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How Ruto left Uhuru with the nuclear option

By Andrew Kipkemboi | June 22nd 2020

The final term for most leaders throws up a lot of challenges besides the growing feeling that time is fleeting and therefore an urgency to cement one’s legacy.

It is never true that one always looks forward to the last hurrah and the accolades that come from a sense of accomplishment.

One is aware of the uncomfortable looks and the silent whispers behind your back. Also, one must bear with an impatient deputy waiting in the wings to inherit your seat.

Unless lucky, most deputies soon become a pain.

President Uhuru Kenyatta finds himself in a bind.

His legacy is sullied by the widespread lack of a sense of accomplishment in spite of the “much” his administration has done in eight years. To many, it all remains Work In Progress- a half-empty glass.

Whether true or implied, the refusal by his deputy “to wait” for the signal to launch his succession campaigns seemed to have irredeemably broken a relationship many thought was solid and unshakeable.

With time quickly running out on him, Uhuru must have realized that the only way to cement his legacy is to elbow his deputy out of the way and by extension, influence who succeeds him.

That is fraught with many risks.

One danger is that his legacy risks being more about how he shafted William Ruto than anything else.

Like Jubilee, at its inception UK’s New Labour had two leaders with equal chances of being Prime Minister.

Both were young and impatient and harboured a change message that resonated with their supporters.

Gordon Brown gave way to Tony Blair leading to the 1997 landslide victory.

Yet in the end, the implosion of the Labour Party was more to do with the fratricidal war between Blair and Gordon-  the equivalent of Finance Minister and thus, heir apparent- than that the Conservative Party offered a better alternative.

That was in spite of Blair transforming British politics; making groundbreaking reforms in healthcare, immigration, education, employment, community policing and security, devolution, infrastructure, international relations, peace in Northern Ireland. And even brought the Olympics to London in 2012.

Blair won unprecedented three elections in a row and grudgingly handed power to the dour, bungling  Gordon midway in 2007.

In his explosive biography A Journey, Blair credits Gordon as a “brilliant sounding board”… he could instantly see the force of a point, give you six new angles on it and occasionally make you see something in a wholly different light.” In spite of that, the mutual suspicion between them did more harm than good to the party and the Labour administration.


One wonders whether President Kenyatta has profited from Ruto’s famed charisma, drive, energy and strong character.

In spite of its many successes, the problem with Labour ended up being a mismanaged succession plan. And they have not recovered yet.

From the outset, Blair writes, Gordon wanted to influence things. “He (Gordon) thought he was a superior politician… he thought that I could be an empty vessel into which the liquid that was poured was manufactured and processed by him,” he writes. That rings a bell.

Blair tried (unsuccessfully) to make things work out, but it was Gordon’s people in the party pushing the envelop: “I never had a problem with Gordon’s people wanting me out, provided it was for a purpose other than simply that of Gordon doing the job rather than me.” But Blair and his handlers appreciated that a divorce not based not on mutual terms benefits no one.

Is Ruto disloyal? That depends on who you ask. If at all, he wears a craven look. That leaves many thinking that what has been talked about is more out of conjecture and an inevitable fight for survival.

Ruto’s people’s weakness it seems, is what Blair refers as chipping away, “to refuse the open challenge, to corrode. He terms that disloyalty “because it weakens the party; it doesn’t change it or redirect it.”

So after 13 years in power, Labour was obliterated in 2010 and as things stand, it will be long before a Labour Prime Minister occupies Number 10 Downing Street.

From the events of the last few weeks, it would seem that President Kenyatta has “pressed the nuclear button and decided to wage all-out war to destroy” his deputy.

Like Blair, Uhuru must decide whether blowing up Ruto saves the party and rescues his legacy.

In Blair’s case, “the enormity of such a course” drew him (and perhaps Gordon) from the brink and bought them a few more years.

Before he does that, he has to appreciate that Raila Odinga’s ODM looks sure- footed and less like a party seeking favours or is fretful of the advantages of incumbency.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has a word with his Deputy William Ruto during the third Extraordinary Session of the National and County Governments Coordinating Summit on the Coronavirus pandemic at State House, Nairobi on June 10, 2020. (Photo: PSCU, Standard)


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