It will take no mean feat for Raila Odinga to extricate himself from the tangle that he has been wrapped in by circumstances some of his own making but others of his foes’ machinations. You could say that Raila is so boxed in at the moment that if one desires, he can merely lift the box with Raila in it and place it wherever he wants be it in the sun or the rain and Raila will not help himself.
Raila, the virtuoso political dribbler, it would seem, has dribbled everyone including himself. That is if what happened in parliament during the MPs’ vote for tax proposal by Uhuru Kenyatta is anything to go by.
Whereas key allies of Raila led by ODM chairman who is minority leader in parliament John Mbadi and ODM’s Suna East MP Mohammed Junnet were in frontline backing the utterly unpopular 8pc fuel levy, William Ruto’s diehard supporters were openly against and joined forces with those opposed. Infact during the signing into law the finance Bill 2018 by Uhuru at State House, Ruto was present but his body language shouted loudly.
Ruto is said to have read the mood of Kenyans unlike Raila who was out to cement the March 9 handshake with Uhuru at the expense of Kenyans. On the other side, Ruto knew as a man eyeing presidency 2022, the tax issue was bound to haunt him. Infact it is said pro-DP schemers left it for Uhuru to navigate the tax crisis on grounds, he is doing his last term and this would not affect his political career eitherway while it would have been suicidal for Ruto if he came out and backed the Bill.
Tellingly, when Uhuru called Jubilee parliamentary group meeting at State House ahead of the voting, Ruto MPs mostly Kalenjins skipped the poorly attended talks. Word has it, Jubilee MPs are not happy with the way Uhuru handlers treat them while at State House. They say Uhuru does not keep time as his deputy or former president Daniel Moi and keeps people waiting for hours on end without letting them know whether he will see them or not. Infact former president Mwai Kibaki despite his health waning during his reign is said to have performed better on matters relating to time compared to Uhuru. Further, the MPs say, unlike Ruto who commits and addresses burning issues concerning them, Uhuru attitude is cavalier and he rarely parts with fuel money, an appreciation for the visit.
On the contrary, when Jubilee and opposition MPs visit Ruto’s official residence in Karen, their ear to ear smiles are visible from miles and the laughter is big enough to wake up the whole of Karen. That is why they prefer Ruto to Uhuru or Raila who, it is said, expects to receive.
Immediately Raila summoned Nasa parliamentary meeting and whipped themto support the vote, Ruto strategists went full throttle.They told the DP to remain silent and wait for events to unfold. To them, since Ruto does not attend parliamentary sessions, Uhuru will not read betrayal and in case Ruto was accused of not marshalling his allies to vote, his defence would be, it is the work of majority leader Aden Duale and chief whip Ben Washiali.
Further, since Raila and Kalonzo Musyoka, the Wiper party leader had come in open to support Uhuru, it was not going to harm Ruto to remain neutral.Ruto who calls himself a hustler and associates himself with the have-nots against the haves as part of his campaign would have betrayed the poor if he openly backed the Bill.
That Ruto controls parliament wirelessly is not a secret. In fact after the controversial vote that many Kenyans say is going to make them poorer, Raila allies who backed Uhuru on the floor were heard complaining that sly Ruto had eventually carried the day by having his MPs openly oppose the Bill and endeared himself to the poor voters. To them, if Raila runs for presidency in 2022, the tax ghost will be used against him by Ruto attack dogs. Indeed, it is said, when Raila discovered all was not well with the president’s proposal, he tried to tell his foot soldiers to vote the way they wanted. But the damage had already been done.Within ODM, members are now blaming Mbadi and Junnet for having influenced Raila to back unpopular Bill. The two together with Homa Bay women rep Gladys Wanga have Raila eyes and ears. Mbadi was also part of the team that killed the report on sugar importation that was also not received well by Kenyans.
Last week’s acrimonious vote also exposed the soft underbellies of Uhuru and Raila, whose troops are rebelling to the advantage of the DP.
Signs emerged of emboldened parliamentarians, a waning influence of a lameduck presidency ahead of retirement and a neutered official opposition leader.
The political statement issued by the televised acts of defiance of party position in a matter of popular concern is a sign of things to come as most legislators troop in droves to the DP’s camp.
The defiance by the likes of Laikipia woman representative Catherine Waruguru, a close ally of the DP, points to a rebellion in the coming days against Uhuru if he dares to introduce Raila or Gideon Moi, the Baringo senator as his preferred successor in Central Kenya.
Sources say, aware he has network in the country, Ruto has now begun establishing links with the Central region leaders.Within one month, he was in Kampala being hosted by Raila sworn political enemy president Yoweri Museveni. He was also hosted by Sudan strongman Omar Bashir. He attended a meeting in Rwanda while Uhuru was in America and held talks with president Paul Kagame. To dodge the tax crisis, when the president returned it to parliament as Kenyans were making noise, Ruto was busy in the Republic of Congo hosted by President Dennis Sassou Nguesso in Brazaville. In Congo, the DP was accompanied by Mining and Petroleum CS John Munyes, Taita Taveta governor Granton Samboja, his Nyeri counterpart Kahiga Mutahi and Trade PS Chris Kiptoo.
The DP has also shocked Raila by reaching out to communities seen as pro-opposition and voted for Nasa almost to a man in the last two general elections.
Already, Ruto has held a rare meeting at his Karen offices with Makueni governor and Wiper chairman Kivutha Kibwana in what immediately plunged the party leader Kalonzo’s inner circle into a panic mode.
In another instance of real politicking, Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, an unapologetic Ruto critic, was taken by surprise when Elgeyo Marakwet senator Kipchumba Murkomen and Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wa, the DP’s close allies, stormed his constituency to attend a church service and gave all the indications that their camp had identified David Maina as the DP’s local pointman come 2022.
The two leaders were cheered by the congregation.
The two cases are only but a chapter in the DP’s new script on the way to capture power, his handlers believe.
Ruto’s strategy of building a formidable financial warchest and cunningly elbowing out those he feels pose a serious threat to his ambition has also sent shockwaves to those opposed to him. Initial plan was to fight corruption and stop him giving huge donations. To counter the move, Ruto has gone ahead even to donate more in public including money from Uhuru himself. Uhuru has never come out to deny sending his deputy to give his money.
Perhaps a sign of things to come, some of the DP’s harshest critics such as former Kakamega senator Boni Khalwale are toning down.
“If you come to us as the presidential candidate of your single party, then rest assured that ANC and Ford Kenya will merge into a single party as well. After this, all three of you Ruto, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula will be left to decide who will run for the presidency and who will become the deputy president,’’ said Khalwale while addressing a rally at Malinya trading centre in Ikolomani constituency, Kakamega county.
In Nairobi, Governor Mike Sonko remains Ruto’s key pointman. Sonko is on record as accusing a clique of Central Kenya powermen of plotting to frustrate the DP from succeeding Uhuru.
In Central Kenya, Ruto has given millions of shillings to Ichung’wa, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, his Kieni counterpart Kanini Kega who are backed by Murang’a governor Mwangi wa Iria to lead his campaigns.
For now, the DP is establishing a powerful and farflung network that will propel him to power without depending on Central Kenya and Luo Nyanza votes.
Ruto has been traversing the country, holding expensive fundraisers which are not set to end anytime soon and also addressing mammoth rallies and wooing leaders while forging allegiances and making promises.
His immediate goal is to achieve immense command and authority in the Jubilee Party as well as win over opposition leaders and thus scuttle Raila’s presidential bid in 2022.
Ruto started crafting this strategy ahead of last year’s polls when he planted his pointmen to run for governor, senator and MPs under Jubilee Party as well as bankrolling some opposition leaders in areas he knew the ruling party stood no chance of capturing the seats.
At the Coast, Ruto did the unthinkable when he roped in Raila’s devoted allies, including his then staunchest ally, Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa.
Jumwa’s unexpected public support for DP sent shivers throughout ODM circles, given that she had had massively ring-fenced the Coast as an ODM zone, and energetically defended Raila’s ‘stolen’ election.
This explains why ODM removed her from the coveted parliamentary service commission slot.
While Raila is still basking in the warm sun of the March 9 handshake with Uhuru, Ruto is making hay. He is not stopping just at the Coast, he is busy creating alliances all over and reading the riot act to those not intending to support him in Jubilee zones.
The DP is clear in his mind that should the traditional Jubilee zones fail to back him, he will have a softer landing in the Coast and Eastern/Northeastern Eastern regions.
Ruto is also taking advantage of Raila’s quiet evasiveness about his 2022 ambitions and going for it full throttle.
The DP is also working behind the scenes to ensure the Building Bridges Initiative does not succeed, and is said to have induced some of its members with cash handouts. Aware of Ruto plan, immediately he signed the finance Bill last week,Uhuru met the members of Building Bridges Initiative. Sources say in case of a referendum, Ruto will surprise many by backing it.
This is given credence by the fact that his allies have vowed to create walls for the Building Bridges team before it becomes something substantial.
To Ruto, the handshake is immaterial as he is focused on what he wants in 2022.
Insiders aver that Uhuru and Raila other headache is the realisation that Gideon, whom they had planted to scuttle the DP’s ambition, seems to be a weaker challenger.
Those that Gideon has reached out to with firm presidential ambitions are considered lightweights and to remain politically relevant the scion of Kenya’s second president will either mend fences with the DP or back Raila for the presidency.
Of concern to Uhuru and Raila is that Ruto has invested his energy at stopping Gideon at all costs and has been succeeding.
Gideon got slap in the face when the Kanu candidate for Baringo South by-election, Charles Kamuren, jumped ship into Jubilee and went ahead to win the seat.
Kamuren, who had run on a Kanu ticket in the last election, had lost narrowly to the late Grace Kipchoim.
Ruto, who had lost a powerful associate in Kipchoim, succeeded in winning Kamuren and thus neutralising Gideon in his home-turf.