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Kericho Senate by-election is make or break for Ruto

Posted by African Press International on March 6, 2016

By Steve Mkawale
Updated Sunday, March 6th 2016 at 11:52 GMT +

The Kericho Senate by-election has set the stage for a battle that could define President Uhuru Kenyatta’s succession.

As the county goes to the polls tomorrow, some analysts say, it will be a make-or-break affair for Deputy President William Ruto following growing rebellion in the Rift Valley that voted for him and President Kenyatta almost to a man in the last General Election.

“The revolt against the DP is a reflection of the real battle of 2017. The Kericho by-election will bring out his strengths and weaknesses ahead of the Kenyatta succession,” says Dr Philip Chebunet, a political science lecturer at the University of Eldoret.

Chebunet says the outcome of the by-election will define the political future of Ruto.

“By ensuring appointment of Charles Keter to the Cabinet, the DP was trying to stem the revolt in the South Rift spearheaded by Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto. But a much bigger problem has come up for him to deal with,” he argues.
DP Ruto with Kipkelion West MP Jackson Rop and JAP candidate for Kericho senate by-election Aaron Cheruiyot. Chebunet argues that by ensuring appointment of Charles Keter to the Cabinet, the DP was trying to stem the revolt in the South Rift spearheaded by Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto but a much bigger problem has come up for him to deal with.

According to Yatich arap Namba, a local political commentator, the events in Kericho County were unexpected, and the by-election has been turned into some sort of referendum on the DP.

“ The issues about development, hospitals, polytechnics and universities have come up, but there is the bigger picture here,” Mr Namba says, adding that it is ironical that Ruto is putting up a spirited fight to reclaim a seat he made vacant in a region that overwhelmingly voted for Jubilee.

He further observes that a loss in Kericho to a resurgent Kanu will be devastating for the DP, who has been keen to consolidate the Kalenjin vote. He argues that Ruto’s status as the de-facto leader of the Kalenjin community and the entire Rift Valley is under threat.

“It is not lost to many that he used the support of the community to bargain for a power-sharing deal with President Kenyatta. It has all along been assumed that the region was under lock and key,” says Namba. The rebellion from a section of URP leaders has given birth to an alternative political force that comprises the independence party Kanu, the rebellious Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto and a host of elected leaders.

Looking at the intensity with which the DP has been campaigning and the resources he is using, it is clear that he is taking the contest very seriously.

Kalenjin elders have also waded into the political wrangles in the region in a bid to reconcile the rival camps.

“The differences in opinion should not be mistaken to mean that there was a split in the community,” Kalenjin Council of Elders chairman Paul Leleito said, adding that, “we do not have a preferred candidate for the Kericho by-election but will support the choice of the people.

During campaigns for Jubilee candidate Aaron Cheruiyot, the DP has stuck on his strategy of backing President Kenyatta’s second term bid in 2017 before making a stab at the presidency in 2022. He accuses his opponents of trying to destabilise him politically to undermine the succession plot.

At campaign rallies, Ruto has accused Kanu and Governor Ruto of trying to divide the Kalenjin community to block his 2022 presidential bid.

But the Governor dismisses the claims, saying the by-election has nothing to do with President Kenyatta’s succession. “It is the electorate who will decide in 2022 who will be their president, not the succession rhetoric’s we hear every other day. We actually need a break from that and leave Kenyans to decide for themselves,” said the Governor in an interview with The Standard on Sunday.

He accuses Jubilee of failing to deliver on their pre-election pledges hence the rebellion in the region. “We are not fighting to take the people to the opposition but to ensure that things that were promised by the Jubilee government are delivered on time,” he argues.

Blind leadership

Supporters of the DP are worried about the trend of politics in the region. “It is pointless for leaders from the Rift Valley to fight the DP because he is in a better position to succeed Kenyatta,” observes former Nakuru Mayor John Kitilit, whose was appointed chairman of the Rift Valley Water Services Board.

Mr Kitilit argues that Ruto has managed to market himself to other regions as the preferred successor. “Ruto is busy traversing the country campaigning, many would say for Jubilee and Kenyatta’s re-election, but it is also more about his presidential bid in 2022.”

Former Roads Minister Franklin Bett concurs with Kitilit. He says those fighting the DP with an eye on Kenyatta’s succession must state which direction they will take the community if they succeed.

“As matters stands now the DP has clearly stated his ambitions and where he intends to take the community but his opponents have not come out clearly to state their agenda if they succeed in their machinations,” Mr Bett said.

He accuses Governor Ruto of blind leadership and warns him of going against the Kalenjin culture.

Only time will tell if the intense political supremacy battle in the vote-rich Rift Valley will complicate matters for Ruto’s 2022 presidential bid.

But whatever the outcome, the by-election has set the political momentum in the region



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