The increased spotlight on the Agriculture ministry amidst looming famine could serve Mr William Ruto in more ways than one.
Mr Ruto has appeared in the Kenyan media making decisions concerning various aspects of his ministry. He has directed that fertilizer prices be lowered while hinting at the possible construction of a fertilizer factory in Kenya. Ruto has canceled the licenses of several sugar exporters, accusing them of underhand deals. Some of the affected companies are state corporations. Ruto has also called for the supply of subsidized seeds to Kenya’s farmers who are unable to plant due to rising prices of farm inputs.
Ruto has visited various parts of the Central and Eastern provinces where farms have been ravaged by army worms. Local farmers were willing to listen to what Ruto had to say and he was able to make an address. A few weeks ago, Mr Ruto would never have dared to visit the Central Province, homeland of the Kikuyu ethnic group.
Mr Ruto, was accused of oathing and directing warriors from his Kalenjin ethnic group during political and ethnic clashes in January and February this year. The violence was aimed at the Kikuyu who voted for President Mwai Kibaki. The Kalenjin voted for Ruto’s ODM party and its presidential candidate, Raila Odinga. The town of Eldoret, which Mr Ruto represents in Parliament was hardest hit resulting in the eviction of tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of Kikuyu.
At the time, Mr Ruto denied the accusations terming them as mud-slinging from political rivals. Mr Odinga, who is now Kenya’s Prime Minister after forming a coalition with President Kibaki has also come to the defence of Mr Ruto. Both Prime Minister Odinga and Mr Ruto have demanded the release of ODM supporters arrested over the post-elections violence. Ruto has described them as, “warriors of democracy.”
Odinga says Mr Ruto represents a new, youthful leadership of the Kalenjin community that is edging away the political old guard led by ex-President Daniel arap Moi. It is widely believed that Mr Odinga and Mr Ruto have a political deal where Ruto’s support for Mr Odinga will be followed by Odinga’s backing for a Ruto presidency in the future.
This week, a Kenyan television station, K24, aired a public apology to Mr Ruto for a January talk show where his name was mentioned adversely. The station could be reacting to a possible legal challenge by Ruto. Alternatively, the station’s owners may want to get into Ruto’s good books. Either way, Mr Ruto’s image is getting cleansed in readiness for a future presidential bid.
With Kenyans famous for short memories and unfathomable patience, its only a matter of months before any linkages that Ruto had with ethnic clashes are swept under the rags. Five years from now, he will be a presidential candidate. Who knows? He may just make it to State House.