Sunday, October 12, 2008



October 12, 2008

By Moses Koech and Kipkoech Komugor

FRUSTRATIONS going back to Orange Democratic Movement presidential nominations last year could see Agriculture Minister William Ruto breaking ranks with Prime Minister Raila Odinga ahead of the next General Election and running for President himself, we can reveal.

Former powerful Minister Nicholas Biwott could also be on his way to being rehabilitated in Rift Valley politics where he once was second only to former President Moi in calling the shots.

According to sources who attended a closed-door meeting at his Sugoi home on Moi Day, the Eldoret North MP will gun for the top job either on an ODM ticket or shop for an alternative vehicle to pursue his presidential ambitions.

Ruto held a high profile meeting with 20 MPs and 300 councillors in what pundits see as an effort to consolidate his powerbase with an eye in the future. Ruto is also out to secure his backyard in the face of former President Moi’s resurgence on the political arena especially in Rift Valley where he was the undisputed leader before Mr Ruto wrenched the title from him.

With the drive and gusto that saw them declare: "Ruto kitio" (we only know Ruto alone) in the run up to the last General Election, the leaders vowed to throw their weight behind the youthful Minister to realize the Kalenjin community’s dreams in future.

The absence of senior Rift Valley MPs – notably Industrialisation Minister Henry Kosgey and his Higher Education counterpart Dr Sally Kosgei – was also significant since the two Kosgeys are considered allies of Prime Minister Raila Odinga. In the run up to ODM presidential nominations last year, the two openly backed Raila at expense of the homeboy Ruto who was also in the race.

While the leaders are said to have renewed their demand that Ruto be given the ODM deputy leader position, it is understood that the Minister himself told the meeting that the position was not his primary concern since he had set his eyes on bigger things.

But when Eldoret East MP Margaret Kamar asked the leaders whether they backed Ruto for the party’s deputy leadership position, they were all for it. Rift Valley MPs have been clamouring that Ruto be appointed Raila’s deputy against similar calls from Western Kenya backing Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi.

Western MPs are arguing that Mudavadi is the natural candidate for the post by virtue of having been Raila’s running mate while Rift Valley MPs insist that Ruto deserves the appointment more as a compensation for the Province’s overwhelming support for the party in last year’s Election.

Speaking at Mudavadi’s thanksgiving party two weeks ago, Ruto sought to play down the issue which is causing significant friction in the party, saying that he was patient and would wait for his break to come. Campaigns for Ruto’s appointment to deputise Raila in the party are spearheaded by Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny who is understood to be close to the Agriculture Minister.

Besides the deputy party position, the leaders at Ruto’s home also laid strategies on how Rift Valley would scoop a sizeable share of party positions pie when it comes up for sharing in the forthcoming election. Clinching as many strategic positions as possible would strengthen Ruto’s bargaining power in the party whether he clinches the number two position or not.

Rift Valley pet peeves – the Mau Forest evictions saga, appointments in Government – were also discussed at length and resolutions reached. Poorly handled evictions from the Mau – and a Marmanet Forest in Laikipia – could lead to the Rift Valley severing links with ODM, the leaders are understood to have warned.

There has been a drawn-out controversy between Raila and MPs from the South Rift who are opposed to evictions from the Mau water tower. The PM, who has been in the forefront in the Government efforts to restore the forest, has been on a collision course with his party MPs.

On the issue of appointments, the leaders lamented that the Rift Valley’s share of parliamentary nominations and other appointments to parastatal and civil service jobs was disproportionate to the support that the region gave ODM in the polls.

The leaders thus demanded a fair share in pending ministerial and ambassadorial positions. Two ministerial positions that fell vacant following the death of Roads Minister Kipkalya Kones and Lorna Laboso in a plane accident in June are yet to be filled. It is expected that the positions will be filled by MPs from the South Rift where the two hailed from.

While giving Ruto the go ahead to go for the presidency, the leaders are said to have advised him build an elaborate network through out the country. At home, he was advised to build alliances with relevant leaders. Biwott’s name reportedly came up, with the leaders asking Mr Ruto to bring the former Keiyo South MP into his fold.

Ruto, the leaders argued, could greatly benefit from Biwott’s experience in politics and network of political allies built over the years. Biwott, a powerful Minister in the Moi government, was swept aside by the ODM wave in Rift Valley in the last Election. The immediate former Keiyo South MP lost the seat which he had been occupying since 1979 to ODM’s youthful politician Jackson Kiptanui. Mr Biwott was defending the seat on a Kanu ticket.

A Ruto-Biwott alliance would be a strong counter force against the Kosgey – Kosgei axis. It was not immediately clear whether Ruto was prepared to mend relations with Biwott with whom he has had bruising political battles in the past. Mr Biwott is married to Prof Kamar, the Eldoret East MP who won the seat last on an ODM ticket.

And yesterday, Ruto steered clear of the endorsement debate when he toured Nyanza and conducted a harambee for the Homa Bay Catholic diocese that was presided over by Kitale Catholic Bishop Maurice Crowley at Cardinal Otunga Pastoral Centre in Rongo. He claimed that all the socio-economic and political ills that had befallen Kenya over the years were a result of a poor Constitution and told Kenyans never to blame the former and current president for their woes.

He said the constitution gives the presidence immense powers while not making him fully accountable to the people. Ruto insisted that the desirable change to be realized, Kenyans must fight and ensure the Constitution if fully and successfully reviewed. He said the ODM was pushing for a parliamentary system of government where the country’s chief executive is accountable to both the people and Parliament.