Everything was going his way, the large crowds of adoring supporters, great speakers, and a great argument.
When his turn to speak came, Deputy President William Ruto did not disappoint, he gave a fiery speech that was meandering and bitter. He used harsh language to describe his opponents, whom he did not name, but he didn’t have to, his audience knew exactly who he was talking about– former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. If one came from another planet, he’d be forgiven if he thought Ruto was the leader of the opposition and not the deputy president.
Speaking off the cuff without prepared notes, Ruto did not present his supporters with a clear vision, he jumped from one topic to another, making his speech hard to follow.
Alluding to common accusations of corruption against him, Ruto said he is proud to have supported almost 300 small business groups, including boda boda operators and mama mboga, and promised to escalate supporting small and medium enterprises if elected president.
“Wawache kulalamika sijui million mbili tumesaidia boda boda, sijui million mbili tumesaidia kina mama mboga. Kwa mapenze ya Mungu nataka niwaambie, million mbili ni pesa kidogo, million moja ni pesa kidogo, Mwaka huu, tunaweka billion hamsini (Kshs 50 billion) pesa ya serikali, kwa biashara ya hawa mama mboga na boda boda, na wale micro and small, medium entreprenuers,” Ruto said amid cheers.
Translation: Let them not complain that I’m giving small business people such as boda boda riders and the lady selling vegetables on the roadside Kshs 2 million. When I become president, I will authorize Kshs 50 billion to help them.
In one key moment buried almost midway in the speech, Ruto promised that if elected, by the end of 2022, every Kenyan from the age of 18 and up, will have universal healthcare through NHIF. He promised that no Kenyan will be denied medical care under his administration.
“Kabla ya mwisho wa mwaka huu, kwa mapenzi ya Mungu, kila moja wenyu, ambaye mko katika taifa letu la Kenya. Kila Mkenya ako above 18 years, atakuwa na bima ya afya ya NHIF,” Ruto promised. “Na kila mtu atalipa kulingana na mapato yake, na wale hawama uwezo wa kulipa, serikali ya Kenya itakulipa.”
Translation: Before the end of this year. God-willing, every Kenyan 18 and above will have health insurance through NHIF. And you’ll pay into it according to your income. And those who cannot afford it, the government will pay for you.
The promise is a direct counter to Odinga’s promise to provide all Kenyans with government healthcare in a program he called “Babacare.”
Healthcare has emerged as a top issue in this year’s presidential campaign and it remains to be seen which campaign will come up with a plan that’d appeal the most to voters.
But despite everything going right for him, the choice of a venue, Eldoret, a Kalenjin region, was rather a curious choice, akin to preaching to the choir, for a candidate looking to show national clout. By putting his Mega Rally in Eldoret, Ruto chose a safe zone, where he was assured support from his base.
It’s almost as if he was rushing to hold a rally to counter two major successful rallies organized by Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja Movement, first in Kasarani, Nairobi, and then in Bukhungu Stadium, the heart of Luhyialand, both locations away from Odinga’s Luo Nyanza stronghold.
Despite the carefully planned event, the day’s messaging got muddied when one of Ruto’s supporters, Meru Senator Mithika Linturi suggested for locals to evict non-natives who are not supporting Ruto.
“Kile ninawaomba, ni ile madoa-doa mliyo nayo hapa, muweza kuyaondoa,” Linturi said. “Hatuwezi kuwa tunasimama na William tukiwa kule Mt. Kenya, na Meru, halafu tuko na wengine hapa, hawasikii na hawaungani na yeye. Mko tayari kutuondelea hao?”
Translation: One thing I’m asking from you, is to remove the few spots of people who are here and don’t support Ruto. We cannot come all the way from Mt. Kenya region and Meru to support Ruto, yet some here are not supporting him. Are you ready to drive them from here?
The statement, dubbed Madoa-doa, meaning removing the spots, reminded people of the 2007 post-election clashes that almost drove Kenya into a civil war after tribes rose against each other. More than 800 Kenyans died in the clashes and 600,000 more displaced, mostly in Kenya’s Rift Valley.
It’s unclear whether Linturi meant the resident should be violently evicted, but his statements drew the attention of Kenya’s law enforcement who summoned to appear at a police station and record a statement. Linturi was later seen entering Kaptembwo Police Station in Nakuru, where he was guided in the police station by police officers who seem to show him deference. He was later seen signing what appeared to be the police station’s visitors’ book.
Kenya’s political strategist Mutahi Ngunyi read mischief in Linturi’s statement. In a Twitter message filled with sarcasm, Ngunyi, not a Ruto fan, suggested Linturi was just playing a role.
“The country has MISUNDERSTOOD Linturi. His GEMA brief was to go to ELDORET and PEE on Ruto’s most IMPORTANT rally. And he did a good, long PEE. Or Am I over-reading Linturi’s DELIBERATE utterances aimed at MESSING the Ruto Rally?” Ngunyi asserted.
The country has MISUNDERSTOOD Linturi. His GEMA brief was to go to ELDORET and PEE on Ruto's most IMPORTANT rally. And he did a good, long PEE. Or Am I over-reading Linturi's DELIBERATE utterances aimed at MESSING the Ruto Rally?
— Mutahi Ngunyi (@MutahiNgunyi) January 9, 2022