An alliance that helped deliver Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta two terms in office is fracturing, reviving tensions in the country’s Rift Valley region that was wracked by widespread violence a decade ago.
The deputy chairman of the ruling Jubilee Party stepped down after saying Deputy President William Ruto shouldn’t be allowed to succeed Kenyatta. That undermines an arrangement in which Ruto delivered the backing of his Rift Valley constituents for Kenyatta’s elections in 2013 and 2017, in return for assistance from the president’s supporters in the next vote in 2022.
The schism in the Jubilee Party has brought to the fore long-held mistrust that many in the party have of Ruto, said Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy at the University of Birmingham. Ruto and Kenyatta were on opposite sides of a disputed 2007 election that triggered ethnic fighting in which more than 1,000 people died.
“Many people in the ruling coalition find it difficult to handle or support Ruto,” he said. “Many do not trust him and still believe that he was to blame for some of the violence. This makes Ruto a hard sell for both ruling party leaders and many of its supporters.”
Both Ruto and Kenyatta were indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity related to the post-election fighting. The cases collapsed over a lack of evidence and the two agreed to run together in the two subsequent elections.
The threat of a split in the party is already heightening tensions in Rift Valley, where much of the 2007 ethnic conflict happened, according to Murithi Mutiga, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.
“This is still a divided country because the hostilities of 2007 were never settled,” Mutiga said. “They were postponed by the temporary union of Uhuru and Ruto, but the Rift Valley is still a powder keg.”
Jubilee Vice Chairman David Murathe resigned abruptly, a day after vowing to do anything he can to stop Ruto succeeding Kenyatta. He told Nairobi-based Star newspaper he’ll form a new political movement for party members opposed to Ruto.