Will Ruto’s UDA break the jinx of grassroots elections?

Kenya’s President William Ruto cut his political teeth at the dawn of a new democratic order in the country as an official of a prominent youth wing of the independence party Kanu that campaigned for then President Daniel arap Moi in the multi-party elections of 1992.

Although Kanu under the leadership of Moi won the next election in 1997, it was very much a fading power, haunted by its past association with the country’s decades of single-party misrule.

Its defeat in 2002 by a coalition of parties led by Mwai Kibaki marked the end of an era, with subsequent political waves tossing the former Kanu operatives like Ruto about in search of new political formations.

Since ditching Kanu before the 2007 elections, Ruto has at one time or the other belonged to at least six political parties or coalitions – Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), United Republican Party (URP), Jubilee Coalition, Jubilee Party, United Democratic Alliance (UDA) and Kenya Kwanza Coalition.

Read: Why Ruto is getting hostile reception in his ‘strongholds’

But he has always expressed his wish to build and lead a dominant political party in Kenya, harking back to the days of his youth.


As Deputy President, he led his URP into a merger with then President Uhuru Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA) to form Jubilee Party in the run-up to the 2017 elections.

The two parties were until then partners in the Jubilee Coalition. More recently, Ruto has pushed for the disbandment of 11 parties in the current ruling Kenya Kwanza and have its members join his UDA, which is the dominant party in the coalition.

Yet his chances of breaking the jinx of Kenyan governing political parties or coalitions falling out before the next elections are already beginning to look remote.

While other key parties in the ruling coalition such as Ford-Kenya and Amani National Congress (ANC) have been reluctant to fold up, UDA itself faces the threat of disintegration from its gamble with grassroots elections that have triggered factional fights between allies of Ruto and Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.

The battle lines appeared drawn ahead of the party’s parliamentary constituency-level elections this weekend, with party officials issuing contradictory operational orders and senior party members, including county governors and MPs, verbally attacking each other.

This weekend’s elections also come against the backdrop of an emerging meltdown in the relationship between Ruto and Gachagua, which saw the latter publicly accuse some youthful politicians close to his boss of trying to undermine him in n Mount Kenya region, his perceived political stronghold.

Read: Gachagua trump card in battling political siege

For Gachagua, the stakes in the UDA elections have been raised higher by the perception that the President or people close to him might use the outcome to influence the choice of running mate in the 2027 elections or his succession in 2032, in the event he gets re-elected for a second term.

This week, the DP dismissed media reports that his allies were already shopping for an alternative political party for him amid fears he could find himself increasingly isolated in UDA. A spokesperson said the reports were meant to undermine his role as UDA’s Deputy Party Leader.

It is not uncommon for embattled Kenyan leaders to scheme their future away from the ruling party while still serving in government. As DP, Ruto, through his allies, took over then little-known UDA in 2021 and built it into a force in the following year’s polls.

There are striking parallels between the then falling-out in Jubilee Party and the current one in UDA.

Source:  The East African

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