POLITICAL STRENGTH CONTEST

A bold step Ruto should try

He can get his political acolyte, MP Jumwa, to resign and contest the seat anew on a pro-Ruto party ticket

In Summary

• He can get his political acolyte, MP Jumwa, to resign and contest the seat anew on a pro-Ruto party ticket

During the recent visit to The Vatican by the rival South Sudan leadership groups, Pope Francis is reported to have told the political rivals: “There will be struggles and disagreements amongst you but let this be within the community – inside the office, as it were – but in front of the people, hold hands, united.”

These wise words apply to Kenya too, because – by all accounts – there has been some kind of fallout within the governing Jubilee political alliance. The key development in all this is President Uhuru Kenyatta having pulled off the political surprise of the decade by forging a new partnership with his former rival and opposition leader, Raila Odinga. This partnership is widely seen as a direct threat to Deputy President Dr William Ruto’s chances of ascending to the presidency in the 2022 general election.

But the machinations involved in this seem to be generally carried out – as advised by the Pope – “inside the office”. None of us is surprised when the supposed arch-rivals, Ruto and former PM Raila, shake hands heartily and with broad smiles, when they meet at a public function – “in front of the people” as the Pope would say.

So, all in all, it would seem that Kenya is blessed with the kind of political stability that the South Sudanese can at present only dream of. And in this context, it is permissible to look at the ongoing political drama as something out of a Latin American soap opera.

If she wins, this will send a message that William Ruto is no pushover. And if she loses, Dr Ruto will still have time to recover from this setback and strategise afresh on how he can remain politically viable in the face of such intimidating odds

On the one side we have the ambitious and forceful DP, whose rags-to-riches life story would by itself provide material for a very good TV series. But no less colourful are those assembled to oppose his rise to the presidency.

Kenya has only three political dynasties worth noting. Preeminent among them is the Kenyatta family whose founding father, Jomo Kenyatta, also happens to have been the founding president of the nation itself.

Then there is the Odinga family, most famous as the adamantine hard core of principled opposition through four presidential regimes. And then there is the Moi family, whose patriarch Daniel Moi still lives in quiet retirement, after five decades of active politics during which he never once lost an election.

Insofar as all these powerful historic dynasties seem to be united in opposing the DP’s ambitions, it would seem that the outcome of this political soap opera is, effectively, predetermined. And that Dr Ruto is guaranteed to lose.

But in life – as in soap operas – nothing is ever that simple. For one, a man who has risen from mud-walled rural destitution to the marble halls of wealth and privilege, is not likely to give up without a fight.  

It seems to me that it is time for Dr Ruto to take a bold step. For it is by bold steps that political careers advance, during such times of political flux.

 

The best historic example of this that I can think of is when Raila – in what initially seemed to be a supremely foolhardy move, back in 1994 – resigned from his position as the Ford Kenya MP for Lang'ata. But then he successfully won his seat anew on the ticket of his new party, NDP.

This one bold step marked the genesis of Raila as a key political player in this country. And following the 1997 general election, NDP became a prominent opposition party with about 20 MPs, with Raila thus established as an A-list political player in Kenya.

Now Dr Ruto, of course, need not contemplate resigning. But there is something very similar which he can do to demonstrate that he has real political strength outside his Rift Valley backyard.

He can get his political acolyte, Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa, to resign and contest the seat anew on a pro-Ruto party ticket. She is, after all, already being forced out of her current political party, Raila’s ODM.

If she wins, this will send a message that William Ruto is no pushover.

And if she loses, Dr Ruto will still have time to recover from this setback and strategise afresh on how he can remain politically viable in the face of such intimidating odds.