It’s just a matter of time Uhuru and Ruto suffer nasty divorce

George Kegoro
George Kegoro
The original plan was that Jubilee would rule the country well into the future, with President Uhuru Kenyatta handing over to his deputy, William Ruto, after his two terms. Whereas Kenyatta is on his last term, a situation that should offer the platform for Ruto to launch his presidential bid during the next elections, there is mounting evidence that the original Jubilee plan is under strain.

The initial evidence about Kenyatta’s change of mind regarding the future was provided as Jubilee constituted a government after the elections last year. Within Jubilee, the argument by the Ruto side had been that the Deputy President should play a leading role in composing the government after the 2017 polls as this would allow him shape a favourable context for his 2022 presidential bid. Rather than being allowed space in the appointment of government, Ruto, long-used to being at the President’s side when making key announcements, was conspicuously absent when Kenyatta announced his Cabinet, and the idea he had been “demoted” was immediately evident.

The political deal between Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, in which Ruto was apparently left out, is now seen as a decisive step towards a parting of ways between Kenyatta and Ruto. While it remains unclear how the Kenyatta/Raila deal will affect the country’s political future, its immediate impact is that it has significantly increased Raila’s leverage in Kenyatta’s life, and reduced the President’s undivided attention to Ruto, at a time when the DP needs it most.

The question though is whether Kenyatta had a choice about making a political deal with Raila. The “tyranny of numbers” which Jubilee first put forth in 2013 was to the effect that so long as Kenyatta and Ruto retained the support of their co-ethnics, Jubilee would remain unassailable in any electoral competition. This argument was the basis for the assumption that Ruto would be the next President.

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Whereas the Supreme Court annulled the initial presidential election last year, Jubilee claimed the annulment was not a reflection on the decisive victory that the party claimed out of the annulled results. The opposition then boycotted the repeat election, whose management was not a substantial improvement on the annulled election, making it difficult to verify the claim as to Jubilee’s popularity. Although Jubilee got a healthier victory out of the repeat election, 98 per cent, its capacity to govern the country after the elections came under increasing difficulty. Whatever effect it has on Ruto’s political future, the Kenyatta/Raila deal has calmed down the country in ways that Jubilee had failed to do on its own. Thus, the alternative to the Kenyatta/Raila deal would have been a continuation of the strong-arm rule that Jubilee had resorted to as a means of asserting its control over an increasingly restive country.   

In a parliamentary system, the Kenyatta/Raila cooperation would be referred to as a coalition government. Coalition governments become necessary when elections fail to produce a winner or the winner fails to obtain a mandate big enough to govern. The Kenyatta/Raila cooperation exposes the hollowness of Jubilee’s tyranny of numbers. After an election which Jubilee supposedly won handsomely, it soon became evident that the party could not run the country on its own, forcing Kenyatta into the difficult decision to work with Raila, as a means of expanding his sphere of control. The Kenyatta/Raila cooperation confirms that, on its own, Jubilee was never viable in the first place and that there is something false about Kenya’s election results.

Going forward, Jubilee has two choices. The first is to maintain the existing approach, based on the old argument that when they vote together, the Kenyatta/Ruto co-ethnics constitute a tyranny of numbers and need little support elsewhere to win an election. Given the difficulty with which Kenyatta retained power for his second term, this choice is not attractive.  

The second option is to reach out and build alliances with others. Whereas Jubilee has already settled on this second choice, the unresolved question is how alliance-building is to be approached. Ruto would argue that as the logical next leader of Jubilee, he should lead, or at least be involved, in building of new alliances, as these will define his presidential candidature. While not a candidate in the next elections, Kenyatta has taken a unilateral decision to work with Raila, a decision that undermines Ruto, who is involved in parallel alliance-building on his own, and apparently in competition with Kenyatta. This situation creates difficulties for Jubilee if it has a desire to remain in power beyond the current electoral period.

After winning re-election, Kenyatta and Ruto are now pursuing different, clashing, objectives within the same party. Having abandoned the idea that Jubilee can govern alone, Kenyatta is exploring ways of governing with others, principally Odinga. Despite the difficulty there would be if Jubilee continued on its own, Ruto seems interested in retaining Jubilee’s exclusive approach, bolstered with informal relationships with actors outside the party. In these circumstances, it is only a matter of time before Kenyatta and Ruto go separate ways.

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- The writer is Executive Director KHRC. [email protected]

Uhuru KenyattaWilliam RutoJubilee