The Mboya of Our Time: President Ruto?
As a young man fresh out of England and looking to become a Kenyan billionaire right after the 1997 General Election I was invited to a party at my older brothers house. I arrived after 11PM right behind a green Landrover Discovery. As the occupant and me got out we exchanged pleasantries as I asked if he was going to my brother’s house. He answered in the affirmative and we walked to the door without another word. As we walked in the music was beyond loud. Everyone in the room seemed either consumed by the spirit of Scotland or the mountain liquids of the Wahome Mutahi persuasion. Finally we both found my brother. He introduced us and asked me if I remembered Bill of YK 92. It didn’t ring a bell. It didn’t matter, I had other people to say hello to and I went about working the room. After about half an hour I realized that everyone in the room was miles head of my or already consumed by the spirit. I decide to sit down and play catch up. By some strange coincidence I and this Bill fellow ended up sitting on the same sofa. Less bold than I he didn’t appear to have a drink. I asked what he would like and he said much to my amazement Orange juice. This Bill was becoming less and less interesting with every minute, but since he was seated on the same sofa I intended to make my temporary home I decided to engage him until I was at par with the other party goers.
I got him his orange juice and sat down beside him. He wasn’t the talkative type and the music clearly irritated him. After a hesitant start I was able to draw a smile from him and begin to engage him conversation. And what a smile it was. It was the kind of smile my grandfather described as from ear to ear. What came next was all Bill. Had just won the Eldoret North parliamentary seat beating Reuben Chesire. Had learnt many lessons and he was sure that he could within twenty years be president.
Now I knew Reuben Chesire. The Chesire’s were the closest that you could get to royalty amongst the Kalenjin. Even Moi had to marry into the Chesire’s to become somebody. About becoming president, now that was whole different matter. As young as I was I was no political neophyte. Politics is our family business. His strategy was simple. He would become the favorite son of the Kalenjin after Moi by riding on Moi’s coattails. He certainly had the gift of the gab. It also appeared that he understood how the civil service worked; a plus for any politician seeking the top job in Kenya. He exuded energy and confidence. I liked this William Ruto fellow. After that he would use the Kalenjin vote as a springboard for tribal alliances that would see him rise slowly to the top.
Over the years I was to meet him only occasionally, but when our paths did cross it was at memorable junctures. During the 2005 Orange and Banana referendum Ruto displayed a knack for organization and glad-handing only comparable to one other politician I have been close to; Bill Clinton. He acted like a student and teacher all at the same time. He had acquired a lot of Moi’s traits. Money to him is a tool while at the same time it is a commodity. He showed deference for the older politicians in the Orange camp particularly Raila and Kalonzo, while being very careful not to do so when in the Rift Valley. Here he was the new kid on the block.
After the 2005 Referendum my next encounter with Ruto up close was in the run up to the 2007 General Election. We had blindsided him and forced Raila Odinga to go directly to the Kalenjin electorate by passing the usual gate keepers, creating a situation where Ruto came to Raila not because he wanted to [his actual preferred candidate had been Kalonzo] but because his base told him to. In this he displayed another fine quality, the ability to listen. During this race where many of us had given up our own personal political ambitions for the greater cause, he displayed a tenacity and attention for detail that made him stand out in the Pentagon. In the ensuing chaos that followed the announcement of President Kibaki as the winner Ruto remained cool and organized his eye always on the future as he navigated the present.
In the aftermath of the peace settlement I was one of those who advocated for Ruto being given the post of Deputy Leader within ODM. Those closest to Raila felt that we political greenhorns didn’t know what we were talking about and that a strong leader didn’t need a strong deputy and settled on the more than colorless Musalia Mudavadi. It was a move that I said back then they would regret. And true to word when then whistle for the next match was blown Ruto had beaten us into a pulp at every turn while consolidating his Rift Valley base and laying out the strategy almost single handedly for the eventual Kenyatta victory. But 2008 was a time to make money for everybody very few realized the danger of the slight Ruto had just endured.
2012 through 2013 saw the rise of the Ruto that we all expected. Today even with the ICC cases over his head he sits at the apex of a political machine that while it appears to be dead within the Jubilee coalition in reality it is only idling and can rival the famed central Kenya vote machine at any time. Whoever underestimates the potential and danger of William Samoei Ruto will learn the lesson he taught Raila his previous mentor, teacher and friend.
Ruto takes no prisoners and remains focused on the objective. You either fall in behind him or you get blown out of the way. He doesn’t drink and rises early; he is a young Moi and Raila all rolled into one. A hybrid politician who understands the system and the thinking of the people on the ground. His discipline is matched by none on the political scene today, neither is his ambition. The boy from Wareng still wants to be president.
His first salvos of his 2018 presidential campaign have already been fired.
President Kenyatta’s machinations and the ICC are about him avoiding trial and have little or nothing to do with Deputy President Ruto. In an ideal Kenyatta loyalist utopia; Ruto will be convicted at the ICC and jailed, the Kalenjin will be mad but what will they be able to do about it. Governor Kidero will be propped up to the point where he is acceptable to the Luo and Raila will have no choice but to hand the keys of the Luo vote to him, in exchange for a sweet if only symbolic deal; like President of the East African Federation. And Kenyatta II and the ICC. That will just go away.
While the Kenyatta team is shadow boxing and using the full weight of the presidency, Ruto & Co have dusted off the finish Raila handbook and replaced the name of Raila with Kenyatta in a game of chess so close to the presidency and so dangerous to our nationhood that its implications cannot by any sane person be ignored. These are the real two bulls.
Ruto’s strategy is as simple as it is smart. Appear to be with Kenyatta yet fight him ruthlessly particularly from within CORD. The early noise by the governors for an increased monetary allocation from the budget and a potential referendum spearheaded by Bomet Governor Isaac Rutto were almost certainly planned by the senior Ruto Co. A referendum with a general election is a dangerous prospect for any sitting head of state. Even more so for one who has just lost his deputy.
For the next election to make sense for Ruto an emotive issue must be found. Similar or more explosive than the ICC. Majimbo is just the kind of issue to put back on the table. It’s a good issue and it is popular everywhere other than in Mt. Kenya. It is certainly popular in another constituency that this born again Christian sees as critical, the Muslim vote. A consolidated Muslim vote brings 11 counties to the table and 2.5 million votes.
The move to disband the IEBC and reconstitute the body being spearheaded in Parliament is undoubtedly a Ruto move with the blessings of the CORD leadership.
Yet it is Ruto’s defense team’s actions at the ICC and the words of Kericho Senator Charles Keter that offer a glimpse of how this game is going to be played.
After five years of screaming horse that Raila was the engineer of the ICC IIâ€™s woes at The Hague, Ruto & Co in a shameless about flip are making it clear that he was framed by Kibaki and Uhuru mandarins. The political reverberations have already started to be felt. The subliminal message is clear Majimbo will be the solution to the continuous betrayal by central Kenya politicians. This will be the clarion call of the coalition that Ruto will have to build to cross the 50% + 1 mark.
As the journey begins Ruto will turn west towards western and then Nyanza, to do so he will attempt an alliance with Raila Odinga. If he can put Raila in the bag then western is easier to conquer and Nyanza will fall immediately into line [not that the Luo youth are obtuse to voting for Ruto as it is]. If he can manage this then he will have neutralized Kidero permanently leaving Kenyatta II without a viable running mate. Next he will reach out to Wetangula [mentioned severally as his potential running mate] and Kalonzo. By dividing government in a clear pre-election pact and then creating a broad based coalition of many parties he hopes to recreate the coalition that put Raila over the top in 2007.
In addition to this Ruto will ensure that Kenyatta is deprived of the 1.5 million votes he would enjoy in 2018 from the Rift Valley reducing the vote total dramatically and with no ICC to police Kenyan elections there would be no recourse.
Even as Ruto proceeds on this path there are challenges.
First Raila is sought after as a king maker though refuses to play that role by both sides of the divided. He refuses to see himself as a spent force, but time and event will force him into this role. He will go where he gets the best offer.
Second Musalia Mudavadi remains a potential running mate in place of Kidero if Raila goes the other way for Kenyatta II.
Third the ICC as much as it is a political tool is a real headache. Make no mistake Ruto is going to go to the ICC until it is clear he will be convicted, by then his camp is sure there will already be a warrant of arrest out for President Kenyatta who would rather fly to the moon with feathers glue stuck to his arms than go to The Hague.
Fourth Kenyatta’s economic policies [the rising tide lifts all boats] though a gamble may just work if he is willing to stem the rising government wage bill or change how the wage bill is structured and financed making a fight for the presidency ridiculous. In that case Ruto will simply stick with Kenyatta and bide his time as the duo take on Kalonzo and Wetangula or a similar variation, with greatly diminished stature.
Whatever happens next remember this, the future of Kenya will be decided not by President Kenyatta, not by former Prime Minister Raila or by former Vice-President Kalonzo, but by what chess pieces Deputy President William Samoei Ruto feels are expendable and which ones are not and how early or late he releases his Queen accompanied by two Knights in his final push to the top.