DP William Ruto

DP William Ruto.

| File | Nation Media Group

DP William Ruto’s fears ahead of key 2022 elections

When they teamed up in 2012 against the grain and mounted a successful expedition to State House months later, it was more than just leading the country for President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto. Their very survival depended on it.

They were not going to allow a hostile winner coming after President Mwai Kibaki to hand them over to a foreign court, The International Criminal Court (ICC) based at The Hague following the 2007/2008 post-election violence. They, among others, had been accused of instigating some of the worst political violence in Kenya’s history. The separate ICC cases against both Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto were ended in different circumstances.

Yet, Dr Ruto, who has since fallen out spectacularly with President Kenyatta, somewhat finds himself in similar circumstances today.

Like it worked for Mr Kenyatta then, he has pressing motivations to be President beyond the altruistic service to the people — this time for reasons beyond the ICC cases (even though Dr Ruto’s case is actually in the freezer and can be unfrozen if fresh evidence emerges).

Deep-rooted concerns

Multiple interviews with the Deputy President’s allies and advisors point to a number of deep-rooted concerns in Dr Ruto’s corner as he readies his arsenal for the 2022 presidential contest.

From the rather remote possibility of his ICC case being revived and fighting the “corrupt” tag to keeping together his loose Tangatanga formation that is currently experiencing vicious infighting, Dr Ruto is more than ever determined to succeed his boss in order to secure a number of interests.

Some of them have already been exposed after being stripped of political cover when his grip on power was whittled down following the rapprochement between President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga in March 2018.

Post-poll violence cases

One such scare, which was later rescinded, was an attempt by head of the Directorate of Criminal Investigation George Kinoti last November to reopen a probe into the post-poll violence in what attracted widespread criticism. The Deputy President’s allies were convinced the cases were being revived to curtail his chances of ascending to power.

Mr Kinoti would later be told off by President Kenyatta for ‘being reckless’. It appeared some in the President’s inner circle had instigated this without realising the full consequences.

For DP Ruto’s camp, Mr Kenyatta stopped the ill-advised attempt by the DCI out of shared sympathy since he was dragged alongside him to The Hague. “What if it was someone else in-charge of the security agencies?” one of his allies, who spoke in confidence, said.

Soy MP Caleb Kositany, a member of Dr Ruto’s kitchen Cabinet, accuses the DCI of pandering to the whims of the executive to advance political agenda.

“On ICC, we’re as innocent as one can be. We won’t allow anyone to use public resources to revive the cases,” he said.

Witnesses tampering

However, still lingering is the case against lawyer Paul Gicheru, who is accused of tampering with witnesses allegedly on behalf of Dr Ruto. The Hague-based court has released details putting Dr Ruto at the centre of the plot. His lawyers have, however, dismissed the claims even as the case is expected to provide more details once it starts.

That is not the only problem the Deputy President will be trying to fight off. Questions on his integrity have refused to go away despite attempts to project himself as a “hustler”, a rags-to-riches kind of person who has made his money through hard work. His advisors are aware that this “image problem” could be used by opponents ahead of 2022.

Then there is the worry that since the DP has in the last eight years accumulated considerable wealth, a President other than himself or a friendly one allied to him could go after his wealth.

Swathes of land

The DP is reported to have acquired swathes of land across the country such as ranches in Laikipia and Taita Taveta where his campaign nerve centre meant to oversee the Coast region is based.

He has also made a heavy presence in real estate. Weston Hotel, a facility found along Lang’ata Road, in Nairobi, is one such case. Built on public land, there has been contention whether it should be demolished and the land reverted to the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) or the DP made to pay the State and keep it instead. In the event of a regime change, Dr Ruto has told his aides that if he does not become President and some else who has scores to settle may bring the building down.

Those who do not admire DP’s brand of politics, like former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto, is on record as saying that he is ‘pro-primitive accumulation of wealth’.

When asked about the source of his wealth in a recent interview, the DP said, “I am a businessman who works hard. I have been an MP for close to 25 years. I have been a DP now for eight years.”

Related to the question of wealth is the corruption tag. One such eyesore is the case of Adrian Gilbert Muteshi who took him to court on claims of land grabbing.

‘Land grabber’ tag

In June 2013, the Deputy President was ordered to pay Sh5 million to the post-election violence victim for illegally occupying his land. The case has been used by his detractors to entrench the tag of a ‘land grabber’ and the fear is it can be used to pursue him even for what is legally owned.

“Look at Arror and Kimwarer saga for instance. We have a system that would rather pay billions to a contractor whose tender was erroneously cancelled in compensation and play politics with such an important matter in the name of fighting corruption, DCI is a political tool,” Mr Kositany, also the former Jubilee deputy secretary-general told the Sunday Nation.

Another matter causing the man variously described by some observers as hot-tempered, and ruthlessly ambitious sleepless nights, is his isolation in Mr Kenyatta’s second term in office. Intertwined with this is what effect the handshake—and offshoots like the Building Bridges Initiative — between the President and Mr Odinga will have on the next elections. There is also the question of a referendum this year, if the legal challenges are overcome, and its impact on the political landscape.

Dr Ruto holds that if the “system” has been used to embarrass him, the latest being left with no role to play during recent high-profile events like the state visit of Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan, he wonders the extent such actors would go if he became an ordinary citizen.

Strange bedfellows

Mr Kenyatta and DP Ruto were strange bedfellows in the 2013 polls given in the previous General Election (2007) they were on opposing sides. The President was a leading figure in championing the interests of his community in the disputed presidential polls then.

The election pitted Mr Odinga, the ODM leader Odinga and President Kibaki, who was running for a second and final term in the office. DP Ruto was on Odinga’s side. The DP led his URP party into an alliance with Mr Kenyatta’s TNA as a way of uniting the Kalenjin and Kikuyu communities to calm long-standing tensions in the Rift Valley.

Prof Winnie Mitullah, an experienced hand in political strategy from the University of Nairobi, says no aggressive politician doesn’t admire being President.

She thinks that in the situation DP Ruto finds himself in, he will do himself a great favour by becoming the President.

“He has some burdens that he has to manage and he will do so better as President. Whether it is the ICC, land grabbing claims or graft allegations, he needs security beyond the ordinary one,” she says.

Central Kenya

She agrees that the second in command has to strike while the iron is hot in Central Kenya.

“Central Kenya has the numbers and if you don’t have the region on your side in the race to State House, you’re not going far. But it is also fair to mention that it is split at the moment so it may not be Ruto’s for the taking,” Prof Mitullah said.

And here lies another headache for Dr Ruto: Keeping together competing interests in his loose Tangatanga formation, UDA and affiliated parties. As elections draw closer, politicians allied to him will elbow each other in supremacy battles. Interests and alliances may also shift and change the political landscape. In Central Kenya, which is key in his votes matrix, political allies like Mathira MP Rigathe Gachagua and Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria no longer see eye-to-eye.

The question is, how will Dr Ruto hold these individual and regional interests in his camp and avoid a fallout? His latest strategy has been to meet regional leaders and come up with a relevant economic blueprint after listening to their needs. Only time will tell whether or not this will be enough to keep his base together while attracting new supporters to his “Hustler Nation”.

Highly contested poll

Prof Mitullah, however, expressed fear that the outcome of what she predicts to be a highly contested poll next year maybe destabilising the country unless the concerned agencies take precautionary measures.

“The scary bit is the possibility of a return of violence we witnessed in 2007. I hope we do not end up there,” she said.

Other than the isolation, the Deputy President worries that losing an election next year in a country where presidents almost always do two terms in office once elected will mean staying out in the cold for at least 10 years before trying his luck again.

Mounting a come-back from the opposition side would pose some challenge for a man who has been at the centre of power and only a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Having influenced appointment of trusted lieutenants to plum government positions, the frosty relationship with the Head of State has seen a number of them replaced in a ruthless purge on corruption that to him was only targeted at those close to him.

A man who knows the value of having the right people in strategic positions in government, the ongoing ‘haemorrhage’ has caused disquiet in his camp. Correcting the ‘injustice’ would be among his first order of business were he to become the chief tenant at the House on the Hill. The first sign that all was not well between him and his boss was when the President unveiled his Cabinet line-up after the 2017 polls without him.

He said in a recent televised interview that Mr Kenyatta should get the police out of managing the economy. Dr Ruto was referring to various graft investigations by the DCI. He has accused Mr Kinoti of using the agency to pursue political agenda.

Fighting corruption

Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, DP’s lieutenant from Murang’a, says the current regime and those being fronted to succeed Mr Kenyatta do not have the moral authority to lecture anyone on the subject of fighting corruption.

“Unless they open a school to teach people on how to become rich by stealing maybe they would get a few clients. We are not scared of their plans to stop our State House march. We have no time for their mundane games,” he said.

And in the unlikely event that he settles for the second slot again next year and they win the elections, it would be hard for him to trust the President to keep his word on transacting government business and any other pre-election pacts, written or tacit.

Mr Kenyatta is on record as saying that he would do his 10 years in the office then support his deputy to take over. His words and actions in recent years suggest a departure from that position.

Central Kenya, the President’s backyard, seems to have overwhelmingly shifted to DP’s side going by the sentiments from the ground and the recent by-election in Juja where a candidate he supported triumphed over that supported by Mr Kenyatta’s Jubilee party. Dr Ruto has told his strategists that it is now or never. If he does not ride on the popularity wave to the State House, it might be hard keeping the region to his side for long after the next General Election. It is the same litmus test for some tycoons who are willing to cast his lot with him now.

Whichever way it goes and with the dynamics remaining fairly constant, the country is staring at high stakes elections that will potentially end a number of political careers on the grounds of age, miscalculation among others.