachment]. We have the numbers,” said National Assembly Majority Leader Amos Kimunya last week after the National Assembly voted 235 to 83 to endorse the BBI Bill.