When scouting for a place to announce his running mate, Deputy President William Ruto had only one venue in mind – his official Karen residence, styled the Hustler’s Mansion that sits a few kilometres from his personal home.
It was the natural location for the DP to disclose one of the more consequential decisions of his political career. The Hustler’s Mansion has been to Ruto what State House is to President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Though he has Harambee House Annex as his office, his Karen residence has seemed more like the office, from where meeting official visitors such as ambassadors. His aides told the Saturday Standard that while Ruto operates from Harambee House Annex and Karen, operations at his designated office have been scaled down.
Over the years, the deputy president has fashioned the Karen residence into his seat of power. From the 10-acre premises, Ruto has gloated over the flopped Building Bridges Initiative constitutional amendment push and launched scathing attacks against President Uhuru Kenyatta.
And whenever he has itched to flex his political might, the DP has assembled lawmakers at the manicured lawns of his official residence, mounting them on a terrace designed to fit more than 100.
Haven when covid struck
His front yard has, arguably, hosted more political gatherings in recent years than most public grounds with his house witnessing the good and bad of political horse-trading, the most polarizing of which was the debate on who Ruto’s deputy should be.
Ruto’s official home was not always his supporters’ den. Two years ago, the deputy president hardly ever held meetings at the home into which he moved in 2015. A ban on public gatherings, owing to Covid-19 restrictions, would see politicians troop to Ruto’s residence in their numbers.
Religious leaders, politicians, businessmen and defectors swarmed into the Hustler’s Mansion where the DP would pitch his presidential candidacy to them. After much outcry from the Opposition, accusing the DP of using State resources to further his campaigns, he has since retreated to the Hustler Plaza along Ngong’ Road, the centre of his presidential campaign. That followed futile threats to have him evicted in the wake of his fallout with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
In February last year, Jubilee Vice Chairperson David Murathe said that Ruto’s eviction was in the offing.
“There will be an eviction party from the Hustler’s Mansion," Murathe had said over plans to have him impeached.
More controversy would follow last year when the DP complained over the withdrawal of General Service Unit officers, who were replaced by officers from the Administration Police.
The result would see Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i tell a Parliamentary committee that the DP enjoys round-the-clock protection from 257 police officers. Whatever the result of the transitional August 9 presidential election, Ruto will have to vacate the premises set to have a second occupant next month as the Constitution restricts him to a two-term tenure as deputy president.
If opinion polls are to be believed, then Ruto’s running mate Rigathi Gachagua or Martha Karua, Raila Odinga’s running mate, will occupy the place. The deputy president had been asked to move out to allow renovations, a move he heavily criticized as a “non-priority.” He is yet to leave the official residence, as his aides told the Saturday Standard yesterday.
“The Karen residence is furnished by the Government and when the DP will be moving out, he will be moving out only his clothes,” Emmanuel Taalam, the Office of the Deputy President’s communication director, said, adding that no renovation works were ongoing.
“He cannot move out until tenure ended and a new occupant has been elected and sworn in.”
“He is still the DP and he is in no hurry to move out,” Ruto’s digital strategist Dennis Itumbi said.
While the official Karen home, to the DP, has played the role of his political capital, it has acted as a safe haven of sorts for his wife Rachael, who set up a worship sanctuary in 2019.
Former Vice President Moody Awori was meant to be the house's first occupant, but delays in completing its construction saw him retiring without moving in. Kalonzo Musyoka, too, left the vice presidency without having occupied the house whose construction tender was awarded in 2005.
The late former president Mwai officially opened the residence in November 2012.
"This complex will, therefore, ensure that the occupant of the office of the vice president has a convenient and adequately secured residence," Kibaki said during its unveiling.
And true to Kibaki's words, the residence has served as a convenient venue for the DP to further his political agenda.