By Oscar Obonyo.
Deputy President William Ruto’s surprise change of heart to “fully support” the Handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga, has confounded political observers.
The DP has previously declared his support for the Handshake, but continued to attack Raila. He also pushed on with his 2022 presidential campaigns even as the President cautioned against premature political mobilisation, a situation that has sometimes created tension in the country and within the ruling Jubilee Party.
This time round, however, Ruto maintains he will “fully support all the President’s agendas and missions” to enable him to realise his development goals and shape his legacy.
Ruto’s latest pronouncement comes against the backdrop of a cold war between him and some top government officials, especially Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho, whom he accuses of frustrating his campaigns across the country.
The DP’s apparent change of heart also coincides with the government’s relentless war on corruption, which has netted several suspects, including National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich, and scores of others accused of involvement in the Arror and Kimwarer dams scandals.
Politicians from the Rift Valley region, especially Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi, have repeatedly claimed the DP’s supporters are deliberately being targeted for criminal liability– an allegation the Director of Public Prosecutions has denied.
Yesterday, Sudi said they had resolved to support the Handshake.
“It is something that we have decided on. For the time being, let’s not go into details,” the outspoken MP said.
Ruto’s rededication to help the President realise his development agenda and reunite the rival Kieleweke and Tanga Tanga factions within Jubilee, raises a host of questions. Is the DP’s move persuaded by his desire to help the President and the Jubilee Party deliver on its election pledges– a factor that he could ride on for his presidential bid?
Or has the versatile Ruto finally run out of options? Alternatively, is this a tactical retreat to enable him to re-strategise?
According to National Assembly Leader of Majority, Aden Duale, there is “absolutely no change in anything”. He argues there has never been a rift between the President and his deputy.
Duale instead attributes the so-called rift to ambitious young MPs, who are trying to place themselves strategically ahead of the next polls. He similarly blames the Opposition for fuelling the rift for “selfish political interests”.
However, the Leader of Minority in the National Assembly, John Mbadi, sees things differently. According to Mbadi, the DP has discovered that he is out of tune with the rest of the country:
“His change of tune is, however, welcome, much as it has come rather late in the day. The country is fatigued with politicking and elections, especially after holding presidential polls twice, the last which we kept off.”
Separately, Dr Richard Bosire, who teaches political science at the University of Nairobi, describes Ruto’s move as a tactical retreat. Noting the DP has been seeking public audience with the President over tensions within Jubilee, including calling for a Jubilee Parliamentary Group meeting, which the President has snubbed, Dr Bosire opines that slowing down on political rhetoric could be a strategy to finally get Uhuru’s attention.
-Neutral in game-
In the wake of the death of Bomet Governor Joyce Laboso, who was laid to rest last Saturday, Jubilee allied politicians made passionate appeals to the President and his deputy to re-unite, a clear indication that indeed all was not well between the two Jubilee bigwigs.
Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) for Gender and Youth Rachel Shebesh, was particularly blunt in her plea: “I am sorry, you have no choice but oblige to the dying wish of your dear friend, Laboso.”
Last Sunday, the DP called on Jubilee politicians to cease factional politics and instead focus on the party’s development agenda.
“I want to assure you that we will not allow the party’s projects to be derailed. We will mobilise every resource, person and leader in the direction of ensuring that we deliver on our manifesto on the Big Four,” said Ruto.
He was speaking at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Kiharu, Murang’a, the constituency of one of his key allies in the region, Ndindi Nyoro. Several legislators from the Mt Kenya region accompanied the DP.
Nyoro maintains the DP “has always embraced unity of all Jubilee members in his rallies across the country – most of which I have attended”.
Former Kakamega Senator Bonni Khalwale, blames “hardliners” around the DP for pushing the onslaught against the Handshake. “Some of us have admittedly advised the DP, in private, to act cautiously over the so-called Handshake and allow us to market him ahead of 2022,” says Khalwale.
Multiple sources separately confided to People Daily that the DP was reluctant to openly contradict the President, maintaining that he (Ruto) had no justifiable reason to believe he was out of favour with his boss.
According to sources, Ruto team’s political hopes were buoyed by the President’s remarks last month (July 24) during the launch of the Bidco Industrial Park in Kiambu county, to the effect that only God knows who Kenya’s next president would be.
“Having previously ignored pleas from ODM leaders, particularly National chairman, John Mbadi, Rarieda MP Otiende Amolo and Senate Minority Leader, James Orengo, to endorse Raila’s presidential candidature, we are now convinced the President is neutral in this game,” says Khalwale.
The vocal politician says Ruto’s allies had all along thought the Handshake was meant to sideline the DP: “But we were all wrong. We are now fully in support of the Handshake upon realising the President’s move is all inclusive and that the ODM brigade has been politicising the exercise.”
However, not everyone believes the DP’s latest gesture is genuine. Politicians in the Kieleweke wing of Jubilee and ODM supporters are skeptical of Ruto’s moves.
“You cannot come to a function with over 20 legislators, whose travel and subsistence you have facilitated, and accord them two hours to sing praise songs about your suitability for president in 2022, and wrap it up in less than 30 minutes by preaching harmony and reconciliation. Who are you fooling?” asked Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu.
By allowing MPs in his entourage to engage in premature campaigns, Wambugu claims the DP is disrespecting the President by proxy. “We will be telling him this weekend to make up his mind to either fully adhere to President Kenyatta’s directive or openly defy the President, so we can clearly deal with him and his team.”
According to Wambugu, the DP has not changed tact at all: “This is what he has been doing over the last two years. He is only giving the impression of slowing down on early campaigns because he is now feeling the heat from the establishment, and even the electorate.”
A first-term MP from Nyeri County, who supports Ruto, says the DP is still strong on the ground. The legislator claimed the President had delayed his tour of Mt Kenya region because of the popularity of the pro-Ruto team. “Tumeshikilia ngumu hapa kama Team Hustler, ndio maana unaona President bado anajipanga kuja (We members of ‘Team Hustler’ are strong on the ground, which explains why the President is yet to conclude his tour plans of the region).”
However, Dr Bosire warns that this kind of chest thumping is politically counter-productive.
He advises Ruto’s team to tone down for the sake of harmony. “Clearly he (Ruto) has not been listening to the President.
What is required to heal the tensions within Jubilee is a binding party position and not personal threats or promises by either Uhuru or Ruto on premature campaigns or support for the handshake”.