In what is being dubbed by analysts as the biggest political switch of the times, the swapping of roles between Deputy President William Ruto and Opposition leader Raila Odinga is bringing new realities to the fore.
Like the grand coalition government of 2008, Kenya is once again scoring another first where the opposition leader acts as a powerful government official, while the deputy president assumes an active opposition role.
President Uhuru Kenyatta started it all when in 2007, then as the Official Opposition leader, he closed ranks with the Narc government of President Mwai Kibaki.
But where he stopped, Raila has picked up through the Handshake and is not just working with the government, but running the deputy president out of town as well.
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“What we have today is a new phenomena unseen in Africa and perhaps the whole world, a functionality where part of government is in the opposition when the opposition is more synchronised to supporting government agenda and policies,” says political analyst Javas Bigambo.
For the last two days, Ruto has retreated to the Coast as he contemplates his next move.
Yesterday, he was daring sections of leadership in his troubled Jubilee Party to quit for supporting Raila.
In Nairobi, his key ally, Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, was vowing he would lead troops in opposing the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
“Those at Jubilee House who have decided that their presidential candidate is from Orange House should pack and go; what are they still doing at our party’s head office?” Ruto posed to residents of Nyali and Mvita constituencies where he held a series of meetings yesterday. He said he was “prepared and fit” for the 2022 race based on his development track record, issues and policies.
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Ruto was accompanied by MPs Mohamed Ali (Nyali), Benjamin Tayari (Kinango), Lydia Haika (Taita Taveta Woman Rep), Khatib Mwashetani (Lunga Lunga), Wangui Ngirici (Kirinyaga Woman Rep) Gladys Shollei (Uasin Gishu Woman Rep) and Kimani Ichung’wah (Kikuyu).
He complained that the country was going back to “the archaic way of doing politics”, while asking leaders to be progressive and embrace development-oriented politics.
His troops also took over from where Murkomen left on Twitter, saying constitutional change was not a priority at a time Kenyans were suffering from extreme poverty and unemployment as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.
“What is wrong with our Constitution that needs an urgent change? Our problems are rooted in corruption and that is where our energy should be directed,” said the lawmaker.
According to Prof Egara Kabaji, a lecturer of cultural studies at Masinde Muliro University, the Uhuru and Ruto divorce is complete, with the DP now being forced to remind people that he is the deputy president.
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“The roles have changed and Ruto now in his current status needs to do a lot of soul-searching and make tough decisions on his political future,” Kabaji said.
In a TV interview on Thursday, Ruto painted a picture of helplessness in his continued stay in government, calling the other side “former opposition”. He fell short of saying his stay in government was untenable.
“He admitted that he was in government between 2013 and 2017 and what was built during his first term was solid in the area of infrastructure and other areas which could have been built on during the second term, but the Handshake brought in different dynamics,” Kabaji said.
On March 9, 2018, Raila closed ranks with his hitherto bitter political rival, President Kenyatta, an historic event that signified a truce spanning two generations. Since then, things have never been the same again for both Ruto and Raila.
Trooped to Raila’s office
Nowadays, government officials, including Cabinet Secretaries, shun visiting the deputy president at his Karen official residence, Harambee House Annex office or joining him in other functions.
“Some CSs who interact with the DP are forced to sometimes use WhatsApp or other means that cannot be traced unless it is something very official. No one wants to be seen to be cosy with Ruto,” said a source close to the deputy president’s office.
On the other hand, a number of CSs and government functionaries have trooped to Raila’s Capitol Hill office, some to ostensibly give briefings to the opposition leader on a government policy or update him on ongoing projects.
Raila, the African Union’s High Representative for Infrastructure Development, now enjoys unfettered access to the president and would sometimes launch government projects.
Political pundits now say it is the historians who will decode the current arrangement in Kenya.
Last week, when allegations of embezzlement of money at the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa) emerged, Ruto and Raila, in their new roles spoke at cross-purposes.
Ruto, in a series of eight tweets, accused the officials in his own government of corruption and the opposition of attempting to cover up for what he called “the Covid-19 Billionaires heist at Kemsa”.
He termed the issue a deplorable manifestation of the worst public vice, adding that the “hypocritical former opposition” has characteristically changed tune.
Raila found himself in a tricky situation and pundits say he almost “washed away his credentials as a corruption fighter with his contradictory statement”.
His explanation drew a picture of a politician who was reluctant to take a hard stance.
In a previous interview, Raila’s spokesman Dennis Onyango had defended his boss, saying the ODM leader “is not an employee of the government” but his sole interest was to help President Kenyatta bring unity in the country.
But Bigambo says unlike before when Raila would chastise Uhuru, his policies and corruption in his government, today he cannot speak of “boils when a leper was around”.
Kabaji disagrees and believes Raila is still speaking against the ills in government, albeit more politely.
“He is being forced to juggle two balls of one being in government and the other leading the opposition, a Herculean task for anyone. Another politician or more need to take over the opposition, though it will be hard to fit into Raila’s shoes in checking the government,” he says.
And to indicate his surrender of the opposition, Raila declared that Nasa is dead, a pronouncement that immediately weakened the coalition with 110 MPs and carted away 60 lawmakers from ODM to support government business.
Every inch into government by Raila has been saluted by President Kenyatta and reciprocated in kind. To cement their political marriage, Kenyatta wrested influential parliamentary positions from Ruto’s yolk and donated some to Raila’s party.
Belgut MP Nelson Koech said Raila had shown that he was power-hungry and his anger while in opposition was because he was not on the table to eat.
“How can you explain a situation where someone who has pretended to be an opposition leader has moved very fast to become the defender of corruption in government? It shows that all his quest was to be in power so that he can dip his hands in the cookie bar,” Koech said.
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