Okoth Obado.

From left: Parliamentary Service Commission member Johnson Muthama, State House Deputy Chief of Staff Josphat Nanok, East African Legislative Assembly MP Hassan Omar and former Migori Governor Okoth Obado.

| Nation Media Group

The chosen and the shortchanged: Murmurs of disharmony in President Ruto's camp

What you need to know:

  • Analysts say the President is on a mission to create new centres of power by bringing on board new faces in a grand scheme that could edge out veteran politicians. 

The delicate balancing act between politics and economics has become a major challenge for President William Ruto as he marks a year in office. Like his predecessors, he struggles to reward supporters who stood with him in the run-up to the 2022 General Election against Raila Odinga of Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition. The appointment of professionals to implement the Bottom-Up Economic Transformation Agenda, for instance, hasn’t been easy.

And now, there are murmurs in the Kenya Kwanza administration that the President has sidelined some of the key figures and regional kingpins who played a crucial role in propelling him to power. Some of those who backed him during his tribulations in the second term of the Jubilee administration claim they got “minor positions”. In what looks like a move to send the old guard to political oblivion, Dr Ruto and his deputy, Rigathi Gachagua, appear focused on grooming young leaders in various regions.

Analysts say the President is on a mission to create new centres of power by bringing on board new faces in a grand scheme that could edge out veteran politicians.  Some of those who have allegedly been sidelined are Parliamentary Service Commission member Johnson Muthama, State House Deputy Chief of Staff Josphat Nanok, former Migori Governor Okoth Obado and Hassan Omar of the East African Legislative Assembly.

Muthama was arrested during the campaigns and his businesses were frustrated after the government stopped the export of gemstones. His accounts were frozen only for them to be reinstated by the courts after reaching an agreement with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA).

 Many people have failed to fathom how Nanok, who was the director-general of Ruto’s presidential campaign, and Muthama – who was the chairperson of the United Democratic Alliance – missed Cabinet slots. When Ruto constituted his campaign team, the technical advisory committee chaired by Muthama tapped legal minds like Duncan Ojwang’, Nelson Havi and Fredrick Otieno Nyanguri. These brains worked behind the scenes and drafted the case which challenged the puppet project of Kenyatta and Odinga dubbed the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula, his Senate counterpart Amason Kingi, and Dr Alfred Mutua (Foreign and Diaspora Affairs Cabinet Secretary), later joined the Kenya Kwanza team.

“Some of the people like Mutua and Kingi came way late when everything had been done and you wonder what their contribution was because there are leaders who sacrificed everything from the beginning. In a meeting chaired by Muthama at his private office in Gigiri, he came up with the idea of challenging BBI and that is how it was defeated,” said a source.

 President Ruto’s focus has been Nyanza, Western, Lower Eastern (Ukambani) and Coastal regions, where he has he’s fighting the bases of Odinga and Wiper boss Kalonzo Musyoka.

 Dr Ruto has placed his hopes on ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo and Mwala MP Vincent Musyoka to wrestle Nyanza and Ukambani from Odinga and Musyoka respectively. In Western, UDA Secretary-General Cleophas Malala is the President’s chief messenger.

 During the burial of Mwala MP Musyoka’s mother on August 22, Gachagua asked the community to cut ties with Wiper party leader, whom he accused of misleading the nearly two million-strong voting bloc spread across Kitui, Machakos and Makueni counties.

 “Muthama, who was the chairperson of UDA, joined PSC and could not continue to be the party boss. So we came up with post of Organising Secretary and gave it to Kawaya (Mwala MP). He also sits at the table where the national cake is shared and when I look at his political future, everything is Okay and I would like to ask people of Mwala and the entire Ukambani region to fully support him,” said Gachagua as he endorsed the legislator to take over from the Wiper boss as the region’s leader.

 Gachagua’s endorsement of the Mwala MP has ruffled feathers in the region with most leaders asking why the DP would give the Kamba community direction in regard to their own political kingpin, while himself he is fighting on his own to bring as many leaders as possible in the vote-rich Mount Kenya in his fold.

 Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua, told The Weekly Review that Kalonzo’s position in Ukambani cannot be ended with government appointments, saying any attempt to dethrone him would fail.

 “They have never succeeded before; they will not succeed now or in the future. Kalonzo’s position in the community is not something that can be taken away by positions given to our people in government. Kalonzo grew from the position and he never campaigned for it,” said Wambua.

 During the 2017 General Election, when Uhuru and Dr Ruto were relying on the Mwala MP, Kitui East’s Nimrod Mbai and the then-Machakos Town MP Victor Munyaka, they got a paltry 15 per cent, while Kalonzo, working with Muthama, delivered 85 per cent of the vote to Odinga.

 But in 2022, the figures appeared to have improved when Muthama, a former financier of the Wiper leader, joined the Ruto campaign, shooting the vote from 15 per cent in 2017 to 30 per cent. Dr Ruto garnered 250,070 votes compared to 192,646 votes of Jubilee in Ukambani in 2017.

 Should Azimio pick Kalonzo as their candidate in 2027, he would sweep the votes in Ukambani. “Kalonzo is positioning himself as the de facto Azimio leader and 2027 presidential candidate. He will face challenges because he has no magnetic appeal outside his traditional base and will need to develop capacity and competence to attract leaders and supporters to his camp. Majority don’t see Kalonzo as a credible presidential candidate because he has not displayed the political killer instinct,” observes political risk analyst Dismas Mokua.

 Dr Erick Komolo, a political analyst, notes: “Kalonzo must be seen as a team player who is able to unite the Azimio brigade and nothing stops him from doing that. He should also lead the team that constructively criticizes the government on issues of public interest.”

 President Ruto’s move top groom young leaders in different regions isn’t alien in Kenyan politics. President Daniel arap Moi tried to use the likes of William Odongo Omamo, Hezekiah Oyugi and Dalmas Otieno to undermine the Odingas in Nyanza, but the plan did not succeed.

In Ukambani, Moi and Mulu Mutisya backed General Jackson Mulinge to floor Paul Ngei but failed. Prior, Jomo Kenyatta had tried to upstage Ngei in 1963 by rallying behind Henry Muli but the plan also flopped.

When Moi appointed Musalia Mudavadi as the Vice President in an attempt to lure the Luhya community to rally behind Uhuru in 2002, he did not succeed with the community sticking with the opposition, where one of their own, Kijana Wamalwa, was Mwai Kibaki’s running mate.

 Dr Ruto’s elevation of Malala seeks to tame Mudavadi and Wetang’ula.

In his recent visit to Western, Senate Majority Whip Bonny Khalwale claimed that the key politicians from the region were sidelined.

“There are only three factors in Luhya leadership – Mudavadi, Wetang’ula and Khalwale. You cannot plan anything in Western without the input of these leaders,” he said.

 Malala has insisted that both Amani National Congress (ANC) associated with Mudavadi and Wetang’ula’s Ford-Kenya must fold and join UDA.

“We must prioritise our community. We must be strategic. The only way Luhyas will get to the top is by joining a national party. I want to urge the Luhya community to join the ruling national party which is UDA,” he said.