On the surface, Deputy President William Ruto cuts the image of a man in full control of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election campaigns as well as his own personal ambition to ascend to the presidency in 2022.
And to drive the point home, he asserted to the crowd on Saturday at a fundraiser for Uhuru’s re-election that he was the Jubilee political troops leader.
But behind the scenes, Mr Ruto is a man fighting off many fires, from within the bigger Jubilee family to his own Rift Valley backyard, that if not contained may easily undermine not only President Kenyatta’s re-election but his very own political career.
The last one week has seen Mr Ruto labour to put off many fires.
One of the big ones was the battle to defuse political tensions in Uasin Gishu and Nandi counties triggered by utterances made by governor Jackson Mandago and MPs Oscar Sudi (Kapsaret) and Alfred Keter (Nandi Hills) warning members of the Kikuyu community against voting for Mr Mandago’s biggest challenger, Zedekiah Bundotich Buzeki.
There was also the challenge the Jubilee Party is receiving from independent candidates who accuse him of rigging them out during the party primaries in various parts of the country.
Mr Ruto is additionally under fire from one of Jubilee’s friendly parties, Kanu, which on Friday threatened to withdraw its support due to hostility from him.
Earlier in the week, the DP was forced to skip President Kenyatta’s tour of Kisii and Nyamira counties to compensate Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) following intelligence reports that his presence would not go down well with the locals who blame some members of his Kalenjin community for the killings and displacement of hundreds of members of the Gusii community in the Rift Valley at the height of the 2007-2008 post election violence.
On Tuesday, Mr Ruto was forced to convene a meeting with all Jubilee aspirants from Uasin Gishu, Nandi and Elgeyo Marakwet where he read the riot act to leaders issuing reckless utterances.
Addressing the meeting at Boma Hotel in Eldoret town, Mr Ruto warned that such reckless utterances could be misconstrued to be coming from him and work against Jubilee Party’s supremacy in the three counties.
Sources in the meeting told the Nation that the DP appeared concerned about the growing popularity of Kanu, which is chaired by Baringo Senator Gideon Moi and the Chama cha Mashinani (CCM) party led by Bomet governor Isaac Ruto as well as the emerging threat from independent candidates.
Mr Mandago and his allies have been putting pressure on Mr Ruto to prevail upon Mr Buzeki who is running as an Independent candidate to drop his bid and back the governor in the same way President Kenyatta prevailed upon Nakuru governor Kinuthia Mbugua to drop out of the race for the gubernatorial seat and back Lee Kinyanjui who trounced him during the Jubilee Party primaries.
HEED TO DEMANDS
Mr Ruto appeared to heed to the demands when he asked Mr Buzeki to step down for Mr Mandago during a rally in Mr Sudi’s Kapseret constituency yesterday.
Mr Buzeki was not, however, at the rally and it was not immediately ascertained whether he would heed to the calls or not.
And as Mr Ruto sought to consolidate his support and that of the Jubilee Party in North Rift, Kanu leaders on Friday launched a scathing attack on him at a rally in Narok South.
Mr Moi told the crowd he had sought a meeting with President Kenyatta to discuss the issue before the party decides on its next move.
“We are experiencing reckless statements from the Jubilee side, which is not safe for the two sides but I am meeting the president in person to discuss the matter,” said Mr Moi.
He added; “It is disheartening to see elected leaders threatened to the point they cannot express their views. The Deputy President should respect other leaders.”
Speaking at the same function, Emurrua Dikirr MP Johanna Ng’eno whose constituency Mr Ruto had visited earlier in the day charged: “Instead of him going to sort out matters at his backyard, he came to my constituency accompanied by his allies to allegedly finish me politically.
In fact, his tour of Narok county was meant to water down the presence of Mr Moi in the county……how do you go to put out fire in your neighbour’s house when your own house is burning? He failed terribly.”
In Nyamira and Kisii counties, the DP was conspicuously absent as President Kenyatta conducted a two day tour to compensate the IDPs, instead choosing to pitch tent in Western Kenya.
“We asked him not to come to Nyamira and Kisii because his presence would inflame tensions within the Gusii community and especially the IDPs who blame him for their plight,” said a Jubilee party official who sought anonymity because he is close to the DP.
The DP however received support from Jubilee Party aspirants in South Rift who held a meeting in Kericho town last week.
During the event that brought together six Jubilee governors and aspirants, 25 sitting MPs and MCAs from six counties, the leaders re-affirmed their support for the DP as the sole Kalenjin spokesperson, lashing out at rebels and independent candidates for refusing to sacrifice their political ambitions for the common unity and political success of the community.
“Let no one lie to you that we are divided. We are united as Kalenjins and William Ruto is still the cornerstone of Kalenjin politics,” Kericho Governor Paul Chepkwony said.
Other governors present in the meeting were Alex Tolgos (Elgeyo-Marakwet), National Assembly Deputy Speaker Joyce Laboso, and senators Stephen Sang (Nandi) and Aaron Cheruiyot (Kericho) and Baringo governorship aspirant Stanley Kiptis.
Also present was the man challenging Baringo Senator Moi on a Jubilee ticket Mr Simon Chelugui.
MPs Alfred Keter (Nandi Hills), Oscar Sudi (Kapseret) and aspirants Brighton Yegon (Konoin), Sylvanus Maritim (Ainamoi), Nelson Koech (Belgut), Kipkirui Tuwei (Mosop) were also present.
“It’s time you supported Mr Ruto because the next agenda to be driven in this country will be by none other than DP Ruto. Those falling out should not lament that we did not tell them,” said Mr Sang, seeking to be Nandi county boss on a Jubilee ticket.
“Jubilee nominations were conducted in a free, fair and credible manner. The aspirants calling themselves independent are just but bitter losers. We urge them to follow what Nakuru Governor Kinuthia Mbugua did and withdraw from the race,” said Mr Sang, urging the people to vote Jubilee candidates from president to MCA.
Maseno University lecturer and political analyst Joel Soi told Sunday Nation that the increased vitriol targeting the independents and the DP’s perceived critics may backfire.
“The Jubilee candidates blundered by waging opposition against everyone. What I expected was to woo the supposed rebels. Mr Moi for instance is supporting Mr Kenyatta and he cannot be wished away,” said the don.
STATE HOUSE DREAM
He doubted whether the team had the blessings of DP Ruto to use such a strategy.
Jubilee’s Chief whip Katoo Ole Metito in an interview maintained that a victory for President Kenyatta come August 8 will significantly boost Mr Ruto’s own State House dream.
“A win for Uhuru means that DP has one foot in the State House in 2022, it is an advantaged starting point against all his competitors,” said Mr Metito.
Opinion is sharply divided in the Jubilee Party strongholds, with a section accusing him of influencing the outcome of the just ended party primaries in favour of politicians keen to see him succeed Mr Kenyatta.
RIGGING THEM OUT
The emergence of the Kenya Association of Independent Candidates (KAIC) comprising those who lost during the Jubilee primaries has further put pressure on the DP, whom they accuse of rigging them out of fear that they stand in his way to the presidency come 2022.
Majority leader in the National Assembly Aden Duale holds that Mr Ruto remains the Jubilee presidential candidate in the post-Kenyatta era.
“We have our team and anyone who wants to join us must be ready to obey the game plan,” he said, in a veiled attack on Kanu chairman Gideon Moi.
Mr Ruto however asks Jubilee supporters to concentrate on president Kenyatta’s re-election and not focus on the 2022 election.
Stories By Justus Wanga, Ruth Mbula, Anita Chepkoech, Patrick Langat, Silas Apollo And George Sayagie