The Kericho Senatorial by-election on March 7, 2016 revealed the deepening power tussle between Deputy President William Ruto and the ruling Jubilee government on the one hand and the Moi family and KANU on the other. The by-election exposed Ruto’s political future lies in the hands of the powerful Kalenjin Council of Elders. On its part, the family of former President Daniel arap Moi has hit the warpath to defeat Ruto in the race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta after 2017.
The Kericho senatorial by-election on March 7, 2016 brought back to mind the nuanced article by the British academic, Gabrielle Lynch, “Courting the Kalenjin” (African Affairs, 2008).
In the article, Lynch puts forward the cogent argument that the popular rejection of Daniel arap Moi’s call on the Kalenjin to re-elect President Mwai Kibaki signified “the failure of dynasticism” to break the “ODM wave” in the 2007 election.
As an ideology, dynastic politics is alive and well, and poised to shape the dynamics of the Uhuru Kenyatta succession in 2017 and beyond. The Kericho election unveils the main fault-lines in the unfolding “succession” politics in the Rift Valley.
First, Kericho put the spotlight on Deputy President William Ruto as the topmost Kalenjin leader, but whose mantle is heavily contested.
Kanu and URP rebels used the trope of “the Kericho rebellion” to foster the idea of a dying power. But the triumph of the Jubilee candidate, Aaron Cheruiyot, who garnered 109,370 votes, has helped Ruto stamp his authority on the Kalenjin Rift Valley.
Inversely, the loss by Kanu’s Paul Sang, who scored 56,307 votes, has cast a shroud of uncertainty around the future of Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto who led URP rebels alongside Kanu chairman Gideon Moi.
Second, the election has unfurled the Kalenjin Council of Elders (Gotaab Myot) as the real power behind Ruto.
In early February, at the height of the Kericho by-election, the Kalenjin Council of Elders summoned Ruto to appear before them.
At issue was the sentiment the DP made at Ziwa in Uasin Gishu County, where he accused Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto, and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s political adviser, Joshua Kuttuny, of praying for his imprisonment at the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) so that they can take the leadership of the Rift Valley.
Mr. Ruto took to heart the advice of elders close to him, humbled himself and made peace with the elders. This ensured that the elders did not anoint a leader to replace him, which would have been a deathblow to his 2022 presidential ambitions.
His move changed the fortunes of the Kericho by-election and of his presidential ambitions.
Third, the power tussles in Kericho between Kanu and JAP revealed the unfinished Moi succession in the Rift Valley. It was the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga who once said “Moi is like a giraffe, he sees very far.”
This was a fitting metaphor for the grand master of Kenya’s succession politics, whose foresight enabled him to succeed Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in 1978. Despite this, Moi, failed to cultivate a Kalenjin heir. The Kalenjin turned to their traditional elders system to secure their unity and collective future in the post-Moi era.
William Ruto, who distinguished himself as a brave defender of Kalenjin interests, emerged as the youthful man after Moi’s mantle.
During the famous “Eldama Ravine Declaration” in January 2006, 14 Kanu MPs declared their support for Ruto’s presidential bid.
And on June 3, 2007, he was crowned a Kalenjin elder in front of about 50,000 people and 26 Rift Valley MPs at Eldoret Stadium.
During the occasion, Kalenjin elders announced that “the leadership of the community had passed to a new hand”.
This was the second time that the Kalenjin had held such a ceremony. The first was in 1962, when youthful Moi was installed as the Kalenjin spokesman at a meeting in Kapkatet, Kericho County.
Ruto’s coronation sparked a fierce power rivalry with Moi who refused to recognize him as the choice of the people. Moi denounced the Eldama Ravine Declaration as “a tribal band-wagon hurtling down to destruction” and Ruto’s installation ceremony as the work of “hirelings”.
Ruto’s pain was palpable during the Kericho campaign. “We supported Gideon’s father when he was President until he retired and today he is telling us that some other people cannot rule this nation,” Ruto told voters in Kericho in February. “Why is he looking down on me and thinking I cannot do this?” he posed.
But Ruto has won the hearts and minds of the Kalenjin elders.
And because Moi is perceived as being more concerned with the future of his own legacy as a leader and a father rather than the interests of the larger Kalenjin community, he has lost his Midas touch and patronage in the Rift Valley.
In the crucial 2007 election, Moi supported Kibaki but failed to get the Kalenjin to vote with him. In the ensuing post-election mayhem, his property was subject to arson attacks.
All Kalenjin candidates closely associated with Moi’s Kanu lost their electoral bids, including three of his sons: Gideon (Baringo Central), Jonathan (Eldama Ravine) and Raymond (Rongai).
At 91, Moi, now in his sunset days, is anxious to secure his legacy and his dynasty.
Ahead of the 2013 election, Moi expressed concern that while the Kikuyu have backed Kenyatta’s family to the hilt and the Luo have supported Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s family through thick and thin, the Kalenjin have not supported his family despite his leadership of the community.
This may have secured the Moi family of the “Jubilee wave” — which saw two of his sons returning to power (Gideon as Baringo Senator and Raymond as Rongai MP).
After Kericho, Ruto has to keep peace with the elders as the best guarantee of victory in the ensuing battle with Kanu and the Moi family for the soul of the Kalenjin ahead of the 2017 General Election.
By Prof Peter Kagwanja – Chief Executive of the Africa Policy Institute.