Ruto may be down, but is he out yet?
Kenya’s political landscape is like a ping-pong ball, changing direction randomly and sometimes unpredictably. If anyone were to accurately predict who the next president of our republic will be after the 2022 elections, that person is probably a direct descendant of a magician or traditional medicine man. It is no mean feat.
The current political atmosphere was unimaginable just a few years ago. No one would have believed or even predicted that Raila Odinga – the hitherto Opposition chief, perennial bitter presidential election loser, a man who has been jeered, disrespected, demeaned and insulted by his political enemies – would become one of the closest and most trusted friends of President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Equally, no one would have thought, even in their wildest imagination, that Deputy President William Ruto, the self-proclaimed hustler from Sugoi, an equal partner and the second centre of power in the Jubilee government; the man who shared the presidential ticket with the sitting head of state, could have swung so far, so wide and so fast from the heart of the president and the ruling Jubilee party.
Before the famous handshake between Raila and Uhuru happened in March 2018, it was a forgone conclusion that the DP was next in line to be president. This was settled in the minds of diehard Jubilee followers because as far as they could remember, the plan was meant to be 10 years for Uhuru followed immediately by 10 years for Dr Ruto.
No wonder the shift in fortunes has rubbed Ruto’s supporters the wrong way, with many of them cursing Raila as their number one enemy. What they seem to have forgotten is that politics is the only game where friends and enemies are made and kept only as long as it is convenient. That there are no permanent political enemies or friends because, as dirty as it remains, politics is also dynamic.
Many of Ruto’s supporters may be jittery about the political realignments taking place that are threatening to render their man irrelevant. Perhaps they need to consider that they may have started counting their chickens too early; their celebration preceded their investment as they failed to realise that they were still a long way from the finish line.
The political bromance between Uhuru and Ruto, which was the defining trait of the Jubilee government, has been replaced by suspicion, misunderstanding, hostility, seclusion and open rebellion. The way things stand now, it is unlikely that there will be any meaningful reconciliation within Jubilee. Still, anyone keen to reap from the disaffection should not be too quick to celebrate because the twists and turns of Kenyan politics have only just begun, and anything new should not come as a surprise to anyone.
Although Raila is considered by his supporters to be the oasis of political wisdom and bravado, and a shield of the poor and politically oppressed, he is also human and must therefore take the necessary precautions even when things appear to be flowing in his favour. This is crucial because in politics, one never sees the dagger until it strikes.
Many political pundits aver that Ruto is both ebullient and bellicose. But his undoing was the early campaign mode he plunged into with such impunity. It is this untoward behaviour that turned his march to State House on its head and destroyed the warm relationship he had with the commander-in-chief in the good old days, when they wore matching shirts and referred to one other as “brother”. If only he had been a little patient and respectful of his boss, many political observers would be speaking a different language – cheering him on to assured victory.
One day in politics is a long time and could lead to unexpected changes. This is why no one should be too quick to count any political frontrunners just yet. Ruto’s comeback is not an impossibility and depends partly on how the other perceived presidential frontrunners play their cards.
Ruto’s goose is far from being cooked. He has a mammoth following quite comparable to that enjoyed by Raila, and the majority of voters from the president’s own backyard identify with and have a soft spot for him.
Although there are some who believe his chances of ascending to the presidency are very slim, it is not lost on them that every potential presidential candidate is worried. In fact, none of the would-be contenders is sitting pretty; none of them can predict with certainty what the future holds. Already, this uncertainty is causing a cold war between Raila and Gideon Moi, especially following the entry of the Kanu party into the Jubilee government.
The Building Bridges Initiative, which is the brainchild of Raila and Uhuru intended to bring some semblance of unity in Kenya, is gaining momentum and appears poised to carry the day when a referendum is called. The hurdles Ruto sympathisers have been trying to erect in its path are fizzling like melting ice with every passing day. Attempts by the DP’s political camp to endear itself to the electorate as a team of hustlers fighting the dynastic class also seem to be faltering, just like his narrative of being the victim of a friend-turned-foe. But once again I must warn anyone making any conclusions at this point.
The replacement of Jubilee party officials by Uhuru loyalists and the purge on specific parliamentary leaders despite Ruto’s loud cries are clear signs that the president is out to have an absolute, unchallenged grip on the party and on Parliament. It is also not lost on hawk-eyed observers that the DP has been conspicuously absent from more than one presidential event. These are indeed impeccable signs that he is angling for a divorce from the ruling party.
But Ruto’s goose is far from being cooked. He has a mammoth following quite comparable to that enjoyed by Raila, and the majority of voters from the president’s own backyard identify with and have a soft spot for him. This is ‘Baba’s’ worst political nightmare and the main reason he desperately needs Uhuru’s endorsement.
To deal with Ruto’s presidential ambitions once and for all, there is need for an urgent truce to be arrived at between the other presidential contenders. The president must put his side in order so that leaders in his camp can work in unity. The person he settles on to succeed him and the method he uses to pick this successor will be the last major test of his triumph over Ruto.
So far, the president has shown strong signals of fronting Raila, Gideon or Musalia Mudavadi, the Amani National Congress party leader. But he faces the dilemma of who to pass the baton to without disenfranchising the other leaders. If Uhuru manages to settle this matter without a major backlash, it will be the clearest confirmation that he has matured politically. Whoever is fortunate enough to win his favour will definitely be ahead of the pack because in Kenya, leadership is rarely won by a clear majority; rather through a perception of majority votes.
As the political tempo rises, it is evident that the electorate will be treated to the usual verbosity that characterises our political class. Those leaders whose political careers have been in shambles will be pitching for a comeback while the usually indecisive, perennial political spoilers present themselves for consideration.
I consider myself a provocateur of purposeful leadership, which is why I would urge every citizen to avoid any political persuasion bent on entrenching tribal hatred or any other narrative that adds no value. We must instead harness our energies and knowledge towards the creation of a nation we can all be proud to identify with. At the end of the day, it is not the hustlers or the dynasties that should matter, but capable leadership.
The writer is a medical doctor.