Uhuru, Ruto sour relations could change power transfer tradition

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) with his deputy William Ruto at AIC Milimani, Nairobi, January 26, 2020. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

As the swearing-in of the fifth President gets underway tomorrow, focus will be on President Uhuru Kenyatta and President-elect, William Ruto.

Even after the outcome of the presidential election, it appears nothing has changed in the relationship between the country’s top leaders.

The disdain for each other appears to be as stronger as ever.

If the strained relationship that has defined the last four years of the UhuRuto government is anything to go by, there is a likelihood that this will be the handover of power ‘like no other’ since the tradition gained root in 2002.

Since the 2018 handshake between ODM leader Raila Odinga and Uhuru, the President and his deputy, have never had anything positive to say about each other.

Uhuru endorsed Odinga in the August 9 General Election and throughout the campaign period, he sneered at Ruto through subtle jabs that at one point, it appeared as if the contest for the presidency was between them.

And even after the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) announced that Ruto was the winner of the presidential election, Uhuru has never congratulated him and it is expected that their meeting tomorrow for the constitutional duty will be of no less snobbish going by the events of the last few months.

“If he had a choice, Uhuru could have snubbed the hand-over event,” said Nairobi-based lawyer Joram Omufwoko, drawing parallels between the 2021 case of Donald Trump and Joe Biden in the US.

Trump claimed that the election was rigged and departed from the tradition in US transitions. He not only skipped Biden’s inauguration but also declined to meet with the president-elect and vice president-elect and their families ahead of the swearing-in ceremony.

The difference is that Uhuru was not a contestant in the August poll and his choice was Odinga, the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya presidential candidate.

“Uhuru must man up and do what is required of him not because he wants it, but it is a constitutional duty. It will also help entrench this tradition that was started in 2002,” Mr Omufwoko said.

The lawyer noted that Uhuru has already made his statement on Ruto’s incoming presidency and anybody expecting otherwise is mistaken.

“In my view, Uhuru will hold his nose and shake Ruto’s hand as a fact of life and for the sake of the country. Nothing more,” revealing that Uhuru’s final speech will be brief and limited to best wishes to the incoming administration.

“Perhaps it could add some little words on national unity which has been a key element of his presidency in the final term,” he said.

President Uhuru Kenyatta. [Kelly Ayodi, Standard]

A top UDA official, who did not want to be named, said the most important thing is the transfer of power to Ruto and that what the outgoing president will do, or not do, is none of their business.

“We know he is angry that his project failed,” he said, and echoing the words of Deputy President-elect Rigathi Gachagua earlier argued that the ceremony will go on whether Uhuru attended or not.

In an interview last week, the President-elect revealed that Uhuru had not talked to him after his victory.

“I have won the elections that is what is important. Unfortunately, President Uhuru has not seen it fit to congratulate me,” said Ruto, in an interview with CNN. “Maybe he is a bit disillusioned, or maybe he is unhappy that I defeated his candidate.”

Even after he was declared the President-elect, the decision that was unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court, President Uhuru has neither congratulated his deputy nor brought himself near referring to him by name.

Throughout the last four years, since 2018, Uhuru has, in his speeches, described Ruto using third-person pronouns.

The law requires that the current administration helps the incoming government to settle in as quickly as possible after the election.

This starts with the designation inaugurating a committee to oversee the process.

The Assumption to the Office of the President Committee, under the leadership of the Head of Public Service, plans and guides the transition to ensure the incoming administration walks into a seamless process.

The established tradition also indicates that the outgoing President personally surrenders instruments of power – the ceremonial military sword and the constitution – to the new President.

While Uhuru has no choice in this, Kenyans will be watching what he will say in his valedictory speech once invited by Gachagua, the deputy President-elect.

President-elect William Ruto. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard] 

The precedence established in 2002 by the late President Daniel Arap Moi means that President Uhuru will lead the way out of Kasarani to receive Ruto at State House, where they will have lunch with invited Heads of State.

As a tradition started by the late Moi in 2002, the outgoing President must take their successors for an orientation tour around State House and have a farewell dinner with the newly-elected president, before he finally leaves the place he has called home for the last 10 years.

Although by every word, Ruto’s administration is a continuation of the Uhuru regime, it is likely that the president’s final valedictory speech will be different from Ruto’s first speech as Head of State.

It is unlikely Uhuru will dine with Ruto after the ceremony or even stay around the place to induct him into the nook and cranny of Kenya’s seat of power.

When he addressed the nation after the Supreme Court ruling on the presidential election petition, Uhuru, opted for a general congratulatory message that specifically avoided mentioning Ruto by name.

“I wish well all those who have won leadership positions as they guide the country in the future,” Uhuru said in a speech that criticised the Supreme Court for its opinion which he noted was not “consistent with a pattern acceptable to our democratic ethos.”

President Uhuru argued that the Supreme Court decision lacked “coherence” and it did not correspond with its findings of 2017 that saw him forced to go back to the poll after his win was nullified.

Uhuru avoided mentioning the Supreme Court directly in his attacks, choosing instead to refer to it as a generalised form of a state institution