Kanu chairman Gideon Moi is finding it hard to loosen Deputy President William Ruto’s grip on the vote-rich Rift Valley.
The Baringo senator is fast becoming isolated and some vocal leaders are running away after initially backing his contest with the DP and efforts to replace him as the region’s kingpin.
Gideon is a late entrant to the Rift Valley race and contest for State House. Ruto is well ahead of him.
Critics are accusing the senator of engineering the sacking of Kalenjin professionals allied to the DP from plum government jobs. Some say he doesn’t have the community’s interests at heart and lacks the passion and rhetoric in persuading the community.
Some have either publicly threatened to decamp from his side or have suddenly gone silent when he most needs their support to undercut Ruto.
They include Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos, Cherang’any MP Joshua Kutuny, Emurua Dikir legislator Johana Ng’eno, Nandi Hill’s Alfred Keter, Moiben’s Silas Tiren, former Bomet Governor Isaac Rutto and former Eldama Ravine MP Musa Sirma.
Some have been conspicuously absent and no longer accompany the son of former President Daniel Moi to political events or staunchly defend him against attacks from the DP’s foot soldiers.
Others have publicly criticised or even threatened to dump him.
Ruto and Gideon do not see eye to eye as they try to outdo each other.
Gideon is how hosting delegations at his family’s Kabarak home in Nakuru – Ruto has been hosting delegations at his homes for far longer. The senator is also reaching out to youths, something Ruto is a master at doing.
Recently, Kutuny, who has been supporting Gideon against Ruto, turned around and attacked him, threatening to withdraw support.
The MP ruled out the Baringo senator becoming the region’s kingpin, saying he has not touched bases with the common man, doesn’t have the community’s interests at heart and has been dividing the community.
“The short time I have engaged with Gideon, it seems he has no agenda at all. He doesn’t even know the challenges people are going through. It can’t be Gideon whom we can rely upon to help the community at this point in time and even in the future,” Kutuny said.
While insisting he has not shifted allegiance to Tangatanga, the legislator said it would be a political suicide for the community and the region to count on Gideon.
“Gideon has a long way to go. Anybody banking on Gideon for numbers in the region is committing political suicide,” Kutuny said.
He also said Gideon used his ties with President Uhuru Kenyatta to kick out Kalenjins from government jobs and replaced them with “Kanu remnants” because they are close to the DP.
The legislator is among the founders of Kieleweke, the Jubilee faction supporting the President and opposing Ruto’s presidential bid. He had sided with Gideon in the Rift Valley.
Kanu secretary general Nick Salat and Tiaty MP William Kamket said Gideon’s grip on the Rift Valley is firm and dismissed Kutuny’s outbursts as the frustrations of a man whose deal went sour.
He didn’t elaborate on any ‘deal’.
Salat said Kutuny has never supported Gideon.
“Kutuny is a supporter of Agwambo (Raila Odinga). The leaders are still very much with Gideon. Those who were him are still with him. The fact of the matter is that Gideon has to present his case to the people.”
But Kutuny dismissed the claims, saying he never cut deals with Gideon or Kanu. “I don’t cut deals. I push for common interests,” he said.
Former Cabinet Minister Franklin Bett said while Gideon has the right to play politics and seek any position, his late entry into the game and lack of charisma and flare in persuasion are against him.
“The issue of persuasion also depends on flare. To my mind, William Ruto has got an upper hand. He is able to conventicle [convene meetings] and persuade. He is an orator. When you compare the two, I can tell you without contradiction, William has the upper hand,” Bett said.
He said that while Gideon is still trying to sell his CV to the community, Ruto has already domesticated himself and he will be a hard nut to crack in the coming elections.
“The Kalenjin have an idiom that says, ‘Even if your kid is rogue, he is still yours.’ To my mind, despite the mudslinging and all the things said about William, it will not dent his position much,” Bett said.
“If Gideon had such charisma and flare in persuasion, we would really do a run on William Ruto. But so far I don’t see that.”
MP Tiren, who has also been close to Gideon, played it safe, saying both the DP and the Baringo senator have realistic chances of swaying the region, depending on how they strategise.
“Everybody has a chance. There is no special person or anything special about anybody. Gideon also has his own way of presenting himself to the people. You can see he is making a lot of inroads. Let the people decide,” he said.
While Ruto enjoys massive support of the voters, Gideon has struggled to win their hearts and minds, despite his father controlling the region for 30 years.
Ruto’s grip on the Rift started manifesting itself in 2007 when he rallied the region, almost to a man, to vote for ODM leader Raila Odinga.
In 2013, Ruto’s URP won nearly all the parliamentary, governor and MCA seats in the region, besides delivering more than 80 per cent of the vote to President Uhuru Kenyatta, then his coalition partner.
The same was repeated in 2017 when the region voted almost to a man for Uhuru.
During his father’s burial in March, Gideon was handed the political mantle by his elder brother Raymond Moi and mandated to revive the dwindling fortunes of Kanu in the Rift Valley and beyond.
Political pundits observe it will be an uphill task for Gideon to upset the DP, who has been building his networks in the region since 2007.
Political analysts Martin Andati and Javas Bigambo said Gideon has the potential and the war chest to upset Ruto in the Kalenjin nation but he will have to triple his efforts, open his wallet and increase his grassroots network to match the DP’s influence.
“One reason the DP has run with Rift Valley is because he puts money on the table. Gideon could have more money than the DP but he hardly spends,” Andati said.
The analyst said that as in the rest of Kenya, politics in Rift Valley has been commercialised and Gideon must live up to that reality to win support.
“He must also activate his networks, otherwise he will fizzle out. Ruto has worked on consolidating the region for the last 10 to 15 years through money, foot soldiers and so on,” he said.
Bigambo observed that though Gideon enjoys the family name as well as state backing by virtue of being close to the President, he may not be able to mount a serious challenge to the DP.
“Gideon has got the capacity, desire and interest to fight and outshine the DP. Nonetheless, there are salient issues arising between the two that gives Ruto an advantage,” he said.
The commentator said Ruto’s current office, his charisma and networks in and outside of Rift Valley give him a head start.
“Gideon has to do much more in terms of time and resources, networks, and building inroads to edge out the DP from Rift Valley,” he reckoned.