Deputy President William Ruto visited the Coast for three days last week. As they say, he came, he saw, he conquered.
The political sojourn won the DP praises from across the political divide. The visit, which was meant to talk development, turned out to be all about Ruto’s 2022 presidential bid.
It was a visit that ruffled Coast politicians. Some of those who welcomed Ruto with a smile had previously been his fiercest critics. They included opposition ODM party politicians, who jostled for space and the chance to greet him. With this, the Harambee House handshake seemed to work magic.
Ruto is not new to Coast politics and until the August 8 election, the region had been overwhelmingly ODM/NASA. This time round, there is a change of heart, or so it seems.
Times are changing. Even diehard critics of Jubilee are changing their minds. The fiery Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho and the maverick Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa are rethinking their political stances. Jumwa was among the over two-dozen ODM MPs who attended Ruto’s meetings during this visit.
Taita Taveta leaders were the most outspoken about prospects for the Ruto Presidency. But the flamboyant Jumwa, who fired the first salvo, was even more forceful.
Yet, until the handshake, she was one of the loudest critics of the Jubilee government. It is the same Jumwa who had earlier abandoned Ruto and JP to join ODM, the party that catapulted her to the Kilifi Woman rep position and now the Malindi MP.
She is sending confusing messages to her supporters as to which side of the political divide she now belongs to. No sooner had she declared “Ruto Tosha” than she was seen in the company of ODM leader Raila Odinga.
Political spy or turncoat?
Whatever the case, Ruto’s visit is a game changer — at least for now. For starters, although Joho never met Ruto, in a series of tweets, he expressed his readiness and willingness to work with the government on development matters. He is reported saying he would like to revisit the Waititu land issue at Likoni with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Joho is clear about his change of mind — he is abiding by Raila’s call on the footsteps of Harambee House.
In the neighboring Kilifi County, Governor Amason Kingi, Joho’s staunch ally and friend, has not publicly commented on the handshake. But he has surreptitiously confided he will continue pushing for a Coast homegrown party.
The ruckus surrounding the push for secession has slowed down. Kilifi North MP Owen Baya, the supposed author of the proposed secession Bill, has not publicly talked about the matter for some time now. Baya was among ODM MPs who attended Ruto’s meeting in Mombasa.
The handshake may as well have the unintended effect of diluting ODM’s influence in the Coast. Put another way, the ODM-Jubilee working relationship may upset or even reverse the ODM wave here.
Native communities and their leaders are at a loss about the way forward. Is it a merger or a matter of friendly opposition? With no clear direction from the ODM leadership, some supporters are now mulling over their continued affiliation to the party or the possibility of abandoning it altogether.
Even the once-hardened supporters, who christened themselves the “ODM vanguard” are at a loss. The issue is whether their leaders are still determined to lead them to Canaan.
The other effect is that the Joho and Kingi hopes to vie for the presidency in 2022 are now uncertain. For Joho, if Raila decides to run, his dream is shattered — unless, of course, he vies on another party, which is unlikely. On the other hand, if Kingi chooses to run on a homegrown party, he is most likely going to be overwhelmed by the Ruto onslaught. But he can use his homegrown party and link it up in a coalition to find himself a place in regional and national politics.
He could also be a running mate for one of the leading presidential candidates, including Ruto. After all, there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics. Furthermore, Kingi’s candidature could mean the Coast is ready to front presidential material. It would matter best beyond 2022.
However, Ruto is the political star in the region, if the massive turnout and support he got from leaders across the parties his visit is anything to go by. All factors remaining equal, his 2022 presidential bid looks bright.
He is arguably the only politician from outside that has barnstormed the region, talking politics, raising funds for youths and women development projects, and making friends and allies. His wife, Rachel, has supplemented her husband’s endeavors through her brainchild, the Joyful Women Organisation table banking scheme.
We expect him to come back to the Coast several times to talk politics, development, and his 2022 bid.
If there is any lesson to be learned from Ruto’s visit alongside the Harambee House handshake, it is that politics in Kenya is changing. And this change may include constitutional amendments to reflect today’s realities.
This is the moment coastal communities and their leaders should seize to ensure they are part and parcel of this change. This can only happen through a viable regional mouthpiece that is a homegrown party.
The writer is a political commentator