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Impeaching DP Ruto would be a bad idea

OPINION
By Suleiman Shahbal | April 5th 2021
Deputy President William Ruto. [File, Standard]

Every time he called I used to respond, “William Samoei arap Ruto, how are you.” Then of course he became deputy president and suddenly the friendly familiarity became inappropriate. When Uhuru called it was easy to say, “Hi Boss.” When he calls now you suddenly find yourself standing at attention, irrespective of where you are, saying “Your Excellency Sir!” As President Harry Truman said, “the office makes the man”. Others may argue that the man can also diminish the office, but I beg to differ.

Donald Trump with all his absurdities and eccentricity could not damage the presidency of the US. One week after he left office, he became a non-entity. Such is the power of such offices. Our presidency may not have a 245-year history, but we have to keep history in mind before we act in haste to start impeachment processes.

I would like to believe that on a personal level, Dr Ruto is still a friend of mine. Politically we parted ways when he started cohabiting with my political opponents. In the murky waters of Kenya’s political landscape, it is foolish to take politics personally. I have told people on the ground that nothing is permanent in politics and therefore they should not personalise political differences. At the top, they switch partners with the changing of the seasons and it is the small boys who catch feelings that get hurt.

I travelled with Ruto across the country and particularly in the Coast campaigning for Jubilee. He is a dynamo. I have yet to come across any politician who has the energy that Ruto has. His memory is like some programmed customer data base and he remembers the people from the remotest villages of the Coast. I was shocked when he started greeting lecturers by name at Pwani University. His command of local dialect and greetings amazed even the locals in all the places we went to. Without a doubt, he was a major driver of the Jubilee campaigns across Kenya and deserves credit for Jubilee’s victories in 2013 and 2017.

I am not here to judge whether Ruto is good or bad. It’s too early and history will decide that. Neither am I writing as a supporter or opponent of Ruto. Politically he has chosen his position and I have chosen mine. So be it. I am writing about the absurdity of trying to impeach a sitting deputy president. It doesn’t work.

First, I fail to see the logic of trying to impeach a man with a few months left in office. The probability of success is marginal and the risk of dividing Parliament is high. Our parliamentarians are there to serve the nation first and the parties second. Yet we are forcing them to take strictly partisan positions. Second, such a move will inevitably end up in court where it will drag for months as we head into elections and will not be concluded before the elections. If the intent is to throw mud around, then this is a good play in the pigsty. Let it stay in the campaign trails, but certainly not in Parliament.

Third, every Kenyan will see that this is political marksmanship with 2022 in sight. All this will achieve is to earn Ruto more sympathy votes. People will always root for the underdog. People always sympathise with the man on the floor. This will fit in perfectly with the narrative of the hustler being kicked around by the rich and powerful – and people will forget that he, too, is powerful!

I saw this in Mombasa politics in 2017 when Hassan Joho positioned himself as the victim of the powerful State. Every time the president and his deputy attacked him, he earned more sympathy votes. We are seeing a repeat of the same misguided strategy and Ruto will be the main beneficiary. This makes us wonder whether this is political myopia or a deliberate strategy that we cannot see.

Fourth, the DP is part and parcel of the presidency. Diminishing the Office of the Deputy President diminishes the Presidency. Let us keep posterity in perspective. Ruto is one of many DPs that will come and go, but the office will remain. It is a constitutional office that demands respect irrespective of who holds it now. To try and drag a process that cannot be concluded will only tarnish the office. Let us look at history as an example. In 1966, Kanu leaders led by the late Tom Mboya sought to finish off Jaramogi Oginga Odinga by creating six vice president offices. What did it achieve? Jaramogi left and went into Opposition, the office of the VP remained diminished in status and a plaything of the president until we solidified it with the 2010 Constitution.

Let us not repeat the same mistake. That would be cutting our nose to spite the face. Let reason prevail. We have more pressing issues to deal with.

Mr Shahbal is chairman of Gulf Group of [email protected]      

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