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Ruto Must Rethink His 2022 Strategy

Deputy President William Ruto. Photo/KIRIMI MUTIITHI
Deputy President William Ruto. Photo/KIRIMI MUTIITHI

It is now clear that barring any unforeseen circumstances, Deputy President William Ruto is in the Presidential race come 2022. All factors remaining the same, Mr Ruto shall vie for the highest office under the Jubilee Alliance Party (JAP), whose formation is still clouded in controversy especially in Mr Ruto’s Rift Valley home turf. Mr Ruto’s Presidential candidacy in 2022 has elicited amazing support from very unlikely sources — political leaders from the Mt Kenya region. Mr Ruto has himself made numerous errands in the area to push the Jubilee Alliance government agenda, which include President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election in 2017, as well as to promote development.

I have officially met Mr Ruto twice. The first time was in Eldoret when he was Agriculture minister, and he was officially opening the North-Rift Annual Agricultural Show at the time. The second time is more recently when we visited him at his Karen office in the company of few Coast politicians and political strategists. This is the meeting which helped me form an opinion about Mr Ruto the politician. It was frank and candid.

Mr Ruto talked about his penchant for the Coast region and how he had tried in vain to urge Coastal leaders to work together for the interests of their communities. He told us the Rift Valley and the Coast regions shared common problems, one of which is land. His caution was that leaders in the region should try to “work with others” as they attempt to resolve issues affecting it. Mr Ruto did not mention one other factor communities in the Coast and Rift Valley regions shared – which is that since before independence they had clamoured for majimbo – the system of governance we now call devolution.

Love him or hate him, I found Mr Ruto a shrewd politician, quite intelligent, fluent speaker and completely dedicated to the causes he stood for. It did not come as a surprise that his URP Party’s slogan is kusema na kutenda – literally meaning action is louder than words. Mr Ruto seems to do what he says and he says what he does.

Here are some examples of Mr Ruto’s past political traits. When he was in the Youth for Kanu group (YK’92), Mr Ruto and company successfully campaigned for President Arap Moi’s re-election in the new multiparty elections of 1992 and 1997. He also served well in various political posts under Kanu. When Mr Ruto abandoned Kanu and joined ODM, he similarly worked for the success of the party with zeal. In the controversial elections of 2007 which led to violence and death, Mr Ruto successfully delivered the Kalenjin votes to ODM. In the subsequent ministries of Agriculture and Education, which he served as minister, Mr Ruto did a commendable job, even though a Parliamentary censure motion resulting from alleged maize import scandals in the Ministry of Agriculture nearly threatened to scuttle his political career. He survived the onslaught.

It will also be recalled that in the 2010 Constitutional Review Referendum, Mr Ruto stood out as the only political drum major to speak forcefully against adopting the new constitution. Well, he and his supporters lost, but his massive campaigns vindicated the determination of a politician committed to what he stood for.

Mr Ruto fell out with Raila Odinga and the ODM party leadership simply because he felt frustrated, isolated and excluded from the centre. Prime Minister Odinga may have been trapped by some leaders within the Kibaki camp to frustrate and isolate Mr Ruto over controversial Rift Valley politics, including the Mau Forest evictions. Raila had later to say -– rightly so – that as Prime Minister he handled the Mau issue in the name of government. But this was to be his undoing in Rift Valley politics.

Given the animosity which prevailed in early 2008 between the Kalenjin and the Kikuyu communities in the Rift valley, it would have been hard— even impossible — to visualise a political partnership between Mr Ruto and Mr Uhuru Kenyatta. But it happened — thanks to The Hague indictments — which not only fuelled this unlikely political alliance, but also the continued political survival of the duo and the formation of government.

Today, President Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto have a deal. They want President Kenyatta to be re-elected in the 2017 elections, and Mr Ruto to stand for the Presidency in 2022. To ensure the deal becomes a success, Mt Kenya political leaders have been vocal about it, promising Mr Ruto of the region’s bloc votes come 2022. And this is exactly where Mr Ruto and his supporters must think hard and deep about winning the promised Mt Kenya bloc vote.

Mr Ruto is not the only politician outside Central Kenya to be promised the Mt Kenya vote. Daniel Arap Moi, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and his son Raila Odinga were accorded similar promises without success. To suggest that the Mt Kenya bloc vote shall be reserved for Mr Ruto in 2022 is, to say the least, unrealistic — in fact untenable. The voting record in the Mt Kenya region speaks for itself — they vote for one of their own. This was vividly conspicuous in the 2005 Constitutional Referendum, which witnessed even church leaders from that region vote NO, while the rest of the country voted Yes.

My 50 cents advice to Mr Ruto and his strategists is this – if politics has no permanent friends or enemies, follow in the footsteps of former President Moi in as far as political ethnicity and regional balkanisation is concerned. For 24 years, Moi survived the big tribe syndrome — the tyranny of the majority — by tactfully mobilising the support from the small tribes that had previously been ignored by politicians like Jaramogi and his son Raila. Moi even won the multiparty elections of 1992 and 1997 due to the support from minority tribes and groups — not the tyranny of the majority.

Of course, Mr Ruto can visit the Mt Kenya region -– as he does in other regions as often as he wants – as Deputy President, politician and partner in the ruling Jubilee coalition government. However, he should not count on votes from this region for his Presidential success in 2022. This is just an illusion. Voters in the Mt Kenya region vote for one of their own in Presidential elections and nothing can stop them from doing this. No matter the shout proclamations of support from the Mt Kenya political leaders, Mr Ruto shall not be an exception to this voting tradition.

There is an old adage which says that the earliest bird catches the worm. Mr Ruto has risen up early in the day to catch the worm. But if he wants to catch that worm in 2022, he should re-examine his political strategy.

To begin with, Mr Ruto must hold together the Rift Valley region. This he can do by being tolerant to the views and criticisms from his adversaries in the region – such criticisms can make him a better leader.

Furthermore, Mr Ruto may disapprove of the criticisms levelled against him, but as the Rift Valley regional political kingpin and Deputy President of Kenya, he should defend the right of his critics to say what they have to say.

To become better leaders, good leaders must accept criticisms. After holding together the Rift Valley — just as he successfully did in 2013 — Mr Ruto can then work to mobilise support from those communities that have had a history of voting for candidates on merit, not on the basis of the tyranny of the majority. This is what Moi did for 24 years and it worked for him. There is no reason why it cannot work for Mr Ruto in 2022 and beyond.