It is 100 days since William Ruto put down the Bible at Kasarani and officially became the fifth president on September 13, 2022 as several presidents and heads of government in Africa watched. He had disorganised Uhuru Kenyatta, who had coined the term 'The 5th' to refer to a possible Raila Odinga presidency, by shooting down both Uhuru's and Raila's expectations.
He works hard to be at the top of everything and ends up with a mixed bag of wins and losses as seen through international and domestic lenses. Like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal in 1933, Ruto seems to be hurrying to be seen to do things to keep the country busy and he made mistakes.
At the international level, Ruto's mixed performance started on the inauguration day. His big day imagery was disappointing despite having had over 25 years in government as MP, minister and deputy president. Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua fumbled in swearing and in his inappropriate speech.
President Ruto embarrassed himself by announcing change on Kenya's position on Western Sahara through Twitter, seemingly because the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs visited him. Although he immediately reversed himself, the gullibility image stuck, later compounded by supposed American involvement in the GMO fiasco. The gullibility is partly because his team has yet to formulate strategy for a coherent foreign policy.
While appearing eager to outdo Uhuru as an international player, he misses the necessary 'balancing' tact to safeguard Kenya's national interests in a geopolitically realigning world. To achieve this, he would need a thorough strategy review of Kenya's security and diplomatic structures at both the 'vision' and the implementation levels.
He seemingly avoids China in order to hobnob with Western powers but he still has to deal with China related projects such as the extension of SGR to Uganda. As South Sudan tries to advise him on the Port of Mombasa, he needs to think about the effect of his decisions on the region.
Although Ruto started badly, he did things to redeem his image of being gullible. He was brilliant in appointing his predecessor, Uhuru, to play peacemaker in Ethiopia and Congo. He also interacted with South Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa and managed to equalise visa requirements for the two countries. His trips to Korea, England, and the United States appeared to bear fruit in terms of loans extended for project commitments, but the arising question is one of long term cost to the country. Are there hidden clauses?
Accepted as president
Ruto similarly has mixed performance at the domestic level in three areas. First, he succeeded in making the country, including Azimio leaders, accept he is president and even support his desires in Parliament. He visited opposition strongholds and they accepted him. Besides, the public faith in Azimio eroded in part because leaders offered unconvincing explanations that defied common sense. They engaged in self-questioning, stopped looking for excuses as to why they lost, and even started migrating to Kenya Kwanza.
Azimio honchos like Maina Kamanda, Francis Atwoli, and Babu Owino decided to face reality; admitted that Ruto beat them properly, and then made public confessions of Azimio weaknesses. Even Uhuru quit Azimio chairmanship. Facing reality and confessing failures tended to increase the erosion in Azimio and raise credibility in the Ruto presidency.
Secondly, as Azimio disintegrated, however, friction as to which prima donna in Kenya Kwanza was more prima than the others was surfacing. Each, seeking to preserve political space as a regional leader or having an eye for 2032, would like to establish early dominance.
Ministers, trying to assert individual supremacy, issue contradictory policy statements. While National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang'ula showed he is not a pushover in the Bungoma Senate by-election, Defence CS Aden Duale seeks to speak for Muslims by ordering Muslim women and girls to wear hijab during Muslim holidays, or find an alternative country.
On his part, Gachagua tries to assert his political dominance not just in the Mountain region but also everywhere. He would like everyone, including Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, to recognise his leadership but Mudavadi has other ideas that do not include following 'Riggy G'. As DP, Gachagua makes the mistake of issuing policy pronouncements in ways that might imply equality with Ruto. Other would-be leaders in the Mountain quietly go about their business while watching Gachagua fumbling from a distance. Although so far Ruto has managed to keep the lid on the rivalry among his prima donnas, the emerging team disconnect is worth watching
Thirdly, apart from reconciling prima donnas, Ruto has had a mixed 100 days performance. His positives include appointing Raphael Munavu's education review committee, creating a post of Prime Cabinet Secretary for Mudavadi, returning some port functions to Mombasa, launching the Hustler Fund, appointing judges that Uhuru had declined to appoint, and encouraging the opposition to remain strong in the opposition.
While such actions showed him keeping promises, he had problems in lowering the cost of living or showing fidelity to the Constitution. In addition, he made constitutional amendment proposals that seemed like attempts to resuscitate the Building Bridges Intiative (BBI) that he had so much opposed only that this time he would lead the reggae dancing.
The suggested amendments make Ruto appear like such a cunning political operator that doubts arise about his intentions for the Kenyan polity. Appearing to exude airs of insensitivity to public concerns, his early mistakes are seemingly equal the Uhuru/Raila BBI blunders and have three negatives. One, the proposals are backdoor 'handshakes' and attempted 'power sharing' deals designed to accommodate and pamper the egos and political appetites of political elites. This is contrary to his pre-election commitments.
Altering governing structure
Two, besides fundamentally altering Kenya's governing structure, the effect of the amendments would be to deplete already depleted public coffers and send the country to new rounds of borrowing. Three, the proposals look like trial balloons for future amendments that might include removing the presidential two-term limit.
In the 100 days since he became president, Ruto has been rushing, which gives him a good imagery as a doer. Like FDR in 1933, Ruto wants to be seen doing something even if the something has problems. In the process, while he achieved in both international and domestic arenas, he also appeared to lose direction and gave an impression that he was gullible to international sweet-talking. He subsequently embarrassed himself on the Saharawi and GMO issues.
Domestically, despite achieving national acceptance, he could not deliver on some promises but it was not his fault that he could not lower the cost of living. He, however, had no excuse in contradicting his previous positions, or rushing to change the Constitution. Ruto and his selected advisors, those he listens to, will need to reflect on the future beyond the first 100 days.
Prof Munene is a historian and political analyst