Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were an inseparable item upon their assumption of power in 2013. The duo put on a choreographed show at the unveiling of the Cabinet. They stood at two identical podiums in matching white shirts and red power ties. One thing was clear – this was an equal co-leadership at the pinnacle of the executive. Clearly, Mr Ruto “owned” half the title deed to the State House real estate. Mr Kenyatta went to great lengths to project the image of a coalition government. Ruto was the kingmaker to Kenyatta the king. But last week, Kenyatta flipped the script. He killed the kingmaker. He banished Ruto to Maralal – Kenya’s Siberia.
Predictably, tongues have been set wagging. Some say there’s trouble in paradise. Jubilee supremos have forcefully denied a split in the house Kenyatta and Ruto built. But something is amiss even if Ruto is allowed back at the naming of the rest of the Cabinet. Ruto’s spokesman, one David Mugonyi, has been caught on audio threatening damnation against a Daily Nation journalist who reported on the Kenyatta-Ruto split. That’s enough confirmation of the chasm between two. There’s more – Kenyatta seemed in a huff, and looked visibly agitated, as he unveiled the partial Cabinet. What should have been a moment of joy looked pained. He stood alone, as if to underscore that he’s got no co-equal.
Kenyatta staged theatrical statecraft. Bluntly put, he was telling the country that he alone sits at the head of state and government. Kenyans know this to be true, but methinks the message was meant for Ruto and his allies. Frankly, I have been shocked the public bromance between Kenyatta and Ruto has lasted this long – five years.
I thought Kenyatta would stamp his authority on the state long ago. But I guess he needed Ruto to secure a second, and final, term. Ruto is now dispensable since that little inconvenient detail is out of the way. Ruto, who’s reputed to be a master strategist, must know that kings always kill kingmakers.
Let me take you down memory lane. Kenya is littered with the political corpses of kingmakers. The late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga refused to assume the premiership in place of the detained Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. He insisted that Mzee Kenyatta be released to assume the office. Mzee Kenyatta became President and Mr Odinga the Vice President. When they fell out, Mzee Kenyatta politically buried Odinga.
In 1978, upon Mzee Kenyatta’s death, Vice President Daniel Arap Moi overcame a Gema, Ngoroko, Change-the-Constitution conspiracy to ascended to the Presidency. Then Attorney General Charles Njonjo was perceived to be Moi’s kingmaker. In 1983, Mr Njonjo was ousted from power after the msaliti (traitor) affair. Another powerful kingmaker met his political end.
In 2002, NAK’s Mwai Kibaki teamed up with LDP’s Raila Odinga to form Narc, the juggernaut that booted Kanu out of power. At first, Narc had trouble finding a flagbearer. That’s when Raila, at a historic Uhuru Park rally, declared “Kibaki Tosha.”
That statement by Raila made Kibaki President. Raila was to become Prime Minister in exchange for the endorsement. But Kibaki with a shrewd cabal of Mount Kenya courtiers said “Raila Never.” Soon, Kibaki sacked Raila from government. Yet another kingmaker had been decapitated. In 2007, Raila challenged Kibaki for the presidency. There’s a large consensus that Raila was rigged out. Genocidal violence brought Kenya to its knees.
It was clear Kibaki couldn’t hold on to the presidency absent a political deal. He reached out to ODM-Kenya’s Kalonzo Musyoka who had run against him and garnered a basketful of votes in placing third. He appointed Kalonzo Vice President hoping to cauterise the wound and marginalise Raila. But the country continued to burn until Kibaki agreed to a coalition government with Raila. Kalonzo was Kibaki’s kingmaker. Klaonzo thought that Kibaki would return the favor in 2013. It didn’t happen – instead, Kibaki eventually backed Kenyatta over Kalonzo. Kalonzo would join the long line of betrayed kingmakers. The grim fate of kingmakers is clear.
In Kenya, kings haven’t made their kingmakers heirs. None of Kenya’s presidents was a kingmaker. This is the historical current that Ruto must swim against. The phenomenon is akin to a river flowing uphill.
For that to happen, the laws of gravity must change. Lawyer Donald Kipkorir loudly protested against all but one of the Cabinet members Kenyatta’s appointed last week. What did he know, and was he speaking for Ruto? Put differently, is Ruto changing tactics to avoid the kingmaker’s fate?
- Prof Makau is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua