Those of who were of age in 1992 will recall how William Ruto was ubiquitous member in all Youth for Kanu’92 (YK’92) activities and occasions.
The lobby had arrived in the volatile political scene with a bang. It was launched with pomp and fanfare at Nyayo National Stadium at a ceremony officiated by Vice President George Saitoti. The leadership, under Cyrus Jirongo exhibited flamboyance and opulence.
Generosity and extravagance soon became their signature style. In their convoys, money was no longer carried in briefcases but cartons. They had the ears of the president and those who mattered around State House. Fundraising events were organised in numbers and regularly to endear the outfit to the people as philanthropist. The cast of leaders were young, suave and moneyed. They became the idolised image of the new youth in Kenya. The image developed was instrumental in helping President Daniel Moi, the Kanu candidate in the first multiparty elections since 1966 to win.
It also altered the political landscape of the country in many ways. The economic ramifications of the carefree use of money to manipulate the process and outcome of the 1992 General Election are still being felt to date. Jirongo was the face of the outfit as the head, supported by Sam Nyamweya as treasurer and Ken Ouko as organising secretary.
However, keen observers were able to pick out the forces behind the organisation as Ruto and Micah Kigen. They held nominal positions of leadership but were almost entirely responsible for the efficient organisational operations and uninterrupted financial liquidity.
While Ruto has previously been presented as debuting in politics in 1997, he had been a regular at State House circles much earlier. This was on account of being a student leader and coming from the Rift Valley. His strong Christian persuasions made him an easy sell to Moi’s court. He, therefore, provided the much-needed link to the rank of emerging tenderprenuers but who were rank outsiders to the court. Kigen, on the other hand, was the link to the inexhaustible vaults of cash. Ruto then became instrumental but not the leader and indispensable.
Moi noticed the mobilisation acumen of the young man from Sugoi and tapped him to the high table. This was short lived as the president sought to disperse the group after the elections through disbandment. The team was not satisfied with the trolleys of cash given to them during the campaigns and demanded more. They were thus not happy at the president’s decision to dissolve what he did not form. The young and ambitious lot had tasted the goodies of state patronage and were not about to let go that easily. They revolted violently and formed the United Democratic Front, as they roped in the youthful and restless Cherengani MP Kipruto Kirwa to their ranks.
By his demeanour, Moi was utterly annoyed but also found name of the resultant outfit anathema. He could not countenance the words “united”, “democratic”, and “front” combined as a name and being championed by people from Kalenjin. He moved swiftly to disorient the group by making Kirwa minister for Agriculture and entangling Jirongo with fully financed lucrative government tenders that almost brought down the Postbank Credit and NSSF. Ruto managed to survive this onslaught and Jirongo has discussed their relationship during this period in details.
He managed to wrestle the Eldoret North MP seat from long-serving Moi’s friend and relative Reuben Chesire. The by Moi plot to manage his succession and determine Kanu’s candidate presented a golden opportunity for Ruto. He used this process to warm his ways back into Moi’s court. He played dumb and was always available to do any of the president’s bidding and dirty chores. He behaved as though Moi was the philosopher king, all knowing and benevolent.
As the president brought in Raila Odinga’s National Development Party to join up with Kanu, Ruto found his networks with youthful NDP operatives useful. He would therefore play key roles in the ensuing negotiations and was visibly pivotal in the logistics of March 2002 Kasarani delegates conference. He became the Director of Elections in the new Kanu outfit, taking cue from Raila’s manoeuvres at the protracted Ford Kenya elections at City Stadium in 1992. The fallout between Moi and Raila got him elevated to the Cabinet as minister of Home Affairs and de facto manager of Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidential campaigns.
They lost the 2002 election and found themselves in the unfamiliar opposition territories.
Once again, the tensions within Narc leading to the eventual breakup of the Mwai Kibaki’s government were Godsend. Raila led his LDP troops out of government by joining with Kanu to defeat Kibaki at the 2005 referendum.
While Uhuru backed down later and rejoined Kibaki’s reelection team, Ruto remained in the emergent Orange Democratic Movement. He became the most prominent player and prolific mobiliser. The results of the 2007 election were disputed and led to unprecedented bloodletting.
In the coalition government that followed, Ruto served as key minister and leader of the Kalenjin in government. Their relationship with Raila could not last the tenure of the nusu mkate government. In tandem was the ICC indictment on the post-election violence. They back together with Uhuru as they rallied the nation to shield them from The Hague prosecutions.
Together they used this obstacle to their full advantage. They mobilised their respective ethnic communities and displayed vast financial resources to win the elections against all odds. They exhibited a united duopoly in the presidency and demonstrated a rare comradery in managing government affairs. This cordial working relationship was maintained through the first term of Jubilee administration. It was largely responsible for the win at the October, 2017 repeat election, in spite of the bitter dispute by the Nana brigade.
However, Ruto’s long political and leadership history is anchored under the wings and shadow of other luminaries. His successes have been recorded while working as support cast. He has no glory from any political contest attributable to him singly except the 1997 parliamentary elections. Yet he today stands at the threshold of the most competitive political contest. He has never led a rebellion nor a conquest. Kenyans have less understanding of their future commander in chief at the battlefront.
The rise of Interior CS Fred Matiang’i and the apparent isolation of Ruto by State House are an opportunity to emerge from the shadows of his mentors from Moi to Raila and now Uhuru. The promptness with which the elite forces responded to the 14 Riverside Drive Dusit Hotel attack capped the meteoric rise of Matiang’i. The command was much better coordinated as compared to the previous terrorist attacks. Shortly thereafter, the president made him “chief minister” through an Executive Order to supervise all government development projects and be responsible for communication of the same. He has now cemented this command structure by appointing new regional commissioners. He introduced them to the president at State House, Mombasa, and Uhuru did not hide his joy while receiving them. The outfit would bolster the Cabinet delivery of the government services.
In tandem with this, the leadership of devolved governance was roped into the referendum agenda.
At the Council of Governors, the President also executed a masterstroke by ensuring that the county chiefs closed ranks. The walls between Jubilee and Nasa were brought down at the last CoG elections and the governors enticed to fully support the referendum bid.
With the strong regional coordination of national development and support of the county governments, President Kenyatta will now rely on Matiang’i to determine the direction of the referendum and his legacy. These are roles that traditionally were the forte of the Deputy President. Now that he is largely free from the burdens of his office, he has the perfect chance to demonstrate his mettle through either rebellion or conquest.
Kanyadudi is a political and public policy analyst