Kenya: Drama Looms As Uhuru, Ruto Supporters Meet

Kenyan State officials are working to avert a potential political showdown between rival supporters of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, at a public meeting to celebrate the country's Mashujaa Day (Heroes Day) on October 20.

The two leaders, who are at loggerheads over President Kenyatta's succession, are expected to make a rare public appearance together at the event to be held in Kirinyaga County in central Kenya, the president's backyard, which is seemingly behind Ruto's bid against Kenyatta's wishes.

Kirinyaga is one of 10 Counties in the country's single-largest voting bloc where the rivalry between the president and his deputy has been most intense.

With President Kenyatta retiring next year and no credible leader in his base claiming his mantle as the region's dominant political figure, Dr Ruto has moved in to build a considerable following there, to the chagrin of the president's loyalists.

Public officials led by Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho, who chairs the committee organising the public holiday celebrations, has in recent weeks stepped up his lobbying of local politicians and groups like Boda Boda riders, who may cause trouble.

The officials have also been keen to highlight complete or ongoing government development projects in the area to counter a popular line of attack on President Kenyatta's legacy by the pro-Ruto politicians.

Entry to the 10,000 capacity stadium has been limited to 2,000 due to the current Covid-19 restrictions on public gatherings, but officials organising the Mashujaa Day event are anticipating a larger turnout on the roadsides where political entourages normally make stopovers to address supporters.

The last time President Kenyatta and Dr Ruto were seen together at public event was at this year's June 1 Madaraka Day celebrations held in Kisumu.

Kisumu is the political stronghold of former prime minister Raila Odinga, who together with DP Ruto are the presumed front runners in the race to succeed President Kenyatta in 2022.

A peace mobilisation campaign by local leaders, including an advance road show by Mr Odinga in the town days to the event, ensured a peaceful and incident-free day, with even Dr Ruto warmly received by the crowds.

But the political temperatures in the country have since risen a notch, with the relationship between the president and his deputy deteriorating even further.

Dr Ruto has found himself on the wrong end of the stick in the past 53 days, starting with his being blocked from flying out for a private visit to Uganda by immigration officials on August 2.

An August 23 TV interview in which President Kenyatta for the first time publicly challenged his renegade deputy to resign instead of criticising his administration's policies appeared to embolden Interior ministry officials to go after Dr Ruto more aggressively.

Security at his official residence in Nairobi was swiftly downgraded, with elite paramilitary guards replaced with administration police officers.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i, while appearing before a parliamentary committee to defend the security shake-up, revealed details of Dr Ruto's personal wealth.

But the State clampdown has also been seen to entrench a siege mentality in Dr Ruto's camp, which has seen him intensify his campaign particularly in President Kenyatta's backyard of central Kenya.

Days after his alleged property and wealth was exposed in a parliamentary committee appearance by Interior CS Fred Matiang'i , Ruto orgainised a campaign tour of parts of central Kenya where he pulled in huge crowds in an apparent show of might.

With the recent public show by Kirinyaga governor Anne Waiguru that she was headed to the DP's camp, will Ruto resist the allure of staging another show in Kirinyaga?

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