How Ruto's attempt to play Raila's card in BBI failed miserably

In Summary

• Raila emerged as a master strategist and political manipulator per excellence.

Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga in 2018
Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga in 2018
Image: FILE

Some 17 years ago in 2002, Raila Odinga, then National Development Party leader, did what was considered betrayal by his opposition colleagues.

Soon after the controversial 1997 General Election, he chose to work with President Daniel Moi in what was called cooperation. Raila had finished third —after Moi and Mwai Kiakia  — in his first stab at the presidency.

Earlier in 1992, his father the doyen of opposition and considered more experienced had come a distant fourth in the first multiparty elections. The 1997 elections had helped Raila demonstrate his organisational acumen and political dexterity. NDP was barely one-year-old when it became a major player in the high-stake succession politics at the end of Moi's 24-year rule.


Those born in 2002 will be voting in the 2022 elections. They may not have the faintest ideas of the events of that epic and most dynamic year of Kenya’s political history.

Raila emerged as a master strategist and political manipulator per excellence. In a surprise move, he folded NDP and led his troops to join Kanu. They formed what was called the New KANU on paper but without much legal changes at the Attorney General’s Chambers.

He became Kanu secretary general and many of his lieutenants got strategic positions, including the late Otieno Kajwang’, who became Legal Affairs secretary. I had the privilege of working in the revamped Youth Wing of the new outfit. Many of Raila’s comrades were apprehensive of this move. His credentials in the Second Liberation movement seemed to have been overshadowed by his newfound bromance with Moi.

It was argued that Raila joined Moi in the hope of him being endorsed for the 2002 presidency. No evidence has been proffered for this argument, however. What is in the public domain is that Moi chose to ignore the party nomination rules and instead declared Uhuru Kenyatta as his successor.

This is despite the fact that Raila and a host of other leading lights in New Kanu had declared their interest in being presidential candidates. Moi’s decision, therefore, scattered their hopes.

Out of bitterness and sense of betrayal, Raila led not only his former NDP troops out of New Kanu, but also a good chunk of Moi's stalwarts. Politicians such as Kalonzo Musyoka, Vice President George Saitoti, William ole Ntimama, Moody Awori, Joseph Kamotho et al who were facing political oblivion, suddenly found a new lease of political life.

The move to bolt out of Kanu was so sudden, surprising, clinical and fatefully tragic for Moi and Kanu that Uhuru Kenyatta's candidacy in 2002 was a pale shadow of the hitherto behemoth that had bestrode the Kenya’s political landscape like a colossus.


Moi, in spite of intelligence reports advising against the Uhuru project, stuck to his decision. The combined team of former NDP and Kanu orphan endorsed Mwai Kibaki under Narc, winning by a landslide. 

William Ruto was a key player in those events being a Kanu strategist close to Moi and later managing the Uhuru campaign. Being a keen student, he picked valuable lessons during this turbulent period.

He served in the opposition with Uhuru after that election. Having stormed the political scene in 1992 through the infamous YK’92, he captured the Eldoret North seat from Reuben Chesire with comparative ease.

The turmoil in Kanu pushed him to the Cabinet as Minister for Home Affairs, a security docket. Within Kanu, the secretary general post was vacant owing to Raila’s absconding and dereliction of duty. He easily moved from the relative obscurity of director of Elections to be the Kanu spokesman under Uhuru when Moi chose to hand over the button of party leadership.

The 2005 referendum brought him together again with Raila under the Orange movement. In the ensuing 2007 General Election, he backed Raila and went on to be a key plunk in the Grand Coalition government. His impatience to ascend further made him break ranks with Raila. The Mau Forest reclamation spearheaded by the Prime Minister then provided the perfect opportunity for a breakaway.

Then the ICC fate brought them together with Uhuru once again. The ICC turned to be a blessing in disguise and catapulted the man considered a rank outsider to the pinnacle of the country’s leadership. He became the Deputy President.

He has deft at taking full advantage of political events to create opportunities for upward mobility. He has been a man on a meteoric rise and State House is his next destination and stop.

His career has enabled him learn Kenya’s master political players. He was close to powerman Nicholas Biwott, wheeler-dealer Cyrus Jirongo, Mark Too, had it rough and tumbled in the trenches with ace tactician Raila Odinga, and was weaned at the feet of professor himself, Daniel Moi.

But his haste has made break ranks with his mentors, benefactors and supporters in his rise. He has burned bridges and find mending fences with former comrades a daunting task. 

He has been adept at adopting the strategies learnt from his seniors in varying degrees of mixtures. So far he has deployed them with incredible success.

However, his latest attempt to perform what Raila did to Moi in 2002 has come a cropper and exposed him badly. His opposition to the BBI had all along been accepted as a logical consequence of his falling out with Uhuru Kenyatta.

He had never concealed his disdain for the bromance between his boss and Raila. He had already charted his path to succeed Uhuru without the latter’s support. Then all over sudden and out of the blues, his hatchet men led by Senator  Kipchumba Murkomen announced that they would be participating in BBI activities. They attended the Mombasa and Kitui BBI rallies.

While inside, they seek to influence the agenda and direction of the BBI events. His lieutenants will fill the ranks of key decision making organs of the BBI movement and control it from within. His being inside would deflate the growing opposition to his State House bid.

In this case, he will still command media and public attention but positively and within the framework of the national agenda currently in vogue. If on the other hand, the Raila-Uhuru team chose to frustrate, him then he will play the victim card and win public sympathy.

As is always with his strategies, his haste has played once again and this time badly. Tangatanga could not have the patience to stay in BBI for even one week. Straight from Mombasa, they headed to Naivasha and resolved to organise parallel BBI rallies in the Rift Valley.

The choice of Rift Valley as their ground for mobilisation has exposed the tribal flank in Ruto’s strategies. They have come out as anti-nationalist and divisive.

They seek to balkanise the country into regional spheres of influence. This clearly is antithesis of BBI. Their activities cannot fall within the ambit of BBI principles.

Ruto has thus exposed his soft underbelly a little too early and will be the subject of incessant attacks from his boss’ henchmen in cahoots with Raila’s battalion.

His decision to join and withdraw from BBI is the hallmark of his legendary haste and a monumental goof.