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Kenya’s Ruto claims Odinga is a party wrecker

By Morris Kiruga, in Nairobi
Posted on Thursday, 11 April 2019 10:55

Back in the day... both presidential candidates in the 2013 elections, William Ruto (L) and Raila Odinga (R) present a united front during pre-election peace prayers. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Kenya’s Deputy President, William Ruto, says that opposition leader Raila Odinga approached him several times after the 2017 elections.

In a wide-ranging interview with Citizen TV’s Newsnight, Ruto also denied that he was politicising the war on corruption, and claimed that he himself was not being personally targeted by it.

  • “Before Raila Odinga engaged the President, he approached me on four occasions,” Ruto said, adding that he declined because Jubilee is a party and no longer a coalition, and that he “did not believe Odinga was doing this in good faith.” He said that on at least two occasions, the opposition leader tried to drive a wedge between him and President Kenyatta.
  • Ruto, who has been involved in a renewed public spat with Odinga since the truce last year, added that his initial fears were not far-fetched. He said he “was there during the KANU-NDP merger, and I saw what became of it,” referring to the period before the 2002 election when Odinga joined and later left the ruling party.

Philip Etale, the opposition’s director of communication, denied the engagements ever happened. Calling the claim “Fake news”, he also suggested that it was Kenyatta who looked for Odinga and not the other way round.

While Ruto says he still has misgivings about the unity deal, he views it as necessary because “there are no more protests and businesses are running as they should.”

He says, though, that he will not let Odinga do to the Jubilee Party what he did to the two previous ruling parties.

  • “If he comes to my party, where I am Deputy Leader, I will stop him,” the deputy president said.

On Kenya’s current fight on graft, Ruto said that he does not feel personally targeted, which has been a constant claim by a group of his close allies. Instead, he says that he is trying to prevent a similar situation as in Jubilee’s 2013-2017 term when: “We asked six ministers to resign […] but none of them ever made it to court.”

  • When asked whether he was undermining investigative agencies on the amounts lost in an ongoing dam scandal, he said his only intent had been to correct a false narrative.
  • The investigations into the three-dam project have generated controversy on the figures involved, with Ruto denying the common belief that KSh21bn was lost.
  • Although he declined to state his personal wealth, which has been a matter of public speculation, he specifically denied owning three hotels in Nairobi that have been linked to him.

Election cycles and lame ducks

The interview comes at a midpoint between electioneering periods, when political realignments begin to take shape. Ruto is still seen as the man to beat in 2022, and Odinga is still his most formidable challenger.

  • The two were recently engaged in a proxy fight in two by-elections, one in Nairobi and another in Odinga’s stronghold of the south-west, both of which Odinga’s party lost to other opposition parties.
  • While the by-elections were largely insignificant in the larger scheme of Kenya’s politics, several politicians used them as platforms to announce they would try to impeach Ruto.

The ruling party is also experiencing its first serious upheavals as insiders jostle for a role in the next elections. Factions are largely divided on the Ruto question, with one side openly supporting his 2022 bid and another working to find legal ways to stop it.

  • While Ruto promises to go through the ruling party’s primaries and support whoever wins if it happens to be someone else, it is also as likely that he would exit and run on a different platform.

Bottom line: For Kenyatta, who is on a state-visit to Mauritius, these rumblings are only going to grow as he approaches the end of his last term and his political capital dwindles.

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