BUILDING BRIDGES

Referendum a pre-season match between Raila, Ruto ahead of 2022

Ruto operates like the bull in a a Spanish bullring. He longsy to sort Raila out once and for all.

In Summary

• The opportunity for Ruto to announce his arrival as the preeminent political kingpin of Kenya in the 2022 General Election.

• However, the finals of a Champions League require regular training pretest matches. The 2020 referendum on BBI recommendations is such grand opportunity.

Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga at a past function.
Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga at a past function.
Image: FILE

Kenyans have now been adequately psychologically prepared for a referendum.

The referendum war drums started beating soon after the handshake last year. It seems one of the key agreements reached by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga within the Building Bridges Initiative was to restructure the governance system, an issue that was already there even before the handshake.

Some, especially from the opposition, have argued that the winner-take-all arrangement under the pure presidential system is to blame for the violent presidential elections after every five years.

 

It has led to cut-throat competition on a life and death basis.

After Uhuru was sworn-in for his second and final term in November 2017, Kenyans held their breath as the nation teetered on the precipice of another civil upheaval. There was, therefore, a big sigh of relief when the President and Raila shook hands at the steps of Harambee House on March 9, 2018.

While the secrecy around the handshake negotiations was to ensure the process was expedited and protected from the various embedded interests that are normally privately motivated, the process appeared shrouded in mystery and it became imperative for the two principals to explain it. And since the President had the Big Four agenda to champion, it fell on Raila to do the necessary BBI marketing.

Deputy President William Ruto, as expected, did not take it kindly that the opposition chief was tasked with such a big national agenda that would otherwise have been a huge government project.

RUTO VS RAILA

Ruto has not hidden his disdain for the BBI, while Raila did not waste the opportunity to announce his arrival in government. In the ensuing brinkmanship and bare-knuckle tackle, Uhuru chose to cast his lot with the BBI.

Ruto immediately smelt betrayal and accused Raila of seeking to undermine the unity of the Jubilee government. The ODM leader responded by accusing him of sowing seeds of discord and undermining national unity and stability. The rivalry between the two was back, barely two years after the general election.

The ping-pong games of Raila and Ruto have benefitted by design or default from the enhanced war against corruption. The two have thus emerged as the foremost protagonists ahead of the 2022 polls.

 

Referenda have been central in the political lives of Raila and Ruto. We have had two such exercises since Independence. President Mwai Kibaki lost in the 2005 referendum after which he named his Cabinet afresh.

Ruto and his party boss and leader of the official Opposition, Uhuru, joined forces with Raila under the Orange Party and beat Kibaki at the ballot.

Ruto must have picked up valuable lessons and the following year, he abandoned Uhuru and joined Raila to form ODM out of the referendum orange.

This was the second time they were banding together. Early in 2002, they had worked surreptitiously under the guidance of President Daniel Moi to dislodge the old guard from Kanu.

Then in 2010, the country was yet on another referendum craze. One of the pillars of the 2008 peace accord was the enactment of a new constitution.

The Committee of Experts, whose CEO was the current Punguza Mizigo proponent Ekuro Aukot, presented a draft for the plebiscite. It proposed a pure presidential political system, among a range of other proposals.

Raila backed the referendum and was joined in the ranks by Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and Deputy Prime Ministers Musalia Mudavadi and Uhuru. 

Ruto, however, saw in this exercise an opportunity to further consolidate his grip on the Rift Valley, and extend his reach beyond Kalenjinland.

The government paid for his Red Card (NO) Campaign Team activities and thus he suffered no material loss at a personal level. He was the face of the anti-constitution campaign.

His relationship with the ODM leader went south and he suffered the consequences. He was a victim of Cabinet reshuffles and eventually got sacked on corruption allegations.

In collateral terms, Ruto gained rather than lost. He managed to gain many more allies as he consolidated his Rift Valley backyard. He continued to learn from Raila, the master strategist, and looked forward to an opportunity to further test his skills.

That opportunity presented itself in the form of ICC indictments and the 2013 General Election. The ICC baggage helped bring him together with Uhuru in a function of fate.

In the 2013 General Election, Uhuru joined hands with Ruto, while Raila took Kalonzo Musyoka as his running mate and brought in Cabinet minister Moses Wetang’ula into his stable.

The three were all in government at very senior levels. Their sense of entitlement to leadership and relative levels of comfort made them grossly underrate the UhuRuto duo.

Jubilee beat Cord and formed the first government under the new Constitution.

This was Ruto’s first major victory against Raila. He did not seem satisfied, probably because between him and Raila was Uhuru.

While Ruto felt that he was largely responsible for the double blows Raila received from Jubilee in 2013 and 2017, Uhuru was the de jure victor. Then in a twist of fate, the handshake left him alone, exposed,  high and dry.

He, however, seems to have recovered from the shock of abandonment by his erstwhile buddy, Uhuru. He now operates like the charged bull in Spanish Bull Ring. He loathes Raila and longs for an opportunity to sort him out once and for all.

The opportunity for Ruto to announce his arrival as the preeminent political kingpin of Kenya is the 2022 General Election. However, the finals of a Champions League require regular training pretest matches. The 2020 referendum on BBI recommendations is such grand opportunity.

Ruto has declared that he will be on the opposite side regardless of the recommendations in the yet to be finished BBI report. Raila’s position on the referendum debate will determine his position. The die is cast and he has more to lose than Ruto.

The writer is a policy and political analyst.