If all troubles of the Kenyan political class were placed in a jar, stirred and shared out equally so that every politician gets a miniature fraction of Deputy President William Ruto’s troubles, most people — including supporters — would plead to have their original share back.
To stretch the analogy, starring in a reality TV show with the title “Being Ruto” would be hard work for many besides the Deputy President.
To be Ruto, one has to have the energy, political know-how and a thick skin to stomach and surmount challenges.
One also has to be fearless and brazen enough to confront the myriad thorns strewn one’s way, including an image problem of being corrupt.
And of course only the indefatigable Ruto can effectively match the demands of his work schedule, described by his political allies as “crazily busy”.
Noting that the demands of his office as the President’s principal assistant cannot allow enough rest even for a day, Senator for Kericho Aaron Cheruiyot, describes the DP as one whose “energy levels are unrivalled in the current political constellation” — a factor that gives him an edge over political rivals.
This view is shared by Arthur Odera, a close ally of the DP and former MP for Teso North: “The DP distinguishes himself for the energy, coverage and ability to link with grass roots leaders. He has reached out to all parts of the country, and continues to consolidate his hold on the ground.”
MOST TALKED ABOUT
Ruto is today easily the most talked about politician in the country, be they positive or negative sentiments — a title held for long by Mr Raila Odinga who in March agreed on a truce with President Uhuru Kenyatta. Considered a front-runner for 2022, the DP has nonetheless many hurdles ahead of his ambitions.
ormer Cabinet minister Prof Amukowa Anangwe says the DP is in a most difficult political situation, which he opines is of his own making “through blatant political blunders he has made since becoming the DP in 2013 by burning bridges and stepping on virtually everyone’s toes”.
“He also has some serious image problems and widespread perception that he is corrupt that is likely to weigh him down adversely with the Kenyan electorate at large. Hence, getting elected as president in 2022 is going to be an uphill task for Ruto,” observes Prof Anangwe, who teaches political science at University of Dodoma, Tanzania.
Indeed, the DP has not only been associated with previous and present scandals but has actually been arraigned in court over some of the cases. Barely a month old in office, for instance, Ruto got entangled in the so-called hustler’s jet scandal.
The House’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) established that Sh18.9 million was spent on his official trip to the trip to four African countries between May 16 and 19, 2013.
However, it was unable to establish the origin of invoices that showed the Office of the Deputy President paid Sh100 million.
LAND COURT CASES
The DP has also faced — directly or through companies associated with him — several land court cases including the highly publicised ones on Nairobi’s Processional Way, the Weston Hotel land, and 100 acres of land in the Rift Valley belonging to Adrian Muteshi. Ruto however withdrew his appeal against a High Court decision requiring him to pay Mr. Muteshi Sh5 million for illegally taking away his land.
As Agriculture minister in the Narc government of 2007-2013, Ruto similarly faced graft allegations over a maize scandal. And last week three Rift Valley MPs, Alfred Keter (Nandi Hills), Joshua Kuttuny (Cherangany) and Silas Tiren (Moiben) accused the DP’s office of being behind the cartels frustrating maize farmers in the Rift Valley.
These, and many more, are fights the DP and his backers have to engage in almost daily. According to Mr Cheruiyot, this is the work of Ruto’s detractors who want portray the DP as losing ground in Rift Valley and whose political masters will be made known soon. For Ruto’s allies, he is simply being targeted because he is mtoto wa masikini (son of peasant), who has made in life from selling chicken by the roadside to a billionaire without the backing of a “dynasty”.
One the things that keeps Ruto going, according to allies, is that he never allows criticisms or negative innuendos to weigh him down. He is the typical believer in the common adage — “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. And he can be swift at turning a perceived negative innuendo to a positive reference.
On May 31 this year, for instance, President Kenyatta told his audience at a rally in Nairobi, “hii kijana anaitwa Ruto unajua kila wikendi anatangatanga kila pahali. Atakuwa anapitia hizi machochoro. Akiona kitu inaenda konakona mmwambie (This young man called Ruto likes roaming everywhere every weekend. He will be passing through these routes. If he sees anything that’s not going well, alert him).
While some viewed the President’s comments as demeaning to his deputy, the man who was targeted took it in his stride and at the next public function in Meru county, even poked fun at the President’s remarks: “Ile kazi umenipatia juzi ya kutangatanga vichochoroni nikiangalia shida za wananchi, nataka kukupatia ripoti (Going by the assignment you recently gave me of roaming around the countryside to find out the problems of our citizens, I wish to report back to you today)”.
And although the President has repeatedly dissuaded politicians against engaging in premature campaigns, his own deputy remains culprit number one.
But fashioning himself as the President’s “mtu ya mkono” (messenger or operative), the DP has found a way around this gag, by traversing the country “to initiate and inspect development projects”.
However, critics have since christened Ruto’s political forays across the country “tangatanga”mission.
It has been alleged that members of the “tangatanga” squad are paid hefty allowances for accompanying the DP.
Only recently a video clip of one of the DP’s aides, Farouk Kibet, and a first-term MP allegedly fighting over “tangatanga” allowances surfaced in social media. However, Sunday Nation could not verify the authenticity of the clip.
Ford-Kenya’s deputy party leader, Dr Bonny Khalwale partly attributes the DP’s determination and never-say-die attitude as reasons that have endeared him to the DP.
In fact Khalwale and most politicians backing Ruto’s bid are not voicing his positive attributes, but rather they are throwing in the towel in submission because they consider him unstoppable.
Vocal lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi could not have put it better in April this year, when he warned that those plotting to stand in the way of Ruto’s presidential ambitions should brace themselves for a bruising battle in 2022 since the DP is brutally aggressive: “A serious political storm is brewing in Kenya and I think they are terribly underestimating the strength, war chest and determination of the man they all want to cut down to size,” he said in tweet on April 26.
Dr Khalwale confessed to the Sunday Nation that his support for Ruto was out of the realisation that he is the front-runner in the 2022 presidential race.
“I am just being pragmatic. Ruto is the only politician who holds the realistic chances of getting my (Luhya) community into government,” says Dr Khalwale.