Why Ruto is in dilemma over BBI

William Ruto

Deputy President William Ruto during a meeting with professionals from Lower Eastern region at his Karen residence office in Nairobi on November 3, 2020..

Photo credit: DPPS

What you need to know:

  • 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.”

Deputy President William Ruto is in a Catch-22 situation over the referendum vote — heading a ‘No’ campaign could backfire should he lose, and his opponents have made it harder for him to join them.

By ruling out any amendments to the BBI report, President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga’s camp have denied the DP the soft landing he would have capitalised on to avoid a contest.

Yet without a platform through which Dr Ruto can demonstrate to his supporters that his reservations with the document have been addressed to justify his U-turn to endorse it, he is forced to continue with his resistance.

This would inevitably set him up for a showdown with his boss in the referendum vote planned for June; which would require he deploys resources to counter the State-backed campaign, a costly affair just 14 months to the next General Election that he needs to pull all stops if his bid to become President is to materialise.

Taking the President head on would mean he drops all pretext that he is not defying his boss, a narrative he has so far sustained despite apparent contradictions, and brave the consequences of a Head of State who would equally go after him.

But the biggest gamble would be that the DP would have no control over the outcome of the vote. While a win would give his presidential campaign momentum, a loss — and the odds are against him having lost in the 2010 referendum — would equally puncture his projection of political invincibility.

Divisive referendum.

It would appear it is such risks that would have prompted the DP to recently call for a non-contested referendum, a plea that appears to have been spurned by President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga’s meeting with more than 300 MPs in Naivasha on Monday.

Political analysts observe that Dr Ruto is “damned if he supports, damned if he doesn't.”

Dr Ruto had expressed his reservations on certain proposals in the BBI document and called for consensus to avoid “a divisive referendum.”

The DP had suggested fresh conversation on the involvement of political parties in the nomination of electoral commissioners, the independence of police service and Judiciary as well as his position that the Senate needed to be strengthened. 

Political analyst Herman Manyora argues that Dr Ruto is rooting for a non-contested referendum due to the realisation that he may not manage to counter the State machinery that President Kenyatta has put in place to ensure approval of the BBI report.

The DP, Mr Manyora states, is aware of the implications of losing the referendum vote on his 2022 presidential bid and that he is now caught between a rock and a hard place, whether to support or oppose it.

“So he may retreat but he (Ruto) is being careful in the way of retreating. He is trying to appear like he is giving conditions so that he can enter there through those conditions,” says Mr Manyora.

By going against his own government, Dr Ruto is also likely to face a backlash from the President.

Mr Manyora adds that the President and Mr Odinga were, however, aware of the DP’s game plan “and just want to box him.”

“They want him to make blunders, to even oppose Uhuru directly as he has of late been doing and with this he will be playing into the President’s hands.”

“This will make him lose some people who think he is disobeying the Head of State. If he really wants to contest 2022 election and fight BBI, it is better for him to leave government,” Mr Manyora suggests.

Presidential ambitions

By Dr Ruto 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.”

Without amendments, political analysts argue it will not be easy for the DP to convince his supporters to support BBI while issues he raised at the Bomas of Kenya had not been addressed.

They say he could get a backlash from supporters should he make an about-turn and support the document without the amendments he suggested.