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President Uhuru Kenyatta (C) his deputy William Ruto (L) and Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga during the launch of the Building Bridges Initiative report at Bomas of Kenya on November 27, 2019. [Stafford Ondego]

The question is not whether or not the President and his deputy have fallen out. It is rather about where all this will end up, how it will do so, and how soon. The gloves are off. The punch-up is on. It is a decidedly bare-knuckled rough rumble and tumble, with manifold outriders and cheerleaders on both sides. The Handshake and the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) have pushed the relationship between Kenya’s two topmost leaders to the brink of havoc. It has left President Uhuru Kenyatta holding two tigers by the tail – ODM leader Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto.

It is no longer a question of whether things will snap or not. That has happened. So who will carry the day? The determinant will not be the size of the dog in the fight.  It will be the size of the fight in the dog. And there are three dogs in this fight, one holding two by the tail. The easier thing would be to let go of the Deputy President.

Uhuru cannot, however, get rid of Ruto, for he does not know how to. Efforts to weave the corruption narrative have not paid dividend so far. Nor is harassment of his political friends working.

It only emboldens them and generates sympathy amidst talk of political betrayal. In the past, whenever the Kenyan President and his principal assistant fell out, it did not matter. There was only one top dog in the fight; the only dog in fact.

And he always had it his way, for the law wanted it that way. Kenya’s Vice President always served at the mercy of his boss. Then came the 2010 Constitution and now all that is now history.

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Kenyans are witnessing an increasingly bold and defiant Deputy President on the hustings. Thanks to a national Constitution that Ruto did not want in 2010, President Kenyatta’s hands are tied against him. His wings are clipped. Both in private and in public, the unhappy President can only look on and complain about his principal assistant. Effectively, however, he must prepare to live with him.

Which raises the question, can this Jubilee Government survive the next 32 months? In what kind of health will it be? The Government is essentially in paralysis. The ruling party is openly divided between the President’s people and his deputy’s. Members of Parliament are unable to work objectively. The hostile rivalries have placed one side with the President and his Handshake partner, Raila. The other side is with the Deputy President. Anything in the middle does not matter.

If anyone relishes the state of affairs in the country, it is the ODM leader. Raila is a restless political field marshal, who cherishes the limelight of a good political fight. President Daniel arap Moi discovered this to his dismay when Raila dismantled Kanu in 2002, following a short-lived dalliance between his National Development Party and Kanu. Their political flirtation culminated in the merger of the two parties in March of that year, to give birth to what went for a while under the name of New Kanu. Then came President Moi’s “Uhuru for President project.” Raila’s NDP tractor quit Kanu in a huff, having served the independence party a blow that has left it still staggering 18 years on.

Now it is Jubilee Party’s turn to have a bite of the Raila political pie. In the same manner that he drove a wedge between President Moi and Vice President George Saitoti in 2002, he has fixed a solid piece between Uhuru and Ruto. Yet there is a slight difference between now and 2002. Then there was a dramatic shift of events that shows just how so quickly political gears can shift. For, in March 2002, the President was Raila’s political chum, to the utter consternation of Vice President George Saitoti and the Kanu Secretary-General (SG), Joseph Kamotho.

Yet in the end, it was Saitoti who left Kanu in the same vessel with Raila. At the merger meeting of the two parties at the Kasarani Sports Complex that March, both Saitoti and Kamotho lost their party positions to the Raila/Moi axis. Kamotho’s SG position went straight to Raila. Saitoti’s National Vice Chair’s position was parcelled out to Uhuru, Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Katana Ngala.

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President Moi openly dared Saitoti to do his worst. The Vice President had nothing to say, except that someday, in the

future, Kenyans would know that there comes a time when the country is more important than individuals. Mercifully, Saitoti remained in the Cabinet as a lame duck Vice President. Had Moi wanted to, however, he would still have removed him. In any event, at the start of the life of that Parliament in 1997, the President had failed to name a Vice President, leaving the country wondering about Saitoti’s future. Did he have any? Remarkably, the President had on several occasions stated in public – and in Saitoti’s presence – that whenever he looked at the people around him, he did not see anybody who could succeed him. Not surprisingly, in that age, they would all clap. For, they each knew which side of their bread had the butter.

It is a different ballgame altogether today. For, Deputy President William Ruto arrived in Harambee House Annex with a little of his own bread and some butter, too. The 2010 Constitution that he rejected, put together with the post-election violence saga that took him and his future boss to The Hague, led President Uhuru to power with Ruto joined to him at the hip. Indeed, at that time in 2013, they looked like they were joined at the heart.

Without clear reason as to why, the glue that held them together has melted away. As the President agonizes, pondering on his next move, Ruto knows that the time to warm the engines is up. The battle lines are now very clear on the ground. It is him against Raila and Raila against him – at least for now. Meanwhile, the President can continue pondering over what to do with him. According to Article 150 of the Constitution, the Deputy President can only be removed from office in the same manner as the President may be removed. It is a lengthy process, detailed in Articles 144 and 145 of the Constitution.

The DP can be removed because of mental or physical incapacity and inability to perform his duties. He can also be impeached. Yet that is easier said than done. According to Article 145, a Member of the National Assembly must first get the support of at least a third of Parliament to support a motion for impeachment. The Speaker will then allow the House to debate the matter. For the motion to sail through, it requires a clear two-thirds majority vote. Under the prevailing circumstances, where Ruto enjoys very significant support in the National Assembly, this is a pipe dream. It is a dead option from the start.

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Assuming, however, that the impossible could happen in the National Assembly, the matter would still have to go through the Senate. It would be a matter touching on gross violation of the law, or commission of a crime against the country’s laws, or international laws. It could also be a matter touching on gross misconduct. Within two days of the two-thirds majority vote, the Speaker of the National Assembly would pass the baton to his counterpart in the Senate.

The Senate can debate the matter as the whole House and pass it with another two-thirds majority vote. Alternatively, the Speaker of the Senate can appoint an eleven-member special committee to investigate the matter (Article 145(4)a. The committee must report back within ten days. If it does not find the matter sufficiently substantiated, the saga rests there – despite the two-thirds National Assembly vote.

In short, the Deputy President is sitting pretty. He can now bring out his political armour in its fullness and begin the engagement towards 2022. The rest of the sound and fury is the noise in a busy political workshop. The person who will be mortified is his boss, President Kenyatta. The fallout between the two is exposing just how neutered the much-coveted office of the President is.

It was not always like this, of course. Kenya’s first Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s relations with his boss, Jomo Kenyatta, deteriorated very steadily between 1964 and April 1966, when Jaramogi quit Kanu to form the Kenya People’s Union (KPU). This was not without scheming by his bitter rival from his Luo Nyanza stronghold, Tom Mboya. In February of that year, Mboya introduced an unexpected and strange motion of confidence in President Kenyatta, clearly seeking to undermine Odinga and his socialist-leaning radicals in Parliament.

Mboya dared Odinga and his cronies to leave Kanu if they were dissatisfied with the direction that the country was taking. In the ensuing ugly confrontation between the two, Odinga angrily stormed out of the Parliament, leaving Mboya to loom large. And Mboya did not disappoint. He threatened Parliament with the prospect of a general election, in the event that the motion was not passed. Perhaps fearing for their own political survival than anything else, the MPs passed the motion. Yet this was just the start of Jaramogi’s downward spiral.

Things moved too fast for Jaramogi. In a matter of days, Mboya made the strange announcement that the position of Leader of Government Business in Parliament had ceased to exist. As Vice President, this was Jaramogi’s position. Before Odinga could regain his breath, Mboya announced that there would be a Kanu national delegates conference in Limuru on 13 to 15 March 1966. The purpose would be to introduce the party’s new constitution. A party that had been inactive for four years would also hold national elections, just like that, without any warning or grassroots preliminaries.

The long and short of it was that Jaramogi and his cronies were thoroughly humiliated at the meeting. His position as vice president of the party was divided into eight. Candidates were nominated on the floor to contest for various positions. Jaramogi’s friends were all beaten. Rather than be humiliated further by contesting and losing the Nyanza Deputy President’s seat, Jaramogi stayed out of the race. He resigned as VP and from Kanu shortly after. He formed KPU.

Yet Mboya and Kenyatta were not quite done with the now former Vice President. Soon after the formation of KPU, Mboya led Parliament to amend the Constitution to make a member who resigned from his party to seek a fresh mandate from the people through an election. At the Little General Election that followed, Jaramogi’s team lost everywhere, except in Luo Nyanza. Mboya scoffed at them in public, calling KPU a tribal party. In a strange twist of fate, the “tribal party” would be banned later in 1969, when the “tribes people” confronted President Kenyatta in Kisumu, to protest Mboya’s assassination and the perceived mistreatment of the tribe – and Jaramogi in particular. Jaramogi was put away in detention.

The next Vice President, Joseph Murumbi, had no stomach for the intrigues around the vice presidency. He quit after barely six months, to lead a quiet life around building an art gallery. The story of Kenya’s third Vice President, Daniel arap Moi, has been widely told. Daniel Branch’s book Kenya: Between Hope and Despair casts Moi as a patient-and-quiet-behind-the- scenes-political-schemer. He suggests that as Vice President, Moi silently rode the coach that marginalized his competitors for the throne.

But Branch also records that Moi was always Kenyatta’s preferred successor. Accordingly, Kenyatta worked through his Attorney General, Charles Njonjo, to navigate the process that would eventually midwife Moi’s ascension to power. It was by no means an easy feat, complete as it was informed by efforts by a cabal of operatives working for Dr. Njoroge Mungai to succeed Jomo. Njonjo thwarted their efforts to change the Constitution in the mid-1970s. They aimed to make it impossible for Moi to hold brief in the event that Kenyatta died. Apocryphal narratives abound about their mistreatment of the Vice President. In the end, however, patience and quiet scheming paid off. Moi substantively became Kenya’s second President on October 10, 1978. His cordial working relationship with his boss worked well for him.

President Moi himself went on to have four Vice Presidents, none of whom he believed could succeed him. His first Vice President, Mwai Kibaki, adopted a self-effacing mien. Most of the time he was a man to be seen and not be heard. He kept his pronouncements before the President to the essential minimum. He would usually be the person to invite the President to address the public. In the space of two minutes, he would shower the President with praise, invite the people to clap and usher in his boss.

For all this, there were no open signs that the President had higher dreams for Kibaki. Indeed, following the hugely flawed Mulolongo elections of 1988, the position of Vice President was taken away and given to former diplomat and University of Nairobi Vice Chancellor, Dr. Josephat Njuguna Karanja.

The immaculately adorned and elitist Dr. Karanja could not gel with the riffraff of Kenya’s politics, and especially not those in Parliament. Besides, he carried himself with superior self-assured comportment that made him look as if he was cultivating himself into another centre of power. They went for him with hammer and tongs. MPs accused him of commanding them to kneel before him. To avoid a vote of no confidence in Parliament, he resigned as VP, but retained his position as MP for Mathare Constituency. Saitoti replaced him.

Saitoti resigned from Kanu during the Uhuru Project and became one of the leading lights in the National Rainbow Coalition of 2002. He had walked the tight rope for 13 years, to be Kenya’s longest-serving Vice President. His successor, Musalia Mudavadi, served for just about two months. His appointment was largely a carrot to attempt to woo the endangered Luhya vote in the wake of the Uhuru fallout. It did not work.

Other Vice Presidents were Wamalwa Kijana, who worked well with Kibaki as his boss, during his short stint before passing on in the UK, where he had gone for treatment. His successor, Moody Awori, was on sterling terms with his boss. Even when Raila led the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) squad (that came into existence in 2002 in protest against the Uhuru Project), he chose to stand with the boss. It was a choice that cost him the Funyula Parliamentary seat in the chaotic 2007 election. He elected to honourably retire from politics.

Before Ruto, there was Kalonzo, who joined Kibaki in a surprise “part Cabinet” announced at the start of 2008, in the wake of the chaos that followed the botched up Presidential election of  December 27, 2007. Kalonzo bent backwards over to be politically correct with President Kibaki and so-called Mt. Kenya mafia. He hoped that they would support his presidential bid in 2013. It turned out that they had other ideas. Uhuru was their choice.

With 32 months to the end of his tenure, Uhuru is agonizing over what to do with his deputy. Some say it is because Ruto began the campaign for 2022 too soon. It cannot be the cause of the fallout. This has always been the trend since 1992 when the country went to the first multiparty elections since the removal of Section 2a of the old Constitution. In 2013, Uhuru himself began the campaign for 2017 soon after he was sworn in.

What bites between the President and his deputy must be something else, maybe some deep-seated “something” that the President cannot talk about in the open. Whatever the case, he is holding a tiger by the tail – indeed two tigers. Both tigers are restless, ambitious and politically ruthless. Whichever of the two tigers between Ruto and Raila the President lets go, he must prepare to reckon with the aftermath. And it looks bad.

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Uhuru Kenyatta Raila Odinga William Ruto
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