In spite of the loss suffered by the Deputy President (DP) William Ruto's preferred candidate, McDonald Mariga, in the just-concluded Kibra by-election, the race remains one of the most important moments in his political career.
By taking the battle right to the doorstep of his biggest political adversary, Raila Odinga, the DP has put the country on notice with a clear message that his bid to succeed his boss in 2022 is firmly on course, and beating him shall not be a walk in the park.
More importantly, the Kibra race has signaled the genesis of major, far-reaching tectonic shifts in the political environment before the 2022 General Election.
It was akin to the first whistle in a soccer match. It is now all political systems go, more than two years before we go to the polls.
Whilst his demeanor may not show it, Dr Ruto is not taking his loss in Baba's bedroom lightly. His public pronouncements in the last leg of the campaign betray a man who was more optimistic about the outcome than many.
Most famous among these statements was his chiding of Raila with the statement; "Ukiona mtu ameitisha reinforcement kwa bedroom, basi jua kimeumana." This was in reaction to the latter incorporating three Ukambani governors in his campaign.
It is no surprise that the DP and his allies have been seen to blame Mariga's defeat on the threat of violence and actual violence that they allege their supporters suffered at the hands of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).
Whether or not these allegation hold water is a discussion for another day. What is without doubt is that this is the reaction that the DP's Tanga Tanga brigade have elected to apply to Kibra.
Unfortunately, in politics, reaction phases to loss hardly amount to much on their own. There are two reasons why Ruto and his team need to transition with haste from the reaction phase to a more strategic phase.
First, on the night of the election, Mariga called Imran Okoth to concede defeat and congratulate him on his victory. In the phone call, a video of which has since been posted on social media, Mariga thanks Okoth for a good and peaceful race.
This gesture, while commendable, takes away credibility from any suggestion that violence played a part in the outcome of the by-election. It raises questions as to the sincerity of anyone perpetuating the violence theory. After all, why would they mourn more than the bereaved?
Second, in perpetuating the violence theory, team Tanga Tanga come off as sour losers who aren't willing to accept defeat. Incidentally, this is the very picture that they have worked so hard — with considerable success — to paint of Raila over the years.
The rift in Jubilee
To transition to a strategic phase, the DP and his team could begin by listing down the lessons learnt from the Kibra race, and they're several. I shall speak of a few notable ones.
First, the Kibra race brought to fore the rift in Jubilee, beginning with the initial resistance by party organs to field a candidate in the race.
This was followed by Jubilee leaders and party-backed State officers — led by Maina Kamanda, Cabinet Administrative Secretary Racheal Shebesh and Governor Anne Waiguru — actively campaigning for Orange Democratic Movement’s candidate. Worse still was the lack of public rebuke from State House for the open disloyalty exhibited by Jubilee members.
Any doubts about the Jubilee rift were dispelled by the seemingly reluctant manner in which party leader, President Uhuru Kenyatta, endorsed Mariga.
The manner in which Tanga Tanga waheshimiwas were manhandled in Kibra, while the police watched haplessly is a clear indicator that the system, the deep state if you like, is not firmly behind Ruto.
The full backing of the system is one of the greatest political strengths that the DP carried into the 2022 race. However, going forward, he needs to plan bearing in mind that incumbency and his position no longer guarantees it.
Ruto was taught that his team, particularly from Western Kenya is in need of a major overhaul. The dead-weight and redundancy was evident in their inability to sell a Luhya candidate in a constituency with a considerable Luhya population.
The second step in transition to a strategic phase would be an evaluation of political opportunities presented by the Kibra race, the loss notwithstanding. I shall speak to one major one.
If winning in Kibra and securing his "bedroom" was objective one for Raila, the second was to kill the National Super Alliance (Nasa) once and for all. He managed to do that with ease.
The cherry on the pie was that the candidates backed by Nasa principals Musalia Mudavadi, Moses Wetangula and Kalonzo Musyoka managed a measly combined vote of 5,500 or thereabouts.
The message Raila sent was loud and clear. He is not interested in Nasa anymore. He has moved on.
Ruto’s greatest opportunity in Kibra, therefore, to feast on what Rail has discarded.
As such, I would like to think that the DP's advisors will initiate a process of engaging Mudavadi and Kalonzo for a coalition to face off with a Raila-led team in 2022.
There are several reasons why this should be the DP'S next move.
Mudavadi and Kalonzo come from two-vote rich baskets and are well known, experienced and established political supremos. The recently released census figures only buttresses this point.
Whilst both men have ambitions to succeed President Kenyatta, neither of them possess the financial muscle and wherewithal to mount a national campaign, at least not at face value making them so much more willing to be part of a Ruto-led coalition.
Further, given the disdain shown to them by Raila, both are left with few options.
Such a coalition would give Ruto's 2022 bid a much-needed national outlook. As things stand, his bid appears to be a Rift Valley-Mount Kenya affair. Such a perception is hardly helpful bearing in mind that all four Presidents so far, have come from those two regions.
On the flip side, a coalition with the former Nasa principals will go a long way in entrenching the perception that Raila is a man who can't be trusted for his use and dump policy — a move that would make it much more difficult the ODM leader to woo enthusiastic allies.
The 2022 whistle was blown in Raila's bedroom and now the games have begun in earnest.
Joash Onsando is a budding policy analyst with a passion for public sector governance and democracy. He can be reached on [email protected].