The latest bare-knuckle exchanges between Deputy President William Ruto and Opposition leader Raila Odinga have lifted the lid on their long-drawn-out rancorous rivalry.
With four years until the next presidential election, battle lines are already being drawn in what is shaping up as a bruising showdown between Ruto and Raila in 2022.
The two have had a 15-year-love-hate relationship.
While the DP has started early campaigns with his countrywide ‘development tours’, Raila has not said yet that he will be on the ballot. However, Siaya Senator James Orengo says former Prime Minister Raila is the best candidate.
On Sunday, Raila’s allies ignited a row after they accused Ruto of “sponsoring a rebellion during debate on the president’s [Finance Bill] memorandum to prop up his bid to succeed President Kenyatta.
Ruto responded with an outburst and accused Raila of wanting him out of Jubilee.
The DP has also questioned the motive behind Raila’s handshake with President Kenyatta, suggesting Raila was using it to further his ambitions.
Yesterday, Raila’s key allies tore into Ruto’s character, which they claimed is the major stumbling block to State House, not Raila.
“Ruto should stop looking for enemies in the wrong places. He is the enemy he is looking for,” ODM deputy party leader Wycliffe Oparanya said.
Interviews with a dozen politicians from both sides paint a picture of two teams that seem to fear one another because both Raila and Ruto are capable of destroying each other’s careers.
Raila is unhappy with Ruto’s ‘bumper harvest’ of his own key lieutenants at the Coast where he has traditionally enjoyed massive support.
Raila believes backing the president’s anti-graft war and supporting government programmes will win over Uhuru’s Central Kenya backyard where Ruto is battling some hostility and mistrust.
The fresh push by opposition lawmakers for a referendum to amend the Constitution will widen the rift Ruto-Raila rift, as the DP has vigorously opposed plebiscite calls.
The DP’s frenetic countrywide travels are seen to be laying the ground to oppose the referendum that he says would allow Raila to enter government through the backdoor. It could call for a parliamentary system and expand the Executive.
Ruto’s allies believe the referendum would give Raila a springboard for a fifth stab at the presidency.
Ruto, the Jubilee deputy party leader, was once considered to be Uhuru’s anointed successor.
However, Raila — who has lost three times — appears to be riding on goodwill from the handshake.
But aware of Raila’s manoeuvres to upstage him in Jubilee strongholds, Ruto has launched a verbal onslaught against Raila, hoping to consolidate his support.
Murang’a senator Irungu Kang’ata yesterday told the Star that Raila and Ruto are obviously panicking and worried about each other.
“As it stands today, the two leaders are the people with credible chances of becoming president so they try to elbow one another,” the Senate deputy minority whip said.
National Assembly Majority leader Aden Duale said Raila and his team should tread with caution and champion national unity, not propaganda.
“We thank him for supporting the president’s Big Four and welcome him to 2022. Ruto will teach him his final political lesson. He knows he cannot match, so he is shadow boxing to try and damage the DP,” Duale told the Star.
ODM secretary general Edwin Sifuna said there was no love-hate relationship between Raila and Ruto.
“This is purely political competition, there’s no hatred or emotions, no fear at all,” Sifuna said.
He said the response by ODM leaders was meant to dispel Ruto’s “propaganda” that he was kicked out of ODM. [He voluntarily quit.]
“We wanted to set the record straight by tackling head-on the misinformation by Ruto, that was all,” Sifuna added.
On Monday some ODM leaders warned Ruto against a tirade at Raila, saying he was not his equal.
“Let him not call Raila names like ‘conman’, he is not Raila’s equal. Raila is a statesman, it will take Ruto 50 years to match what Raila has achieved,” Suna East MP Junet Mohamed said.
Mombasa governor Hassan Joho said Ruto was running around the country causing division and hatred.
“How do you call Raila Odinga a conman? What do you have to be conned? If it’s about political strength, you cannot compare Raila with Ruto. We will show him dust,” Joho said.
Although Kenyan politics is generally fluid and dynamic, recent years have seen a remarkably deep and unyielding enmity between Ruto and Raila.
Some say Ruto is convinced Raila gave him up to the ICC, yet he defended Ruto robustly after the disputed 2007 disputed elections.
Ruto and five others ended up at the ICC with crimes against humanity charges. Others were Kenyatta, former ODM boss Henry Kosgei, e-radio presenter Joshua Sang, former police chief Hussein Ali and Francis Muthaura.
The DP is guaranteed to oppose any initiative that allow Raila to approach the presidency.
And Raila shows no sign of wanting reconciliation.
ODM treasurer and former Kitutu Masaba MP Timothy Bosire denied Raila was afraid of Ruto.
“Raila is an institution who has brought up most of these politicians. He has strong policies and programmes,” he said.
Bosire said the DP’s aggressive politics “drives him wild” whenever he anything is standing in his way.
“These are very strong leaders in their own right. When you put them together, that generates heat. They are very strong strategists and know each other well,” he said.
Laikipia West MP Patrick Mariru accused ODM lawmakers of trying to ignite a war between Uhuru and Ruto, saying the DP has never attacked Raila.
“Has the DP ever called anyone names Ruto has not attacked Raila anywhere,” Mariru said.
He said politicians trying to create a rift between Uhuru and Ruto will fail miserably because “an attack on the DP is an attack on the President.”
The love-hate relationship between Ruto and Raila goes back to the 2002 General Election when the former supported then- Kanu leader and now President Uhuru, while latter backed Mwai Kibaki.
Kibaki won and formed the government in which Raila, who had declared “Kibaki Tosha,” was appointed Minister for Roads and Public Works.
Ruto took over as the Kanu secretary general, while Uhuru remained chairman and party leader.
They were the face of the opposition in Parliament.
No sooner had the Narc government been formed, Raila and Kibaki fell out, forcing Raila to join the Uhuru- and Ruto-led opposition.
They campaigned successfully against the draft Constitution in the 2005 referendum under the Orange banner.
This saw the birth of ODM before the 2007 polls. Ruto backed Raila, Uhuru supported Kibaki.
Kibaki, running on the PNU ticket, won the disputed 2007 election, which was challenged unsuccessfully by Raila.
The disputed reelection resulted in a post-election conflagration that forced the two into a power-sharing deal.
Raila and Kibaki formed the Grand National Government of unity.
Ruto was appointed Agriculture Minister, Uhuru was deputy PM and minister of Finance.