President Uhuru Kenyatta’s meeting with leaders from Mt Kenya on Friday exposed the tensions, contradictions and the double speak that unite the three most senior politicians in the country -- the president, his deputy William Ruto and ODM chief Raila Odinga.
The meeting was held on the backdrop of simmering rebellion in the ruling Jubilee party and was interpreted as the president’s attempt to whip his troops into line ahead of the release of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report. Instead, it revealed the fault lines uniting the three leaders, painting a picture of a trio posturing for unity and dominance on quick sand.
During the meeting at Sagana Lodge, the president stepped back from his earlier position that he will hand over the baton to his deputy.
“I am being pushed every day as if the elections are in the next two months. I sometimes wonder if my community is keen to bury me while I am still alive. Only God knows the leader Kenya will get,” he said in Gikuyu during the Sagana meeting.
This was a far cry from the times when he and Ruto referred to each other as ‘my brother’ and gave the impression that their political fates were intertwined. Donning matching ties and shirts with rolled-up sleeves, the two never missed an opportunity to remind their political rivals, including Raila, that they would have to wait for 20 years before they could think of becoming president.
“Na hawa watu wawache mambo mingi, wangojee miaka yangu kumi na ya Ruto kumi waone vile tutaendesha hii nchi. (The Opposition should wait I rule for 10 years and my deputy 10 years),” Uhuru said in September 2013.
But it seems the president has now found a way to appease all his courtiers.
On Friday, Uhuru took the wind out of ODM’s sail, saying the handshake was about peace and stability and not support for 2022. This was music to Ruto allies.
“In my handshake deal with Raila, I did not tell him that I will support him should he express interest in the presidency in 2022. The resolution of our meeting was that we prioritise peace in Kenya. And even when I talk to this other man (Raila), I never tell him that we are talking so that he can get a big position. I tell him that we are talking because of the peace of this country and the future of our children,” Uhuru said.
Earlier, ODM party was happy when the president seemed to give Kibra by-election a clean bill of health by saying there was no violence. Meanwhile, Ruto’s allies claim the by-election was marred by organised violence orchestrated by the Orange party.
No succession pact
The president’s remarks on BBI speak to Raila’s silence on the 2022 elections, although ODM leaders have since March 2018 been marketing the handshake to their supporters as a political succession pact. In the past, Raila has warned Ruto and his allies that they risk being swept by a political storm should they oppose constitutional reforms proposed by the BBI.
“There are very good views from Kenyans and once the report is out, we will publish it then go for a referendum. I have seen a storm; there are signs that it will rain. There’s a storm that will take all the Tangatanga people to the ocean,” said Raila.
While the DP maintains that the party is still united, his allies and perceived opponents have been engaged in a brutal war. Jubilee women politicians have been split into two camps -- one in team Inua Mama and the other in Embrace. The two groups (the former allied to Ruto and the latter to Raila and Uhuru) have been tearing at each other with an unprecedented vengeance. The Sagana meeting was the latest party war front.
“Which unity are we talking about? I flew from Nairobi on a chopper, when I got to Sagana I was shown where to sit on the grass in the sun as if one needs to be shown where to sit in an open space. The meeting flopped,” said Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria.
He was among a group of Jubilee MPs who had met at the Ngorano village home of Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua after the Sagana meeting.
“In Mt Kenya we are never forced to do things. That era of forcing people into things is long gone. We had a very fruitful meeting and those claiming that we were ordered to support the BBI think we are like them who get forced into things,” said Mr Gachagua.
The DP has been steadfastly posturing about Jubilee’s unity and consistently declaring his loyalty to the president. Speaking in Kiserian where he attended a prayer service at the Dominion Chapel yesterday, Ruto dismissed claims of division in Jubilee, saying the party was united with a mission to uniting and transforming the country.
“There are no factions in Jubilee. No one is planning to wrestle the party from anyone. Those are allegations being peddled by some elements who want to see Jubilee divided,” he said.
Notably, the DP has kept a studious silence while his lieutenants attack ministers and public servants closest to the president. Interior CS Fred Matiang’i and his Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho are the favourite punching bags for pro-Ruto MPs, the latest being on the Kibra by-election when the pair was accused of preparing to rig the vote for the ODM candidate. About 15 MPs allied to the DP claimed that Dr Matiang’i held a meeting with Raila on the eve of the November 7 poll.
“We are aware that both Matiang’i and Dr Kibicho secretly met Raila in a hotel in Karen over the by-election,” claimed Kamau Ichung’wa, the Kikuyu MP.
The president, too, has responded in kind by not coming to his deputy’s rescue when under attack from MPs, ministers and senior public servants. Last week, MPs allied to him and Raila accused Ruto of undermining his boss.
The more than 25 MPs were reacting to claims by leaders allied to Ruto that Matiang’i and Kibicho were involved in the chaos during last week’s Kibra by-election.
The MPs drawn from Jubilee, ODM and Kanu said Ruto should confront Uhuru if he has any problems instead of picking battles with the president’s appointees. They said it was no longer tenable for the deputy president to continue serving under Uhuru when he was fighting his initiatives, including the BBI.
“They (Ruto allies) should stop blaming CS Matiang’i and PS Kibicho and should instead come out to say it is the president they are blaming. If you (Ruto) are not satisfied with Uhuru’s administration, resign,” said Tiaty MP William Kamket.
Borabu MP Ben Momanyi suggested that the country should amend the law to give the president powers to sack his deputy, stating that it was frustrating if a DP turns rogue midstream.
Mr Momanyi said the Constitution leaves the Head of State vulnerable to a deputy out to frustrate his projects.
“We need changes in our Constitution so that the president can sack a deputy who decides to be rogue midterm. You cannot claim to be a deputy when you continuously undermine your boss,” he said.
The president and his deputy have expressed conflicting views over the fight against corruption, BBI and 2022 campaigns. When the matter of Arror and Kimwarer dams unravelled, Ruto said no money had been lost and that every coin of Sh21b allocated to the two projects had been accounted for.
Months later Uhuru cancelled the Kimwarer project following the discovery of some irregularities.
The two leaders have also been unable to call for a parliamentary group meeting owing to the tensions in the party. While Uhuru has declared his support for the BBI, Ruto has publicly said he will oppose any move to expand the Executive.