Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto travelled to Uganda for a private meeting with President Yoweri Museveni this week, seeking to draw international attention to the country’s elections next year and boost his image as a potential future head of state in the region.
Pictures published by the local media on Tuesday showed Dr Ruto accompanying President Museveni at an event to lay the foundation stone for a vaccine manufacturing facility in Wakiso District and the duo later having a one-on-one meeting at State House, Entebbe.
Discussions at the Entebbe meeting were reportedly dominated by President Museveni’s dream of an East African political federation and trade relations between Kenya and Uganda.
The two leaders are believed to be personal friends, Dr Ruto having addressed campaign meetings in Uganda for President Museveni in the run up to the 2015 elections.
But in Kenya, their latest meeting will largely be looked at as part of Dr Ruto’s efforts to draw international attention to the country’s 2022 elections in which he is considered a front-runner to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta.
In the recent past, Dr Ruto has also hosted a number of foreign envoys at his official Nairobi residence, including the US ambassador and the British High Commissioner to Kenya, where he is believed to have raised concerns about the next elections.
A falling out with President Kenyatta, which has seen Dr Ruto sidelined in government and elbowed out of the ruling Jubilee Party, means that the deputy president will run as the anti-establishment candidate barring an unlikely reconciliation before the August 2022 polls.
He has in the past alleged a conspiracy by people close to President Kenyatta to implicate him in corruption scandals, revive the collapsed post-election violence case against him at the International Criminal Court and orchestrate constitutional changes meant to block him from ascending to the presidency.
Meanwhile, Dr Ruto’s political rivals have sought to portray him as a rebel and a rabble rouser out to incite a social class war in Kenya, citing the messaging of his populist ‘’Hustler Nation’’ movement which promises to liberate the underprivileged masses from the economic yoke of the country’s so-called political dynasties.
The “Hustler Nation’s’’ anti-dynasties campaign is widely believed to target President Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, whose fathers were Kenya’s founding president and vice-president respectively.
Mr Odinga, who lost the past two elections in 2013 and 2017 to President Kenyatta but is currently co-operating with his government, is seen as Dr Ruto’s toughest challenger in 2022.
Dr Ruto, keen to avoid the negative characterisation of his campaign as anti-business and appear presidential, has since toned down on his populist rhetoric significantly.
He has engaged credible think tanks, including a consultancy associated with former Central Bank of Kenya governor Njuguna Ndungú, to çraft a campaign strategy modelled on US President Joe Biden’s ‘’Bottom-Up, Not the Top-Down’’ approach to rebuilding the American economy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But an entrenched siege mentality in the Ruto camp and the frequent confrontations between his supporters and the police over defiance of Covid-19 restrictions on political gatherings have sparked fear of tensions ahead of the elections.
Kenya’s security agencies and the anti-hate watchdog, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, have held several meetings in recent weeks to assess election-related threats to national security and map out potential violence hotspots.
President Museveni, East Africa’s elder statesman who will have outlasted three Kenyan presidents after President Kenyatta retires next year, is naturally interested in political stability in East Africa’s strongest economy.
President Kenyatta last week intervened to bring peace in the National Super Alliance that fronted Mr Odinga as its presidential candidate in the last general election following squabbles between principals.
President Kenyatta is said to have told former vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka to reconsider his relationship with Mr Odinga ahead of next year’s elections to put them on a better position to beat Dr Ruto, who has already started early campaign to succeed him at the State House next year.