Why Speaker Justin Muturi dumped President Uhuru Kenyatta for DP William Ruto

President Uhuru Kenyatta consoles National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi in Embu County as Deputy President William Ruto looks on. [DPPS]

For over 20 years, National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi was one of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s closest political confidants until last week when he joined Deputy President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance.

Speaker Muturi stuck with President Kenyatta in the most difficult times, especially after the 2002 presidential elections when the then ruling party KANU was banished into the opposition.

He remained with Kenyatta and Gideon Moi in KANU when Ruto led a significant number of Rift Valley politicians to decamp from the former ruling party to ODM in 2007.

Uhuru was thereafter elected party chairman, while Muturi took the influential position of Organising Secretary and also the party’s Whip in parliament.

When Jubilee took power in 2013, with Kenyatta as President he fronted and supported Muturi, his close ally for the powerful position of Speaker in the National Assembly.

So what could have led to Muturi abandoning his long time friend and supporting a candidate the President is bitterly opposed to succeeding him?

Prof Gitile Naituli of Multi-Media University knows Muturi all too well, having served as one of his think tanks when he recently declared his presidential bid.

Naituli says he attended meetings with Muturi in Embu, Meru and Tharaka Nithi counties that were seriously pro-Ruto and that could have influenced his decision.

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi and Deputy President William Ruto exchange documents as ANC Party leader Musalia Mudavadi looks on at the Hermosa Gardens Hotel in Karen, Nairobi on April 9, 2022. [David Gichuru, Standard] 

 “If you are looking for political relevance you have no choice but to go where the public is. That is why you hear Kenyan politicians saying I’m listening to the ground,” said Naituli.

He thinks Muturi did his best to campaign for one full year but then realised there are only two horses and decided to join one where his people are.

Game plan

So what is Muturi’s game plan in Kenya Kwanza?

Naituli's view is that he stands a better chance of getting the running mate position because he is from the Mt Kenya region.

 “The Kikuyu - Kalenjin dominance thing is a tricky issue that cannot be wished away in this country and so being a Mbeere from Embu, he can assist Ruto to win dissenting voters,” he adds.

But can his entry upset the apple cart and create more problems in the Mt Kenya region, where those who joined Ruto earlier can feel more entitled to bigger positions than Muturi?

Some leaders like Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua had earlier argued that the position of a running mate should be reserved for the Mt Kenya region.

Gachagua now however says he will be happy if he gets the position but if not, it would still be fine as long as they form the next government under Ruto’s leadership.

Prof Naituli does also not see Muturi’s entry causing any friction in the Mt Kenya region because all politicians in Kenya Kwanza appear to have set their eye on the big prize of winning the August 9 presidential polls.

Last year, it was rumoured that Uhuru was behind Muturi’s crowning as a Kikuyu elder at Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga shrine in Murang’a as part of his succession plan.

Muturi dismissed those claims and instead said he was charting his own course just as was the case when he served with Uhuru in KANU and later TNA.

Muturi told The Standard that he was given the task of reforming Kanu when he was a member of the National Executive Committee before decamping to the National Party of Kenya, now the defunct The National Alliance (TNA) party with Uhuru.

The Speaker revealed how he worked on a new constitution for KANU but his proposals were opposed. But he used it when they acquired the National Party of Kenya.

That is the party whose name was changed to The National Alliance (TNA) whose constitution was the one Muturi had developed for Kanu.

He was also instrumental in creating the merger between President Uhuru Kenyatta’s TNA and Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP) but now regrets that his efforts to make Jubilee a national party failed.

Muturi said he had a countrywide political network that he could have used to entrench Jubilee across the country had the party held grassroots elections.

Last year, when he hinted that he had abandoned Jubilee and was looking for a new party before settling on the Democratic Party, Muturi said he still had a good relationship with President Kenyatta but did not need his endorsement.

Uhuru lost the presidential elections in 2002, while Muturi lost his Siakago seat in 2007. He continued to strongly champion Kenyatta’s interests in Kanu, especially during the power struggle that emerged later in the party.

He consolidated his position as a member of the Uhuru’s think-tank, and also became chairman of the Centre for Multiparty Democracy.

KANU exit

In 2012, Uhuru’s attempted to rebrand KANU as Kenya Alliance National Union or the New Kanu at a party National Executive Council (NEC) meeting in Naivasha but it was opposed by among others Secretary-General Nick Salat.

The President was at the time serving as KANU chairman and Deputy Prime Minister in retired President Mwai Kibaki’s government along with Gideon Moi (Vice-Chairman), Salat (Secretary-General) and Muturi (Organising Secretary).

President Uhuru Kenyatta with his Deputy William Ruto and National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi during the 2021 State of The Nation Address at Parliament Buildings, Nairobi. [DPPS]

The pressure was mounting on the party from the Registrar of Political Parties Lucy Ndung’u that they hold a National Delegates Conference (NDC) to comply with the requirements set in the 2010 Constitution or be deregistered.

With de-registration looming, an emergency NEC meeting was convened by Moi and Salat which was given a wide berth by Uhuru and Muturi.

Muturi dismissed the emergency meeting as irregular and inconsequential to Kenyatta’s status as chairman.

The party resolved to convene a national delegates meeting within two weeks to put its house in order before fresh registration of officials.

Although there was a lot of panic among the KANU rank and file at the time to ensure that the party became compliant because of heavy pressure from the Registrar of Political Parties, Muturi appeared unperturbed.

Asked about the status of the party and the risk of deregistration as time then was running out, Muturi replied: “We are still trying to comply and make a decision on the way forward.”

It emerged by the end of that same week that, Kenyatta was no longer interested in the party and Muturi had for whatever reasons been playing delaying tactics with the rival camp through media.

As the Salat faction went ahead with their plans for the NDC and invited 1,450 party delegates to Kasarani, Gema communities released a statement endorsing Kenyatta to run for president.

They resolved that Kenyatta was to give the Mt Kenya ethnic groups the direction and the vehicle he wished to ride on to State House to which the then Deputy Prime Minister promised to respond in a month.

KANU held its NDC on April 14, 2012, and replaced Kenyatta, Muturi and other officials who had moved out with him, a gathering that the current Speaker dismissed as illegal.

He was fighting from Kenyatta’s corner on the eve of the delegates' conference saying: "It will be interesting to hear what the Registrar of Political Parties will say because she was served with a copy of the injunction and so the order has not been vacated and is still binding."

Salat however ignored Muturi and pointed fingers at Uhuru saying he had always shown indications he was seeking a new home.

“We saw it coming, but we did not want to be seen as keen on pushing him out," said Salat about Uhuru’s move.

The fallout between the factions was also characterised by many court orders among them one that barred Uhuru, Muturi and their agents from recruiting members to the party.

Throughout the dispute, it appeared Muturi and his faction had a lot of confidence and trust in the Registrar of Political Parties.

“It will be interesting to hear what the Registrar of Political Parties will say because she was served with a copy of the injunction and the order has not been vacated and is still binding," said Muturi as he dismissed the NDC.

He was referring to an injunction Salat had filed in court, stopping Uhuru from holding another NDC the previous year which was also served to the Registrar of Parties.

While defending Uhuru, Muturi said Salat's push against Uhuru was because Ruto (at the time Eldoret North MP) was angling towards the new G7 alliance outfit he had created.

Muturi claimed if the new outfit materialized, the KANU leadership in Rift Valley would play second fiddle to Ruto in the region.

Ruto would later become Kenyatta's running-mate in 2013 and won the elections despite the fact that they had trials that were pending at the International Criminal Court at the time.

Muturi also viciously defended Uhuru over claims that KANU money was misused just before they exited the party.

The National Treasurer Abdi Ali and former National Organising Secretary Muturi who had left the party were accused of illegally giving instructions to a local bank to wire out the money to an undisclosed account.

The two former officials allegedly cleared the party’s bank accounts of Sh6.5 million nine days after being ousted from office.

As a result of the transaction, the party was left with a paltry Sh23,298 in its account at the Cooperative Bank of Kenya.

The money was part of the Sh16.7 million that the party received from the Exchequer through the Political Parties Fund in the 2011-2012 financial year.