Deputy President William Ruto’s attempts to solidify his support base in his Rift Valley backyard seems to be faltering after a number of MP and other leaders in the South Rift region developed cold feet on their support for him.
This comes in the wake of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s purge targeting DP Ruto’s allies holding key positions in the Senate and the National Assembly as differences between the Head of State and his deputy deepen.
Already, two of DP Ruto’s key allies from the Rift Valley region – Elgeyo-Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen and his Nakuru counterpart Susan Kihika – have become casualties of the purge after they lost their positions as Senate majority leader and majority whip respectively.
Tharaka-Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki, who was the Senate deputy speaker, Ms Cecily Mbarire and Mumias East MP Benjamin Washiali have also been removed from their positions in Parliament sending shockwaves among DP Ruto allies.
Mr Washiali lost his position as National Assembly majority whip. Ms Mbarire was his deputy.
Navakholo MP Emmanuel Wangwe replaced Mr Washiali as the majority whip.
Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairman Kimani Ichung’wah and Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria are among other key allies of the deputy president who are targeted in the parliamentary leadership purge by the Jubilee Party.
Although DP Ruto’s staunch supporters from the vote rich Rift Valley region have put up a brave face and maintained that their support for him is steadfast, some leaders who were previously vocal in the defence of the man regarded as the region’s kingpin have developed cold feet and faded away from the public arena.
ALLEGIANCE TO UHURU
The latest of Ruto allies to switch their allegiance to President Uhuru Kenyatta are nominated MP David Sankok and nominated Senator Victor Prengei.
In an interview with the Nation, Mr Sankok, who has been a staunch ally of the DP, pledged total loyalty to President Kenyatta and supported his move to clean the Jubilee Party.
“I support President Uhuru Kenyatta in his cleaning of the party. He is my party leader and as our boss; we must respect him. Whenever he calls for a party parliamentary group meeting we must attend and give our views. In fact, those who do not support the president and the Jubilee manifesto, yet they were elected on a Jubilee Party ticket, should go and seek fresh mandate from the people, “said the lawmaker who represents people living with disabilities.
The MP lauded the president for reaching out to other parties in efforts to deliver on his promises to the country.
Nominated Senator Victor Prengei, who is among five senators facing disciplinary action for not attending a Jubilee Party parliamentary group meeting at State House, has also switched allegiance to President Kenyatta.
A source close to the senator told the Nation he had retreated and switched his allegiance to the president.
“He supports the party leader President Uhuru Kenyatta. In fact he was among senators who voted and supported the ouster of Prof Kithure Kindiki,” said the source.
Meanwhile, DP Ruto’s support in the South Rift is fading away, with several leaders appearing to have gone slow on their support for him.
SOUTH RIFT MPS
In Nakuru County for instance where DP Ruto has been enjoying support of almost all the MPs, the lawmakers, most of whom have been vocal, have developed cold feet and disappeared from the public limelight. They have instead chosen to concentrate on development projects in their constituencies.
Nakuru Town West MP Samuel Arama, who is the only MP in the region who has been openly supporting President Kenyatta, revealed that some of those vocal in the pro-Ruto Tangatanga group have been reaching out to him seeking to pledge allegiance to the Jubilee Party leader.
“We are ready to accommodate anybody ready to support President Kenyatta. The Jubilee Party has a manifesto that the President wants to deliver and in doing so he needs our full support and loyalty to the party,” said the MP.
Nakuru, a cosmopolitan county which is considered Kenya’s political bedrock, has 11 elected MPs and all of them have been allies of DP Ruto except Mr Arama.
DP Ruto allies in the region included Senator Susan Kihika, MPs Kimani Ngunjiri (Bahati) David Gikaria (Nakuru Town East), Samuel Kinuthia Gachobe (Subukia), Jayne Kihara (Naivasha), Martha Wangari (Gilgil), Joseph Kipkosgei Tonui (Kuresoi South), Moses Cheboi (Kuresoi North), Francis Kuria Kimani (Molo), Charity Kathambi Chepkwony (Njoro) and Woman Rep Liza Chepkorir Chelule.
However, most of the leaders, perhaps fearing that the President might take the war to their constituencies risking their comeback in the 2022 General Elections, have suddenly gone quiet.
Only a handful of leaders including Senator Kihika, MPs Ngunjiri and Tonui confess publicly to be firmly behind DP Ruto.
They have quietly backed the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) which is championed by ODM leader Raila Odinga and President Kenyatta.
Mr Kenyatta has been on a warpath, instilling discipline in the ruling Jubilee Party in a major purge that insiders say targets those loyal to DP Ruto.
Although most of the leaders were reluctant to declare their stand on whether they support DP Ruto or the President, when contacted for comment by the Nation, those close to the leaders said most of them are no longer interested in the 2022 succession politics but development matters.
“Currently, we are concentrating on helping our constituents to deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and also doing development, not politics,” an MP who sought anonymity said.
But Mr Tonui maintained that efforts by “political cons” to impede Mr Ruto’s 2022 presidential bid will fail.
The legislator, Mr Ruto’s close ally, said the same brokers were used to frustrate President Uhuru Kenyatta and DP Ruto in 2013, using the cases at the International Criminal Court (ICC), but the efforts flopped terribly.
REGION NOT DIVIDED
The MP maintained that the region is not divided politically as is being portrayed out there.
“Rift Valley is fully behind Deputy President Ruto and we will vote him overwhelmingly in 2022. Mr Ruto has no competitor in the 2022 presidential race. We will back his bid overwhelmingly and all that is happening now are sideshows by people who want to derail his bid,” said Mr Tonui.
According to the lawmaker, DP Ruto is his own man and will not depend on any endorsement from political bigwigs to clinch the presidency.
“DP Ruto was the man behind President Uhuru Kenyatta’s campaign wheels in 2013 and 2017 General Elections. The same applied to former Prime Minister Raila Odinga in 2007 General Election, and as such he would not require any endorsement from the bigwigs as he already has the support of the people at the grassroots,” Mr Tonui told the Nation.
Senator Kihika and Mr Ngunjiri, who initially had the President’s ears in the region, are no longer the darlings after a bitter falling-out with the Head of State.
They are the only leaders from Nakuru who have maintained their criticism of President Kenyatta.
2022 PRESIDENTIAL BID
The two have openly criticised him for failing to support the DP’s 2022 presidential bid.
Governor Lee Kinyanjui is also in President Kenyatta’s camp and has criticised other leaders in the region whom he said disrespect the Head of State and the Jubilee Party leader.
The governor and Senator Kihika’s local political rivalry appears to have led the two on different routes, with Mr Kinyanjui’s relationship with DP Ruto souring.
Initially, DP Ruto enjoyed the full support of nearly all the MPs in Nakuru.
However, at the moment, most of them have developed cold feet and appear to have withdrawn their support for the Tangatanga faction of the Jubilee group.
Even those who confess publicly to be firmly behind the DP Ruto have toned down their criticism of the President.
Other Rift Valley leaders like Narok Governor Samuel ole Tunai who, were previously staunch allies of DP Ruto, have since abandoned him.
In fact, Mr Tunai, who had previously publicly thrown his weight behind DP Ruto’s 2022 presidential quest, withdrew his support and joined President Kenyatta’s camp.
Before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Tunai was the host of a BBI rally in Narok County.
During the rally at Narok stadium, the governor announced that he was fully in support of the initiative.
Before the outbreak of the pandemic, DP Ruto went on a charm offensive in the region, offering goodies to leading opposition figures, who in turn changed their political persuasions in his favour. The move was seen as an attempt to fully lock the Rift Valley ahead of the 2022 polls.
Mr Ruto managed to convince governors Josphat Nanok (Turkana, ODM), John Lonyang’apuo (West Pokot, Kanu) and Patrick Khaemba (Trans Nzoia, Ford-Kenya) to cross over to his camp, but no sooner had they did so than they went mute.
The county chiefs have since taken a low profile.
Political pundits say the waning support for DP Ruto in his own backyard threatens his 2022 presidential bid.
“DP Ruto must be worried about the supporters he is losing in the region regarded as his political backyard. The situation has been worsened by invasion of the region by independence party Kanu, whose leader Senator Gideon Moi seeks to edge out Mr Ruto,” said Mr Jesse Karanja, a political analyst.
The recent signing of a post-election deal between Kanu and the ruling Jubilee Party, has further complicated Mr Ruto’s political support in the region.
Both the DP and Mr Moi are eyeing the presidency in 2022.
Kanu, which has been operating without a formal pre-election agreement with President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party as required by law since 2017, last week signed a deal, which would see it have a huge role in the 2022 presidential elections.
Although Kanu has been voting with Jubilee as a bloc and has its members seconded to House committees by virtue of Jubilee Party’s strength, Jubilee Secretary-General Raphael Tuju said that the pre-election agreement had not been deposited with the Registrar of Political Parties.
Already, Kanu has intensified a grassroots campaign in the Rift Valley region in a bid to solidify its popularity in the region.
The Nation has established that even after public gatherings were banned due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Kanu rolled out a series of online campaigns to revamp itself ahead of the 2022 General Elections.
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