The hurdles in Ruto’s political steeplechase to State House

Deputy President William Ruto [Photo: Boniface Okendo]

Deputy President William Ruto is currently between political rock and a hard place in the race to the House on the Hill in 2022.

While President Uhuru Kenyatta has twice tried keeping the bromance with his deputy- which started ahead of the 2013 elections alive, there is no doubt he’s not   happy that Ruto is focused on succeeding him when his tenure ends, instead of helping him implement his signature Big Four Agenda.

The president’s recent move to elevate Interior Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiangi to the stellar position of supervising, coordinating and public communication regarding all  government programmes and projects has been interpreted to mean the tireless CS is a de facto prime minister, Ruto having been cut down to size.

The move is in stark contrast to the president’s remarks in June last year, when he tasked Ruto with checking on implementation of government programmes and projects and getting citizen feedback even as he scolded him for roaming across the country every weekend: “Hii kijana anaitwa Ruto unajua kila wikendi anatangatanga kila pahali. Atakuwa anapitia hizi machochoro. Akiona kitu inaenda konakona mmwambie. Tuhakikishe kazi ya wananchi imefanyika!

Political analysts posit that Uhuru is at pains with Ruto whose political posturing is at variance with the limited time the president has to cement his legacy not only pegged on the Big Four Agenda-food security, affordable housing, manufacturing and affordable healthcare, but also eradicating corruption-which is more realistic of the four.

Ruto’s camp have been second guessing Uhuru’s every move, including his shock ‘Handshake’ to mend fences with ODM leader Raila Odinga, his foremost opponent in the 2017 presidential elections.

Ruto’s camp feels the Building Bridges Initiative spearheaded by Uhuru and Raila and which seeks to unite Kenya, is aimed at curtailing his presidential ambitions.

What are Ruto’s options going forward?

Political analyst Prof Macharia Munene says Ruto should borrow a leave from Moi, who suffered humiliation in the hands of founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s henchmen but persevered and was in the end rewarded with ascent to the presidency when Jomo Kenyatta died on August 22, 1978.  

“It is a difficult situation but that is when stamina and patience comes in handy. He should learn from Moi and avoid showing his unbridled ambitions,” Prof Munene, who teaches history and international relations at USIU-A, told The Nairobian.

Deputy President William Ruto [Photo: Boniface Okendo]

While it is not clear whether Raila will be in the running, there are a lot of other alternative candidates that could give Ruto a strong challenge and, if supported by Uhuru and ‘Baba’ could cost him State House. They include Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi and Mombasa Governor and ODM deputy party leader Ali Hassan Joho. Also in the picture is Kakamega Governor Moses Akaranga, who is also an ODM deputy party leader.

Joho has already made clear he is eyeing the presidency and in recent days, he made forays to Western Kenya, which Ruto has been seeking to pocket. On Tuesday, he hosted former Kiambu governor William Kabogo in Mombasa an indicator he is also seeking the support of Uhuru’s turf.

While he had many run-ins with Uhuru during his first term, the ‘Handshake’ deal has greatly worked in his favour, something he made clear when Uhuru presided over the renovation of Mama Ngina Drive in Mombasa.

This week, he revealed how the President has on numerous occasions put him in touch with various Cabinet Secretaries to enhance development projects in the coastal city, including the Kibarani beautification project.

“After the handshake, it was easy for me to engage the national government. The President has put me on video call several times, with several ministers, asking about Kibarani. He is following it up,” said Joho.

 It is this and other reasons why the DP is opposed to any plot to review the constitution especially if it will work to disperse presidential powers through the creation of a Prime Minister’s position, despite Uhuru declaring there is need to ensure the winner-takes-it-all scenario that has previously led to ethnic conflict is checked.

With eyes focused on State House, the DP has been making forays into the President’s Mt Kenya backyard as well as the Opposition strongholds of Coast and Western Kenya where he has managed to win the support of MPs allied to ODM and its affiliates in NASA.

Deputy President William Ruto [Photo: Joseph Kipsang]

During those tours, Ruto has been presiding over fundraisers and the launch of various development projects, many of which have never been implemented.

Dr Matiang’i’s new role has been interpreted as part of ensuring the DP does not take advantage of government programmes and projects to enhance his 2022 chances.   

Political watchers say the DP will have to tread carefully lest he complicates matters by openly defying the President.

While Uhuru cannot sack Ruto under the current constitution, any split among them is likely to deny him considerable support from Mt Kenya voters to the advantage of anyone the President will rally behind for 2022.

While many political watchers say Ruto is a self-made politician and a good student of former President Moi who can navigate any obstacles even if he were to go it alone, losing the support of the incumbent President is highly risky.

Already, Uhuru has hinted that he has no preferred candidate in 2022 telling Kenyans and that his choice will be a shocker