Why August poll is a Uhuru vs Ruto affair

Uhuru and Ruto

President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) and his deputy William Ruto. The battle for President Kenyatta’s succession is shaping up to be one that pits his against his deputy.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The battle for President Kenyatta’s succession is shaping up to be one that pits the incumbent against his deputy, with the two trading barbs and accusing each other of betrayal and political treachery.

Yesterday, less than 24 hours after President Kenyatta oversaw the crowning of ODM leader Raila Odinga as the Azimio La Umoja presidential flagbearer, Mr Ruto launched a tirade against his boss, accusing him of betrayal, name-calling and intimidation.

Not sitting well

To Mr Ruto’s chagrin, President Kenyatta has taken full control of his succession as he leads nationwide campaigns for his political nemesis-turned-ally, Odinga.

Never before has the Head of State and the ruling party campaigned for the opposition leader. This is not sitting well with the Deputy President, who says, he has faithfully served the Kenyatta administration for more than eight years.

President Kenyatta’s acrimonious falling-out with Mr Ruto, and his subsequent ‘Handshake’ with Mr Odinga, has created a unique scenario in which there’s a very thin line between the government and the opposition.

Now pulling in different directions, the August 9 polls appear to be a contest between the President and his estranged deputy.

The President was instrumental in the Saturday events that led to the crowning of Mr Odinga as the Azimio La Umoja coalition flagbearer, and as the chairman of the Azimio coalition’s council, he will take charge of Mr Odinga’s campaigns.

The Nation established yesterday that it was the Head of State who brokered a deal between Mr Odinga and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka before the One Kenya Alliance (OKA) principal agreed to join Azimio. The President also mobilised several political parties that signed the coalition agreement with Jubilee and ODM.

At the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), where at least 20 delegates drawn from all the parties in the coalition endorsed Mr Odinga’s candidature, the President heaped praise on Mr Musyoka for shelving his ambitions to support the ODM boss.

“This gathering of delegates from various parties within Azimio [has] unanimously endorsed the person who will be elected as the fifth president of Kenya—Raila Odinga,” President Kenyatta announced to the crowd’s cheers.

“The structure of government will be an inclusive arrangement that will leave nobody out. All will be involved in that leadership.”

President Kenyatta has also launched a massive programme aimed at revamping Jubilee Party by deploying the “red army” in Mt Kenya to neutralise any gains made by Mr Ruto, who, while addressing his supporters at Thika Stadium in Kiambu County yesterday, claimed he had suffered so much in the past four years and accused Mr Kenyatta of betrayal after supporting him in the 2013 and 2017 elections.

“I walked with you when you needed a brother by your side. For four-and-a-half years, you have caused us untold suffering. You have hounded us, dropped our allies from parliamentary committees and called us names. You have overseen the downfall of Jubilee,” the DP claimed.

Some of the DP’s allies that were kicked out of influential positions are Elgeyo-Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, who was the Senate Majority Leader, his National Assembly counterpart Aden Duale, Majority Chief Whip Susan Kihika, deputy Senate Speaker Kithure Kindiki and Majority Whip Benjamin Washiali.

Also axed was former Jubilee deputy secretary-general Caleb Kositany, who was replaced by Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny.

The DP vowed to mount a formidable campaign because “the people are with me”.

“We walked with you across the country. We stood with you and prayed together so that The Hague cases could go away. Now, you’ve turned against us and labelled us your enemies. It is okay,” he said.

The DP also took issue with Mr Kenyatta for calling out the clergy for accepting his donations, saying, the President should respect the church.

“The same leaders you’re now calling names are the ones that prayed for you when you were facing trials at The Hague. I’m shocked that out of eight million Kenyans, you chose to support Mr Odinga. We have forgiven you but at least have some respect for us,” he said.

Mr Odinga yesterday attended a service at All Saints Cathedral before jetting out of the country to the United Kingdom for what his campaign spokesperson, Prof Makau Mutua, described as a “working tour”.

The ODM boss was accompanied [to the church] by governors Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega), Charity Ngilu (Kitui), James Ongwae (Kisii) and Cornel Rasanga (Siaya).

“We want to ensure this country remains peaceful. In spite of our political inclinations, we should not hate each other. We want to ensure our democracy prevails so that we conduct campaigns with respect because at the end of the day, we’re all Kenyans,” Mr Odinga said.

A bigger team

Ms Ngilu said they went to church to “continue to commit him (Mr Odinga) to God and pray that he guides him, gives him wisdom, knowledge and understanding to make a better Kenya using the resources available”.

Mr Oparanya will act as the ODM boss in Mr Odinga’s absence. “We’re up to the task to continue with the campaigns. We’re now a bigger team and will continue to tour the country in the hunt for votes,” he said.

Political analyst Dismas Mokua said Mr Odinga will have to rely on President Kenyatta’s influence to bag Mt Kenya votes.

“The only reason why he (Mr Kenyatta) will be going to campaign for Azimio in Mt Kenya is that among the leadership there, none has the capacity to turn the tide [against the DP] and so the President himself must take the bull by the horns,” he said.

“It might take a bit of time to change the tide against the DP, but it’s not too late because the President has got access to a lot of information, has got economic power and amazing social capital to do that,” Mr Mokua added.

Meanwhile, the entry of Mr Musyoka into the Azimio fold has unsettled some key players in the team over Mr Odinga’s possible choice for running mate, with several players insisting the position must go to Mt Kenya region due to its numerical strength.

This is justified by the fact that, should Mr Odinga choose a running mate outside Mt Kenya region, the DP could overrun him. The region has 10 counties, which are Meru (780,858), Tharaka Nithi (234,618), Embu (337,627), Nyeri (492,046) and Kirinyaga (378,580).

The others are Murang’a (628,416), Kiambu (1,293,309), Laikipia (265,842) and Nakuru (1,050,367), bringing together 5,824,020 votes, while the neighbouring Nairobi has 2,505,199 registered voters.

The running mate slot was initially seen as the battle between former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth and Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya.

“We’re also keenly monitoring what Dr Ruto is up to in terms of the selection of his running mate. If he settles on a woman, say Ms Alice Wahome, we may also be forced to line up females from the region to counter that,” said a source at Azimio.

“We have Sabina Chege and a youthful Agriculture Chief Administrative Secretary Anne Nyaga from Mt Kenya East, who are both touted for the position. If the circumstances allow us to choose from outside the region, we have Ms Charity Ngilu.”

Ms Nyaga serves in the Miraa Technical Task Force Implementation committee. She is also involved in various youth empowerment programmes.

Former Nasa chief executive Norman Magaya, an expert from the Musyoka camp who took part in the generation of the Azimio pact, said debating was ongoing on the running mate position.

Kanu Secretary-General Nick Salat said the deal was “an achievement that’s good for the future of this country”.