Coming from the country’s largest single voter bloc, the
- Can he outsmart retired president Moi to “own” Rift Valley Vote
- Does he have what it takes to wrest the ODM ticket
- What are the chances of him striking a deal with Kibaki
- Who will be the casualties of Ruto phenomenon in the RVP
In politics, they say, a day can be a lifetime. In the dynamic world of politics, things can change so fast that careers are created and others destroyed within a short span of time. The adage holds very true in the case of William Samoei Ruto, who only a year ago was considered a political novice but has, in recent months, somehow managed to reconfigure himself into one of the most important political players in the forthcoming presidential race.
The more established politicians especially from the Rift Valley Province who once dismissed Ruto as a fly-by-night-single-day-political-wonder-boy have been forced to eat back their words upon realization that the Ruto phenomenon is here to stay.
Today Ruto is the single most-and potentially most influential-politician in the populous Rift Valley Province. As if by magic, Ruto has managed to eclipse the larger-than-life image and influence that was once wielded by former President Daniel arap Moi in the province of close to 3 million votes.
By so doing, Ruto is today in a position to become the king maker not just in the Rift Valley but possibly even at the national level. And as this happens, some of the politicians from the Rift Valley who had hitherto never seen eye to eye with Ruto are today trying to be associated with him in hope that this will help them recapture their parliamentary seats.
There is no doubt too that many politicians from the
A man who never misses an opportunity
Political analysts have described him as a politician who has never missed an opportunity to see an opportunity-and seize it. It is a description shared with many who have known the 41-year old Ruto at various stages in his relatively short but eventful career.
Talking of speed in noting and grabbing opportunities the soonest they appear on the horizon, who could have guessed that Ruto could have been that quick in positioning himself to fill a political vacuum in the Rift valley so soon after his very mentor, retired president Moi vacated State House?
And though at the very first his ambitions were taken, at worst, as a joke and at best, a proxy candidate for one of the ODM luminaries, at the moment many are persuaded that Ruto is indeed a factor in his own right and he will be in a position to make or break political careers.
One, that the country’s politics is seriously fragmented into regional/tribal blocs.
Secondly, that at one time or the other there is usually a father figure in command of any large bloc vote.
And three, that such a bloc seriously counts if there is a home boy to stake a claim to leadership once the father figure leaves the scene.
In his case, Moi absence from State House had created a vacuum in the Rift Valley. But most important for Ruto-and what many others could not immediately realize-Moi would not count much in Rift Valley politics-and the country in general- if his name was not in the ballot.
With that far sight, Ruto positioned himself for plan A and B. In plan A, he would try to woo Moi to back him as the home-boy going for big things in the capital. But Moi had other political plans and backing Ruto for the top job was not one of them. So Ruto positioned himself for plan B: take on his former boss and benefit from Moi fatigue in the Rift Valley.
For plan B to succeed-and looks like it is-Ruto saw two other factors not many people could at the time. That old age and the fast changing dynamics of Kenyan politics would make Moi an increasingly irrelevant factor on the national scene. Secondly, and equally important, an overwhelming number of future voters in the Rift Valley and the country would have a dis-connect with Moi come 2007 and beyond. Moi became president in 1978. Children born in that year will be 29-years old in this election and may have little, if anything, to relate nostalgically with the Moi era.
Armed with such home truths, there was no stopping for Ruto, an alleged descendant of the legendary Nandi chief and freedom fighter Koitalel arap Samoei.
But seizing the opportunity is not exactly the same as getting the prize. Inevitably, Ruto will have to steel himself to cross every section of the journey if he is to be the next occupant of State House.
The first hurdle is to clinch the ODM ticket, and that is assuming ODM stays as one united outfit to the end.
When he declared his candidacy in August last year, many did not take him that serious. Three schools of thought emerged at the time. One, that Ruto was merely placing himself strategically for a spoil in ODM by pretending to “own” a bloc vote he could bring to the table.
The second line and the most popular was that the idea to contest was actually not his own but that of ODM de facto leader, Raila Odinga. The thinking was solidified when Raila actually appeared at Ruto’s “crowning” as a Kalenjin elder last September and publicly stated that he is the one who had asked Ruto to contest. It later turned out that there had not been any prior consultations on the matter, an issue that has left Ruto with a bitter taste in the mouth to this day.
The third school of thought was that by declaring himself a presidential candidate, Ruto cunningly aimed at adding political weight to his name and use his elevated stature to stave off the corruption allegations leveled against him.
Playing godfather to Moi orphans
If there is one thing that really helped Ruto elevate himself to the level he is today, it has to be his fight for the rights of the so-called Moi orphans. When the Kibaki government started to prune some of the remnants of the Moi regime from public service jobs, Ruto saw an opportunity to position himself as the defender of ‘the victimized members of the Kalenjin community’.
While other Rift Valley politicians such as cabinet minister Kipruto arap Kirwa stayed on the sidelines on the thorny issue of Moi’s people ‘being finished’ by the Kibaki government, Ruto took the bull by the horns. He shouted loudest in defense of ‘his people’ and by so doing endeared himself as the defender of the ‘defenseless’.
As Ruto’s star continued to shine, that of other Rift Valley politicians such as Kirwa started dimming almost at the same speed. Ruto’s populist approach to politics resonated well with both high and low. Thus, almost over night, Ruto had transformed himself from a mere member of parliament to the patron saint of the Moi orphans.
Today any member of the Moi orphans club who wants to make an entry to parliament has no choice but to sing the Ruto song. Among those who have already signed up in the Ruto camp include former Head of Civil Service Dr Sally Kosgei who is eyeing the Aldai parliamentary seat. Others such as former aide to Moi, Joshua Kulei are also said to be sympathetic to Ruto and could be supporting him materially.
It is apparent that Ruto has indeed transformed himself into a big league player and will be the man many camps will want in their midst as the elections near. Politics is a dynamic business and the fact that Ruto is today committed to ODM may not mean much if he gets a better offer from president Kibaki.
And in the likelihood of ODM breaking up into competing factions, each group will want to have Ruto in order to bag the crucial Rift Valley vote. Whichever camp he chooses to work with will definitely have an upper hand in the elections and may as well be the winning camp barring some dramatic political realignments at the last minute.
RUTO AT A GLANCE
What works for him
- He is aggressive
- He is quite wealthy
- Relatively young and energetic
- He is eloquent
- Being a Nandi gives him the benefit of numbers among the Kalenjin
- Has the support of Moi ‘orphans’ with their deep pockets
What works against him
- Viewed by others as arrogant, selfish and thoroughly Machiavellian in his politics
- Has to deal with the tag and claims of having amassed his wealth corruptly
- Is viewed by others as inexperienced
- His past links to the infamous YK ’92 may come back to haunt him
- Internal differences between the Nandi, Kipsigis, Tugen, Keiyo and other members of the Kalenjin community may negatively impact on him
- His stance against Moi may be used by his detractors to undermine him