What if William Ruto borrows from Putin's playbook?

President William Ruto during the launch of the enhanced Nairobi securities exchange marketplace. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

On December 12th 2021 at State House Nairobi, my colleagues and I were standing in conversation and suddenly the white Victorian doors in one of the rooms burst open.

Then in comes this middle-aged man, impeccably dressed in a starched bright white cotton shirt and a royal purple tie. His dark suit had to be Brioni.

Anyway, he assertively walks in and mutters to us “good evening gentlemen” and walks to his table, a couple of feet away. Once there, he removes his face mask then turns back and our eyes lock.  For some ten seconds he doesn’t blink. His eyes are fixed on me.

I on the other hand go numb. I feel a chill go down my spine and then look away. I couldn’t bare the stare-down. It was then Deputy President William Ruto.

I had every reason to go numb. Not so much because of our 5th Estate Ruto bashing episodes, but because just before Ruto walked in, my colleague had made a ridiculous statement. He said “if Ruto ever became President, the masses will make him President for life”.

This week I remembered the words. And I asked myself what if President Ruto was to rule for life. The thought was also inspired by the words of George Orwell: “No one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.” 

Think what you may, but the Hustler nation was the revolution Ruto needed to climb to power. But it’s not what he will need to remain in power.  And this leads me back to my thought. Does Dr Ruto intend to stay in power beyond 2032? If he does, how will he do it? 

In my view, if President Ruto wants to rule beyond 2032, he must change the Constitution. Can he do it? And the answer is a resounding yes. There is precedence. When Russian President Vladmir Putin was first elected to office in 2000, Russia’s constitution pegged presidential term limits to 2 (4) year terms. This meant Putin could only serve for 8 years. 

But Putin had a plan. At the end of his term in 2008, he did three things. One, he endorsed his Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev for president in the 2008 election. Two, he got Parliament to amend the constitution and extend presidential term limits from 4 years per term to 6 years per term. And three, Putin extended the life of Parliament by 2 years. 

This technically meant instead of serving a maximum 8 years, Putin was to have served a maximum of 12 years, and therefore his term should have ended in 2012 and not 2008. But more importantly, it meant Putin had not served one full term and was eligible to run again.

Anyway Medvedev became President then immediately appointed Putin as his Prime Minister. At the time Putin had control of the executive and parliament. In fact, he was the de-facto head of government. In the 2012 election Putin run again and was elected President. He was re-elected again in 2018 and somehow got parliament to change the law to keep him in power until 2036. 

What’s my point here?

If President Ruto ever wanted to lead beyond 2032, he has a framework from Putin. And if Ruto plotted and strategised for 2022 back in 2012, he cannot be simply thinking of the 2027 election. In any case, he has a majority in Parliament and zero opposition. Plus, there is no kumi yangu, kumi ya Rigathi.

If Dr Ruto will indeed change the Constitution and expunge term limits like Putin did, we will swear in the 6th President of Kenya in 2062. Remember, “no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end.”

 The writer is a research fellow and political risk consultant at The Consulting House. [email protected]

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