Deputy President William Ruto appears to have taken a cue from his political mentor, former President Daniel arap Moi, by adopting a grassroots campaign strategy, which he hopes to use as the launching pad for his 2022 presidential bid.
Ruto, who hopes to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta, has been engaging directly with ordinary people with the aim of creating a strong grassroots network, which he intends to activate during his campaigns.
Moi is known for his elaborate political network, which he built using the then ruling party Kanu operatives and the provincial administration.
Lately, the DP has been photographed eating in roadside kiosks, entering manyattas and grass-thatched houses in rural areas and attending functions, which may be regarded as too “local” in a move calculated to endear himself to the ordinary voter.
Yesterday, Ruto had a busy day in Nyeri county, attending two church functions before sharing lunch with residents of Ruguru location in Mathira. Area MP Rigathi Gachagua hosted him.
Speakers at the gatherings encouraged him to continue with his countrywide tours, saying it was the only way to understand reality on the ground.
Although opinion is divided whether Ruto’s strategy will deliver results, it is a potential game changer.
Gatundu MP Moses Kuria, his Kimilili counterpart Didmus Barasa and former Kitutu Masaba MP Timothy Bosire yesterday told People Daily the grassroots strategy could benefit the DP.
“The strategy has sustained him. He is going directly to the people who vote. Kenyan voters love warmth and closeness,” said Kuria.
“The DP addressed more than 10,000 people in Mathira yesterday. He may pick a good chunk and replicate the same countrywide. The only challenge is that the man is currently racing against himself. It is too early. The picture will be clearer when the President hits the ground with the Building Bridges Initiative,” said Kuria.
Ruto’s allies have sent strong signals that they will oppose the initiative expected to come up with proposals that could alter the country’s power structure.
On Friday, he mocked his opponents “for sitting pretty in Nairobi waiting for leadership to fall on them”.
“I would like to tell some of my friends who are resting in Nairobi that leadership doesn’t come easily. That is why I am busy moving around delivering the projects we promised Kenyans in 2017,” he said.
According to Bosire, Ruto’s Moi-style “direct and speed interaction” with ordinary Kenyans could work for or disadvantage him.
“By going around dishing goodies in the name of implementing development projects, the DP is taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of poor and hungry people, who are likely to look up to him as a saviour.
He is depicting himself as a down-to-earth leader who understands the conditions of the ordinary people. By misleading people, he might harvest here and there,” Bosire said.
The former MP thinks the plan could be counter-productive as it projects the DP as a defiant and impatient man with a strong sense of entitlement.
“He has been running around alone campaigning against the advice of his boss and has built an alternative centre of power. He might find himself unable to move around if his boss finds him a liability,” he added.
But Barasa thinks Ruto’s trips will translate into votes.
“The difference between Raila Odinga and the DP’s tours is that while Raila is telling riddles, Ruto is preaching development,” the MP said.
The DP has been working with friendly MPs to organise political gatherings under the guise of launching projects and attending church services.
Some of the functions – he can hold five in a day – end with rallies. The DP has also been hosting the clergy and political leaders at his Karen and Uasin Gishu residences.
Lately, the DP is hardly at his workstation in Harambee Annex. Since July 1, he has graced at least 139 events in 34 counties, which include launching county or CDF projects, an inspection of national projects, funerals, homecoming parties, weddings and church services.
Moreover, he has attended graduation functions in at least four polytechnics in the past two months.
His boss, the President, has not been excited by the flurry of political activity as associated with his deputy, who he has unsuccessfully asked to stop early campaigns, in what he once termed as “kutanga tanga” (loitering around). The DP used the term to advance his tours.
Like Moi, the DP has recruited foot soldiers in almost every constituency who are responsible for planning his events. He has also assembled an army of bloggers who flood social media spaces with messages that push his agenda.
Besides, Ruto has also deployed his son, Nick, who has visited parts of the country to raise funds in churches as he rallies support for his father. In the past two months, Nick, a businessman, has been to Mombasa and Siaya counties for harambees.
In addition to his own tours, the DP has formed the Inua Mama grouping, which comprises women leaders backing him and is reported to be financing their grassroots activities.
In return, the women leaders sell his 2022 bid to beneficiaries of their activities.
During the last four months, he has been to Nairobi, Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet, Bomet, Kericho, Nandi, West Pokot, Kisii, Kakamega, Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Embu, Kirinyaga, Kiambu, Nyandarua, Nyeri, Nakuru, Laikipia, Marsabit, Turkana and Samburu counties.
He has also visited Narok, Kajiado, Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Taita Taveta, Tana River, Kitui, Vihiga, Busia, Bungoma, Migori and Nyamira counties. Sometimes he crisscrosses two or three counties in one day.
For instance, between September 12 and 16, Ruto had 21 events in Tana River, Kilifi, Taita Taveta, Kwale and Mombasa counties that have been opposition strongholds. Most of the events were organised by Woman Reps or MPs allied to him.
Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, a fierce Ruto critic, says the DP’s visits are futile unless he creates a good relationship with regional kingpins who are key factors in a presidential election.
For instance, according to Ngunjiri, no matter how many trips Ruto makes to Mt Kenya region, without Uhuru’s endorsement in 2022, “whatever he is doing is a waste of time and resources”.
“If the President was to make an announcement against him, that would be the end of him because Uhuru’s influence will determine the political direction the region will take. If he says it’s not Ruto all his visits will be in vain,” Ngunjiri said.
But political analyst Dismas Mokua thinks Ruto’s strategy “will definitely work in his favour”.
He argues that in Africa, the familiarity of a candidate is a key factor, and that is what Ruto is doing.
This, Mokua said, is why Ruto’s foot soldiers have since the 2017 election constantly organised visits, especially in areas where he is deemed “unwanted” so that he can create familiarity and forge a relationship with voters.