Deputy President William Ruto is a man in a big dilemma — damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.
In the battle for the soul of the ruling Jubilee Party, the DP is between two difficult situations, both with serious consequences for his 2022 presidential bid.
Dr Ruto is engaging in a delicate balancing act between the need to reassure his increasingly distant boss that he is a loyal and dependable deputy while also ensuring that he marshals a strong war chest to push for his presidential ambitions against a strong pushback by President Uhuru Kenyatta-allied party officials.
“Anyone who is uncomfortable in Jubilee should just quit. We are not going to leave. We have invested so much in this party economically, emotionally; we have given it our all. Those that think they can push us out are in for a rude shock,” Belgut MP Nelson Koech, a close ally of the DP said.
Dr Ruto led 350 Jubilee members — 146 of whom are elected senators and MPs — to protest changes to the party’s National Management Committee that he described as illegal and fraudulent.
Jubilee secretary-general Raphael Tuju and outspoken vice-chairman David Murathe have defended the changes, saying they were sanctioned by President Kenyatta.
They said those aggrieved by the changes should use internal party mechanisms to seek a resolution.
“We are really just waiting for the Covid-19 pandemic to be addressed, and we will forcefully eject Tuju and Murathe, that is if they will not have quit by then,” said Mr Koech.
Mr Tuju’s deputy Caleb Kositany, who has been back and forth with his boss over the changes, has disputed that the meetings to approve the changes happened, and now wants President Kenyatta to call a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting to plan for party elections — another key plank in Dr Ruto’s plan to get a firm grip on the political outfit.
“Jubilee is not a bush party. If anybody wants to run it like jua kali, they should go and do it in their homes, not with the party we have built,” Mr Kositany said Tuesday.
He argued: “We are fighting this illegality in Jubilee because we want to be honest with Kenyans. We want to set a good example that this formidable party respects the rule of law. We have an option of joining another party but if we do that then we shall have institutionalized conmanship in political parties, the very thing that we want to stop.”
Careful to always state that they are in the majority, Dr Ruto and his allies have consistently used this idea that they have the largest support in the party as a badge of honour and armour in the increasingly public cold war in the ruling party.
“One thing that those people need to know is that our option one is Jubilee, option two Jubilee and option three Jubilee,” said Mr Kositany in a previous interview.
The other issue in the DP’s camp, it appears, is the understanding that quitting the party, either in protest or after being pushed out, will be giving up the chance to work with an outfit that has a huge national following and name recognition, and a clear head-start in the 2022 presidential campaigns.
This leaves Dr Ruto with two options — sit it out and extinguish the small fires that would undoubtedly be in his path or work towards a genuine reconciliation with his boss, with the return of the camaraderie the two shared expected to shore up his support.
But with the second option looking highly unlikely at the moment, especially with the renewed push by President Kenyatta-allied officials to wrest the party from DP’s grip, he is then left with walking the thin ice of not fighting his boss outright, while at the same time fighting those who are attacking him in the name of the President.
“We will no longer turn the other cheek. We have decided that we will see them eye to eye. Let them walk out. We are the majority and are not going anywhere. We are the owners of the party. They should leave if they want,” Gatundu South Moses Kuria said last week.
The Jubilee constitution states that the two leaders “may summon” a meeting of the NEC, giving a small leeway for the DP to call such a meeting, without necessarily having to be tied to the President.