Since the March 2018 handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, the people of Mt Kenya have come through for Deputy President William Ruto, largely rallying behind him at perhaps the lowest moment of his political career.
The outpouring emotional support from the masses offered solace and gave DP Ruto zest at a time he was perceived to be side-lined and powerful forces threatened to dispatch him into political oblivion. To a large extent, this support accounts for Dr Ruto’s steady rise from a near political pariah to the imperious and intimidating presidential candidate he has become ahead of the August 9 presidential election.
“If for nothing else, the DP had to reward the people of the region for coming through for him when he badly needed such a support,” says Mr Noor Malik Ahmed, a law student and political analyst, explaining why the DP has to pick a running mate from Mt Kenya region.
Mr Ahmed adds that the choice of a running mate from Mt Kenya is the only path to the presidency for Mr Ruto. “In picking a running mate from the mountain, Ruto will be telling the region that he has given them something tangible that passes as real power sharing. He cannot afford to gamble because anything less will burst the bubble.”
The reported standoff in the naming of a running mate yesterday, with the choice of Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua and Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki—both from the mountain — put the spotlight on why the UDA presidential aspirant’s hands are tied.
Observers of political trends agree that while Mr Ruto had a huge pool of individuals he could have easily tapped as running mate, including newfound ally and ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi, he cannot enjoy the latitude to its fullest extent out of antagonising voters from Mt Kenya region and potentially injuring his bid to succeed President Kenyatta.
Apart from Mr Gachagua, who has emerged as a hard-nosed and vocal Ruto loyalist, others who had been linked to the position are Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga Governor), Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu MP), Prof Kindiki and the Speaker of National Assembly Justin Muturi.
“Dr Ruto will be nothing without Mt Kenya. He had zero option,” University of Nairobi lecturer Herman Manyora said yesterday.
“If his support in Mt Kenya is to significantly drop today, he would have no option but withdraw from the presidential race planned for August. He has to pick a running mate from the region to have a fighting chance.”
Political analyst Javas Bigambo thinks that Dr Ruto appears to have anchored his bid on a similar strategy that he and his boss, President Kenyatta, successfully employed in both the 2013 and 2017 elections.
At that time, the two relied on the huge voter turnouts that were posted in Rift valley and Mt Kenya, cementing their victories by consolidating votes from other regions.
Mr Bigambo argues that to succeed in his bid, Dr Ruto must register huge wins in both Rift Valley and Mt Kenya and hope that other regions will equally top up his vote basket to complete his victory.
“Ruto needs a big win in Mt Kenya if he has to be declared the winner. He disadvantages himself if he had picked somebody outside Mt Kenya,” he said. “While it appears the DP had so many individuals from across the country he could pick from, he actually has no choice outside Mt Kenya.”
Mr Martin Andati, a political analyst, argues that Dr Ruto has to keep a promise he made to his supporters in the region.
“Walking out of this promise places him in an awkward position that in the fullness of time would be detrimental to his bid,” said Mr Andati, noting that the arrival of ANC leader and one-time vice-president, Mr Mudavadi, to form the Kenya Kwanza coalition did not change the plans.
“Mr Mudavadi arrived late, long after it was clear that Mr Ruto’s running mate would come from Mt Kenya,” he says.
Dr Ruto’s eye on the region is not without good reason. As the most largely homogenous political bloc it boasts the single biggest vote basket that is hard to ignore.