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Inside the long-drawn plan to cut Ruto down to size

By Special Correspondent | January 26th 2020 at 09:30:00 GMT +0300

President Uhuru Kenyatta (centre) his deputy William Ruto (left) and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga during the launch of Building Bridges Initiative report at Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi on November 27, 2019. (Stafford Ondego, Standard)

Against glaring evidence, Deputy President William Ruto denies that there is bad blood between him and his boss, President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Every so often, the DP confesses his “very good working relations with the President.” He blames “conmen and charlatans who want to rock Jubilee” for the unending crises in the party. 

All is not well. Political crises have engulfed the DP and the party, ever since the President made the March 9, 2018 handshake with ODM leader Raila Odinga. Dark clouds are ominously assembling around Dr Ruto. The plan, it would seem, is to ensure that the DP’s name will not be on the presidential ballot paper in 2022, leave alone his not being supported by the President. His matter must be rested before then. 

Just who is after Ruto’s political life and why? How do they purpose to execute their plan to neutralise and disable him?

Kikuyu support

Stirrings against the DP began even before the end of Uhuru’s first term in 2017. Former Kiambu Governor, William Kabogo, raised eyebrows when, in June 2016, he told a public gathering in his backyard that Ruto would need to work extra hard for Kikuyu support in 2022.

Kabogo acknowledged that Ruto had helped President Kenyatta to ascend to power by mobilising for him the massive Kalenjin vote, as well as campaigning for him vigorously elsewhere in the country. That, however, was no passport to Kikuyu support.

Kabogo has been an on-and-off close friend of President Uhuru’s. He has been a member of Uhuru’s private inner circles – alongside the Speaker of the National Assembly, Justin BN Muturi and former Gatanga MP David Murathe. As the DP, and a person who has been privy to National Intelligence Services (NIS) reports both formally and informally, Ruto knows of the camaraderie within this group.

Moreover, during Uhuru’s first term, he was well networked in his own way, right into State House. Nothing happened there that he did not get to know about – either in advance, or shortly afterwards. It would be surprising if he did not smell a fish, or even know whatever was cooking in Uhuru’s kitchen cabinet.

June 2016, when Kabogo made this unprovoked outburst, was only 14 months ahead of the August 2017 presidential poll. It seemed that Kabogo was only echoing what had been discussed behind closed doors. It can only have been an unguarded moment on his part. Ruto’s support in 2017 was still eagerly awaited. The wisdom of such an outburst is questionable. 

As he ran into a barrage of censure from his own Central Kenya backyard and from parts of Rift Valley, Kabogo beat a hasty retreat. He transferred the blame to the media, alleging that he had been quoted out of context. “Ruto is going to be the president in 2022, whether people believe it or not,” Kabogo told another quickly assembled gathering, that was largely made of youngsters. 

Regardless, the cat was out of the bag. It appeared that the centre did not want Ruto. He was going to have to walk the tight rope. He was, however, quick to agree with Kabogo that Central Kenya did not owe him anything. He would in future seek the Jubilee ticket for the presidential race like everybody else, he said. For now, he was satisfied to work with the President, to deliver on their 2013 election promises. 

Yet, the DP knew that he had been shown the knife. He would have to do something about it in his own quiet way. His chance came during the 2017 election party primaries in the Jubilee Party. There is an African saying that if the child says in the snake’s hearing that the evening meal will be the snake’s head, the snake will not allow the child to see the evening.

Ruto gathered that there was a wide network of MPs and Senators who were scheming to pull the rug under his feet. They planned to begin as soon as Uhuru brought down the Bible, after taking his second term’s oath of office. In the Jubilee primaries of April 2017, therefore, Central Kenya political giants fell like houses of cards. The primaries had to be done a second time, with President Kenyatta blaming the first round fiasco on “a huge voter turnout due to the popularity of the party.” The President tasked Ruto to take direct charge of the repeat poll, working closely with the Secretary General, Raphael Tuju.

Ruto the godfather

Things were not any better for the Central Kenya kingpins. They were pushed into the cold, with only a handful of exceptions. Their places were mostly taken up by a new generation of youthful leaders, with Ruto as their godfather. They retreated to plot their revenge and comeback. Former Nyeri Senator Mutahi Kagwe’s recent appointment to the Cabinet, with the concurrent fall of former Agriculture Minister Mwangi Kiunjuri, is only the harbinger of their success. 

Ruto’s young politicians from Central Kenya have, meanwhile, largely remained faithful to him, constituting the vanguard of the Tangatanga team from the region. Also faithful to him is the Central Kenya diaspora in the Rift Valley, with Bahati MP, Kimani Ngunjiri, as the most visible and vocal of the lot.

The two sets of former and current MPs are locked up in a life and death political duel centred around the DP, with either side only too conscious of the fact that the DP’s ultimate destiny will define theirs, too.

But why the angst and machinations against the DP? What went wrong?

When they exchanged their political marital vows in Nakuru on December 2, 2012, Uhuru and Ruto declared that Uhuru would rule for 10 years, after which he would support Ruto. Ruto would then “have his 10 years” with his hands on the reins of Kenya’s horse of political power.

Shortly afterwards, the founding Mother of the Kenyan Nation – and President Uhuru’s highly respected and powerful mother – Mama Ngina Kenyatta, laid her hands on Ruto’s head as a sign of a mother’s blessings.

On Thursday August 22, 2013, Ruto had the rare prestigious privilege of leading the Kenyan nation in remembering President Kenyatta, during the 35th anniversary of the passing on of the founding President. He later joined the Kenyatta family at a memorial service at the Holy Family Basilica. There were numerous other public displays of amity, bon homie and esprit de corps between the President and his family on the one hand and the DP on the other. So, what went wrong and why must he be locked out of the 2022 race?

Several hypotheses have been floated. First is the unfinished business of 2007/08. Following the flawed presidential poll, Ruto was perceived to have played a leading role in pogroms against the Kikuyu in Rift Valley. It has never been proven, however, that this was indeed the case.

Regardless, the Maina Kiai-led Kenya National Human Rights Commission (KNHR) issued its report of 2008, pointing an accusatory finger at Ruto, among other alleged reprobates. According to this hypothesis, another report, by the Philip Waki Commission, from pages 78 to 132 points to the unfinished business of 2007/08 that seems to be wiggling its way back to turn Ruto’s 2022 dreams into a nightmare. 

The 2007/08 affairs also speak to a political marriage of convenience, in which one side has cloyed its spousal cravings. It is now ready, it would seem, to abandon the other partner and even revisit old grievances. To this end, Ruto is worried that plans could be afoot to open up the matter of the International Criminal Court (ICC) against him.

He has confided his fears in his closer associates and has even come out to express them openly. Every so often, Senators Kipchumba Murkomen of Elgeyo Marakwet and Samson Cherargei of Nandi have voiced these worries. Cherargei has cautioned that to bring back the ICC is open up the pandora box, or even touch off a powder keg. 

The ghosts of 2007/08 affair remain troublesome, however. The country will want to exorcise and put them to rest, once and for all, regardless of whether Ruto becomes Kenya’s next President or not.

The Kikuyu diaspora in the Rift Valley quietly expresses fears to the effect that abandoning, or betraying, Ruto, could lead to a backlash against them, particularly seeing that his Kalenjin community has honoured its promise to support Uhuru and twice led him to victory. There is a mounting sense of betrayal, with perpetuation of the perception that the Central Kenya community cannot be trusted to keep its political promises to support a person from outside.

Another hypothesis, however, is that Ruto only has himself to blame for the fallout with his boss. He is accused of having failed the test of humility. There has been general unhappiness around the President that during Jubilee’s first tenure, Ruto comported himself as if he was another centre of power, besides the President.

Granted, they got elected as a coalition of parties. Ruto’s URP and Uhuru’s TNA were equal shareholders in the 2013 government. However, political savviness dictated that Ruto should have gone on to be self-effacing and allowed Uhuru’s star to shine to the fullest.

This school of thought suggests that Ruto often came across as domineering, hogging time and limelight at presidential functions, attempting to eclipse the boss. He would speak with authority and issue edicts in the President’s presence. Uhuru did not like this, but he bore it all with fortitude, because he knew that he would need Ruto in 2017. Allegations also exist of unsavory pronouncements against Uhuru, in Ruto’s local dialect. But, particularly offensive was Ruto’s dynasty talk. Ruto has never shied away from parading his humble origins. 

He has often talked of his days as a chicken hawker on the roadside; how he went to school barefoot, and how he has washed his hands “to sit at table with those who were born with silver spoons in their mouth.” He calls himself a hustler and states publicly that someday, Kenya’s hustler nation will have its time in the sunshine.

This kind of talk is taken as a straight blow on the forehead of President Kenyatta. Apart from the Hague matter, Uhuru has hardly known adversity, beyond natural universal levelers, like ailment and death in the family. Ruto’s talk against what he calls “dynasties” has not been taken well at all. It is one of the things working against him, according to this school.

Then there is the Raila Odinga angle. From the very outset, Raila and Ruto were always birds of different feathers. Raila views himself as a progressive radical, while he considers Ruto to be a social reactionary and a system man; besides being a social climber. There is no love lost between the two.

Friend of convenience

This is despite the fact that between 2005-08, they worked very closely, with Ruto assiduously fighting to make Raila the president and – having failed that – the Prime Minister in 2008. Ruto views Raila as an ingrate and a user of people. 

Following the 2007/08 fiasco, Ruto began showing mounting restlessness with Raila. In any event, Raila had in the first place been only a friend of convenience during the 2005 constitutional referendum – where their Orange team defeated President Mwai Kibaki’s Banana team. They transformed their referendum team into a political party, the Orange Democratic Movement Kenya Party (ODM-K), and later migrated to ODM, when Kalonzo Musyoka ran away with their ODM (K) certificate. 

The nascent fallout between Ruto and Raila gravitated around portfolio sharing in the Grand Coalition Government of 2008-13. Ruto wanted to be Deputy Prime Minister, but Raila gave the position to Musalia Mudavadi. He also wanted to be the Minister for Local Government, again Raila gave this portfolio to Mudavadi. Third, he wanted to be the Deputy Party Leader – once again this went to Mudavadi. Ruto expressed his dissatisfaction at public gatherings.

Next came the question of Kalenjin youth who were allegedly arrested during the PEV. Ruto complained that Raila was doing nothing about them. Raila, on his part, denied that there were any such youth. He challenged Ruto to publish their names. They were never published. In the wake of this came evictions from the Mau Forest. The role that fell directly under Raila as the Prime Minister in the new government. Ruto led the Kalenjin people in protesting against the evictions. They accused Raila of persecuting them after they had helped him ascend to power.

Then came the ICC affair. Raila went on to state in public that everyone should bear his own cross. This was it. He had at last crossed the red line. It did not help matters at all that the Waki Report had at page 408 a witness’s account, which alleged that Raila had on September 5, 2007 told American officers he would “finish (off) former President Moi, Ruto and other Kalenjin(s) who had ruined Kenya as soon as he becomes President,” later that year.

According to the Waki Report, the meeting is alleged to have taken place on the 17th floor of the J Edgar Hoover Building, 935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington DC. The FBI are alleged to have recorded Raila making these pronouncements and the tapes are said to be available. This account suggested, therefore, that barely four months to the 2007 poll, Ruto was working hard to make Raila President while Raila was thinking about incarcerating him. 

Whatever the truth in these matters, the negative energy between the DP and the ODM leader is profound and old. The entry of the handshake and the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) is only the latest twist in longstanding mutual animosity. In 2002, they supported two mutually hostile political camps in the presidential race. Raila was with Kibaki, who went on to become the President, while Ruto was a kingpin in Uhuru’s losing Kanu.

Earlier, Ruto worked for President Moi, right from the Youth for Kanu ’92 formation to the 2002 Uhuru Project. All this time Raila was in the Opposition, apart from a short stint when he patched up with Moi under the New Kanu in 2002. 

It is also worth mentioning that there was another fallout during the Grand Coalition Government, when Raila attempted to sack Ruto over corruption. This was, however, the excuse rather than the reason. The reason was that Ruto had become openly defiant and had, for all practical reasons, left ODM. Ruto scoffed at the dismissal, telling Raila he was not the appointing authority. Kibaki affirmed this by clarifying that the dismissal did not have any effect.

The handshake of March 9, 2018 was, in the light of relations between Ruto and Uhuru, on the one hand, and between Ruto and Raila on the other, only the ripe moment for the next wave of differences. Old scores and fears are back. And Ruto’s adversaries are crowding in on him like vultures. They have wormed their way into the BBI with their old scores. The BBI seems to be only a convenient vehicle to jettison him into political oblivion. Even if the BBI was not there, Ruto’s adversaries would still look for another vehicle through which he should be accosted and tamed.

The issue is that Ruto must go, at all costs. The corruption allegations against him are probably true. They could also be false. It does not seem to matter, however. The allegations are only one of the many balloons his adversaries are floating. Initially, the game plan seemed to be that he should be made to look so dirty and to smell so bad, that nobody would want to vote for him.

Action plan

It turns out that this does not seem to bother a Kenyan electorate that sees corrupt leaders everywhere, and even seems to love them and their money. If Ruto’s name is on the ballot, therefore, he could still be a headache.

Francis Atwoli, the Cotu secretary general, and Murathe – a Jubilee Party honcho – have stated repeatedly that Ruto will not make it to that ballot paper. The strategy is three-pronged. First, is to subject him to Fabian tactics. Keep him fighting for his political and economic life until he runs out of all energy and surrenders. In this regard, the action plan is to bring up as many cases as his detractors could possibly lay their hands upon, including those that are only of nuisance value. Let him spend his money, time and sleepless nights on these.

The second strategic prong is to isolate him politically by giving him feet of clay. Anyone who associates with him should be made to find him such a painfully inconvenient friend that they must drop him. This is to be achieved though incessant use of the law to harass and incarcerate his sympathisers. This is already being done through the police and anti-corruption systems. A lonely and isolated Ruto could willingly throw in the towel.

Third, if all else fails, find a way of reopening up the ICC case and take him back to The Hague. Hopefully he will enter a plea bargain, where he will accept not to run – and possibly quit politics altogether, in exchange for his freedom. It will be interesting to watch those spaces, and interesting reading too. Stay with us.


William Ruto President Uhuru Kenyatta 2022 Elections Raila Odinga
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