A widely shared photo of Deputy President (DP) William Ruto celebrating Iftar in the company of the outspoken Aisha Jumwa at the Eden Roc Hotel in Malindi last week is perhaps the best symbolic illustration of his coastal conquest.
For one, the Malindi MP has been one of Jubilee’s fiercest critics and among the most steadfast Orange party MPs in the Coast, with her party leader Raila Odinga fondly referring to her as a reincarnation of the legendary Mijikenda foremost freedom fighter Mekatilili wa Menza.
Before this, Mr Ruto had held a rare meeting at his Karen offices mid-April with Makueni Governor and Wiper chairman Kivutha Kibwana in what immediately plunged the party leader Kalonzo Musyoka’s inner circle into a panic mode.
Prof Kibwana had prior to meeting Mr Ruto threatened to ditch Wiper, citing frustrations.
In another instance of real politicking, Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, an unapologetic Ruto critic, was last Sunday shocked when Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen and Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wa, the DP’s close allies, showed up in his constituency to attend a church service and gave all the indications that their camp had identified Mr David Maina as the DP’s local point-man come 2022.
The two cases, though dissimilar, are only but a chapter in the DP’s new script on the way to capture State power, his handlers believe.
Mr Ruto is discreetly implementing an elaborate strategy to succeed his boss slightly over four years to the next presidential election.
Building a formidable financial war chest and cunningly elbowing out those he feels pose a serious threat to his ambition are some of the highlights of this strategy.
The complex, multifaceted plan the Nation is privy to, also involves winning over key regional leaders to his side and, where difficult, plant his allies in pole position to checkmate the traditional kingpins.
Lately and after taking a short break following last year’s protracted campaigns, Mr Ruto has gone on such a full scale campaign that he recently caught the President’s attention, prompting the latter to make the now famous ‘Kutangatanga’ remark, loosely translating to “roaming around”.
Both he and the President have since opted to downplay the incident on realising it was giving unnecessary fodder to the DP’s opponents.
On Saturday, Mr Odinga picked up the topic, warning politicians against endless politicking with an eye on the 2022 election.
Speaking in his Bondo, Siaya county, backyard, Mr Odinga said: “Watu waache mambo ya kurandaranda na kurukaruka juu ya siasa” (people should stop loitering from one place to another because of politics),” referring to President Kenyatta’s recent remark over Mr Ruto’s forays across the country.
Mr Ruto, however, remains unperturbed. Appreciating the role of the press especially when it comes to messaging, he has recently invested heavily in the media industry, acquiring a controlling stake in an outfit that publishes a daily newspaper besides acquiring radio outlets broadcasting in vernacular languages and a television station.
Another TV station to be managed by a popular news anchor is in the pipeline.
Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi, one of Mr Ruto’s latest converts, explained his latest dalliance with the DP as being part of the handshake between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.
Mr Ruto’s aim in courting the county chief, some of his allies say, is part of an attempt to put Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, who also harbours presidential ambitions, in check.
The DP is said to be determined to have an imprint in all corners of the country as a fallback measure should Central Kenya abandon him for another presidential candidate.
His handlers say his expansionist push is buoyed by sentiments from some politicians in Mr Kenyatta’s backyard such as Mr Wambugu who say they have no political debt to pay to him.
In Turkana, Mr Ruto has finally won over Governor Josephat Nanok, a hitherto staunch Odinga ally who successfully repulsed the ruling Jubilee’s forays in the region in last year’s and previous elections. Such conquests, however, present him with an inadvertent challenge; that of balancing interest of new and old pointmen from the same region.
Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya is, for instance, said to be sulking over the entry of his neighbour, Mr Kingi, into the DP’s fold. Mr Nanok’s case too may not sit well with Petroleum CS John Munyes, the man who led Jubilee campaigns in the region last year.
Mr Ruto’s wife, Rachel is on her part leading women drawn from villages across the country through her table banking initiative. It is a rich network that is likely to come in handy for the DP going forward.
LEADING THE PACK
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 (Mr Ruto) 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 Dr Khalwale while addressing a rally on May 20 at Malinya trading centre in Ikolomani constituency, Kakamega county.
In Nairobi, Governor Mike Sonko remains Mr Ruto’s key pointman. Sonko is on record as accusing a clique of central Kenya powermen of plotting to frustrate the DP from succeeding President Kenyatta.
Only last week, Mr Ruto, in Sonko’s company, appeared to extend an olive branch to Wiper leader Mr Musyoka during an Iftar dinner organised by the Nairobi Governor.
“We are all Kenyans and we will not be divided in terms of tribe, region and religion. Do not worry about those who talk about our meeting. They will talk all day and sleep at night,” Mr Ruto told Mr Musyoka during the event.
Mr Ichung’wa, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, his Kieni counterpart Kanini Kega and Murang’a Governor Mwangi wa Iria are leading the pack in the Mount Kenya region, a move which has angered some of President Kenyatta’s key lieutenants who accuse Mr Ruto of seeking to secure direct loyalty from the Mt Kenya leadership instead of banking on Mr Kenyatta’s efforts.
“He is trying to upstage the President so early in his second term by planting his loyalists all over the place,” protested a politician from the region.
Some of the President’s men are also said to be uncomfortable with the DP’s use of development projects to popularise his 2022 bid, notable being the Last Mile Initiative under the Energy ministry.
For instance, the DP is next weekend expected to launch a water project in Keroka, Kisii county. Kisii and the neighbouring Nyamira counties have over successive elections resisted the Jubilee party and the DP appears keen to endear himself to the locals through such projects.
His pointmen in the area include North Mugirango MP Joash Nyamoko, Bomachoge Chache’s Alpha Miruka, Kitutu Chache’s Jimmy Angwenyi, South Mugirango’s Sylvanus Osoro and Kitutu Chache South’s Richard Onyonka.
Only last month, Mr Onyonka hosted the DP at the St Paul’s Nyabururu Teachers’ Training College in his constituency before crossing over to Mr Osoro’s constituency.
Recent events also show a politician keen on completely vanquishing Kanu from the country’s political map. Last week, Mr Ruto ensured that Kanu’s main candidate for the Baringo South parliamentary seat during the last General Election, Mr Charles Kamuren, defected to Jubilee, leaving the independence party with no candidate ahead of the forthcoming by-election in the constituency.
According to observers, Mr Ruto’s ultimate target is Kanu chairman Gideon Moi who is keen to run for president in the 2022 election.
“Kanu will not field a candidate as the ideal one whom the party would have fielded was manipulated by political forces from Jubilee Party to abandon Kanu,” party secretary-general Nick Salat said.
Another Kanu stalwart, Governor John Lonyangapuo, is also drifting towards Mr Ruto.
“You may not know the party that will rule the area in 2022. We must work together for development to be realised,” said Prof Lonyangapuo while explaining his new-found dalliance.
Three weeks ago, Prof Lonyangapuo accompanied Mr Ruto in inspecting crops at his Sugoi rural home, demonstrating how close they have become.
The DP’s manoeuvres across the country have not only rattled his competitors but also some members of the deep state opposed to his presidential bid.
Mr Ruto’s foot-soldiers such as Nandi Senator Kiprotich Cherargei have accused the agencies probing high level corruption of targeting their man and his close associates to disadvantage him in the succession race.
He hinted at some of the DP’s allies considering sponsoring a motion in Parliament to demand the sacking of the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji, the head of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti and the bosses at the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, individuals they accuse of unfairly targeting their own.
“The Jubilee MPs and senators from Rift Valley are unhappy with the way the fight against corruption is being conducted. Some of the investigators are partisan.” Mr Cherargei said.
Aldai MP Cornelius Serem echoed his sentiments. Last week, Mr Cherargei said the whole push against graft was part of a plot to frustrate the DP’s chances of ascending to the highest office in the land.
Mounting a proper presidential campaign is capital intensive and those in the know say Mr Ruto has, for a while, been working on an outlay he plans to unleash at the right time.
That a huge campaign war chest matters in a presidential election was best captured in remarks made by one of Mr Ruto’s pointmen in western Kenya, Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa, during a recent function in the region.
Downplaying Mr Mudavadi’s presidential ambitions, Mr Echesa wondered how the ANC leader would mount a presidential campaign “without Sh200 billion”.
Already, some of the DP’s new converts have kind words for him. They say he knows how to cater for their welfare.
“We support Mr Ruto’s development agenda and his presidential ambition,” Msambweni MP Suleiman Dori, who until last week was deputy national organising secretary in Mr Odinga’s ODM party, declared. Mr Dori, by virtue of being the Coast Parliamentary Group chairman, could prove to be a big asset.
The DP is said to have recently acquired a state-of-the-art chopper worth as high as Sh1 billion.
The aircraft, with night vision capability and radar guided avionics, is far superior to what a number of politicians own. In terms of the number of public events he can attend in a day, it will be a game changer.
His aides are by the same token some of the widely travelled across the country, a source at the Public Service Commission (PSC) said. “We often split into two, sometimes three groups to at least have an advance team in all the stops in a given day,” one of those in his team told us.
Mr Emmanuel Talam, Mr Ruto’s press secretary, told the Nation that his boss knows what he wants and has his eyes firmly fixed on it.
“Do not be cheated by anyone that the DP has a team of strategists who sit somewhere and plan for him what to do. No. He is the master of his own political script,” he said.
Both publicly and privately, he is frequently seen in the company of Mr Murkomen, also the Senate Majority Leader, his National Assembly counterpart Aden Duale and Energy CS Charles Keter, the triumvirate with so much input in his politics.
The DP is also said to be keenly monitoring ongoings at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which will oversee the 2022 election and which remains steeped in deep-rooted internal rifts.
For a man who some think is on the back foot after the Uhuru-Odinga handshake, it will be interesting to see how he sustains momentum until 2022 and how he balances his ambition without upsetting those in government that will be crucial for the success of his project.