Can Uhuru survive Ruto without a night of the long knives?

President Uhuru Kenyatta with his deputy William Ruto at an event on July 17, 2019.
It was long sensed that President Uhuru Kenyatta’s second term would somehow lapse into 'lame-duckship' owing, not to some weakness, but his Deputy William Ruto’s go-getting spirit.

No improper motives were imputed on the part of the man from Sugoi. The received opinion was that a focused, heavily-moneyed, uber-ambitious and charismatic Ruto would present an unfavourable juxtaposition with Uhuru’s restrained political mien.

 More so when Uhuru had said that after winning the 2017 election his second term would be dedicated to development, read the Big Four Agenda, but not politics.

Somethings we know, others we don’t. How a politician can be apolitical, we know not.

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Back to the lame-duck motif, things have taken a trajectory that requires the President to roll up his shirt sleeves and cut his deputy down to size.

The Night of the Long Knives refers to the July 30, 1942 purge by German dictator Adolf Hitler of foe and friend alike when it occurred to him they were standing in his way to greatness. Or what he imagined was good his country.

It was a series of extra-judicial executions in which some of his sycophants were shot point-blank while shouting “Heil Hitler”. Nothing was left to chance.

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You wouldn’t recommend the Hitler version for Kenya. The Fuhrer was sick in the head. So, Uhuru’s should be a metaphorical night of political knives.

Avoiding a night of daggers means the president’s intention to eliminate Kenya’s predictable post-election cycles of violence by bringing major political adversaries together (read Rift Valley, Nyanza Central and Western) will not see the light of the day.

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It also means a referendum, the mechanism to achieve that end will run into headwinds as his deputy opposes it for reasons existential.

Same applies to the war on corruption and the effort to bring Raila Odinga back to the fold. In a nutshell, the President’s legacy project has hit the doldrums.

Initially, it looked like politics as usual but the Jubilee Government is facing a paralysis. 

It is not a coincidence that some governors, MPs, and senators are treating the Deputy President as an alternative centre of power.

It is not out of the ordinary that on Thursday we woke to press reports of State House dismissing as a forgery a document bearing the Executive Office of The President letterhead addressed to the Attorney General from State House on how to deal with the Division of Revenue Bill impasse.

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The letter is signed by senior Treasury official Justus Nyamunga who works in the office of the Deputy President. The correspondence might as well have been on the wrong stationery but that State House, through Chief of Staff Nzioka Waita, has dismissed it a forgery and not representing the views of the President is indicative of a government-crippling skullduggery.

Now that senators and governors have thrown their lot together behind the letter with Ruto aide Emmanuel Talam describing it authentic paints a picture of a dysfunctional Uhuru-Ruto presidency.

One could see it coming right from the day the President sarcastically advised Nairobians to make certain representations to his deputy as that would sit well with the Number Two’s penchant for roaming the country, hence the Tanga (loitering) label.

The President was miffed that Dr Ruto had hit the campaign trail four years to the next election.

It has not helped matters that the Deputy has blithely disobeyed his boss and rubbed it on by opposing the March 9, 2018 Uhuru-Raila rapprochement.

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His supporters have even called for a Jubilee parliamentary group meeting which State House will not hear of. This, compounded with the Deputy President’s claims that some Cabinet Secretaries have been plotting to bump him off, necessitating a DCI investigation, leaves little to the imagination as to the state of the Jubilee government.

Throw in the subterfuge that has almost crippled the war on corruption. The DP’s ‘Nusu Mkate’ side of the power divide paints it as a grand witch-hunt with no less a personage the Number Two man dismissing it as having been designed with a political outcome in mind. Clearly, Uhuru has a problem.

It’s the sort of a dysfunctional political matrix that probably would have been, under the old constitution, reason enough to dissolve parliament and call for a fresh election with a view to forming a new government.

That’s not possible under the current constitution. This leaves the President with the unenviable task of lancing the boil by removing his deputy’s supporters from key positions in the government.

But this is easier said than done. The DP has an inalienable right to pursue his political dream, including a “premature” campaign for the presidency.

It is Ruto’s right to block his nemesis Raila Odinga’s ascendancy to power at his expense and of necessity, resist such a project even if it is headed by his boss.

He is a political titan in his own right with a formidable constituency of his own, exceptional political mobilisation skills and deep pockets to boot.

And, there is no telling what form the backlash from his supporters would take in the event he is elbowed out the government.

All the same, it looks like Uhuru cannot run away from a Night of Long Knives and still have the Jubilee Government in one piece.

The writer is Back Bench Editor. [email protected]

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Uhuru KenyattaWilliam RutoSuccession politics