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Lessons of Uhuru, Ruto divorce for future deputy presidents

By Brian Otieno | September 8th 2021
President Uhuru Kenyatta, first lady Margret Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto after the memorial service of the founding father Mzee Jomo Kenyatt at the Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi on August 22, 2019.[File]

?President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto’s feud is not the first between holders of such offices. 

History has had varied lessons for the Uhuru and Ruto presidency, and theirs will proffer lessons to future occupants of the presidency.

The first term of the Jubilee administration – 2013 to 2017 – was a masterclass, at least in the public eye, of an effective partnership between a president and his deputy.

The 'dynamic duo' never differed in public and their chemistry only seemed to bloom.

The second half of the UhuRuto union has been mostly chaotic and acidic with the two wasting no chance to go at each other publicly. In many ways, it is strikingly similar to founding President Jomo Kenyatta’s fallout with Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

Unlike Jaramogi who resigned, Ruto has stayed put, and it owes majorly to the fact that unlike his father, Uhuru cannot fire his deputy.

Article 147 of the Constitution describes the DP as the principal assistant of the president, who shall “deputise the president in the execution of the president’s functions.”

The Constitution indicates that the DP shall carry out functions of the president as the head of state may assign.

This infers that the president and the DP are to work together and hence Kenyans bound the two when they passed the 2010 Constitution.

Bobby Mkangi, a constitutional lawyer among the experts who drafted the 2010 Constitution, argues that the arrangement was borrowed from countries with the presidential system.

“It is only logical that the DP is the president’s principal assistant and not any other person,” says Mkangi.

An ideal situation would have Uhuru and Ruto portray to the public a working relationship similar to the one they expressed in their first term.

For many, theirs was a departure from the usually tense relationship between presidents and vice presidents witnessed over the years.

Presidents had previously cut the figure of the unquestionable strongman, with their deputy a ceremonial figure with no real powers.

But neither does the Constitution give the current – or future DP – much authority. They will still depend on the president to assign them.

“When Kenyans vote for a DP, they are voting for a standby president. Their most critical role – besides those assigned by the president – is stepping in when the president is unable to exercise his functions,” adds Mkangi.

Future presidents are no better. As long as the Constitution bars them from sacking their deputy, they will have to put up with a person who will at times challenge their authority. The option of a meek running-mate may not be viable.

"A weak running-mate means you are unlikely to win the election," says Mkangi.

The current arrangement, he adds, was aimed at preventing a “political con-game”.

“Presidents win elections majorly because of their deputies. You cannot win courtesy of someone only to sack them once you are in power,” says Mkangi, adding that the Constitution could be amended to allow the president to fire their deputy, “but that would affect a strong aspect of our governance structure, that would require a deep, engaging process.”

Claims by Jubilee Secretary General Raphael Tuju on Monday that Ruto bulldozed his way into the first term, securing half of Cabinet, shows that Uhuru’s relationship with Ruto may just have been transactional.

And this is perhaps the greatest lesson that the Jubilee administration will leave for future governments.

Mkangi argues that future DPs must learn from Ruto to cut good deals for themselves, given that they depend entirely on the president to assign functions to them.

“Ruto forced a 50-50 Cabinet deal, ending up as a strong DP,” he says.

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