President Uhuru Kenyatta used his last Madaraka Day fete and final national celebration to snub his Deputy Dr William Ruto and campaign for his preferred candidate.
Dr Ruto, who arrived minutes before his boss, was denied a chance to address the public and left out of the event’s line-up. Traditionally, during national ceremonies, the Deputy President (or previously the vice president) is in charge of the programme and invites speakers then makes his remarks before inviting the President to address the nation.
Unlike in the past nine years and contrary to the tradition established by his father and the other two presidents, President Kenyatta however exposed a climax in what has been a cold relationship between the duo - after he breached Madaraka Day traditional protocol, only allowing the visiting Sierra Leone Head of State Julias Maada Bio to give his speech.
In an unanticipated move, Mr Kenyatta commanded the events programme soon after he awarded State honours to outstanding citizens for contributing in nation building.
In his welcoming remarks, Mr Kenyatta did not also acknowledge the DP’s presence. “Your Excellency Julius Maada, the President of Sierra Leone, and the first lady of Sierra Leone, Dr Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina - President of African Development Bank, honourable speakers, Your Ladyship the Chief Justice Martha Koome, all national leaders, fellow Kenyans, ladies and gentlemen, hamjambo (how are you)?,” he began.
Compounding Dr Ruto’s woes was revelation that he had been snubbed from an earlier State House meeting, where Mr Kenyatta hosted the Cabinet and thanked members for their support during his tenure.
The discord and coldness between the President and his deputy however seems to have worsened during former President Mwai Kibaki’s burial.
During the service at Nyayo Stadium, Dr Ruto drew parallels between previous heads of state: “(Kibaki was) a distinguished public servant that rose up the ranks, and of course (is) the greatest President Kenya ever had. We celebrate his achievements, contributions and his rich and solid legacy. Mr Kenyatta listened keenly.
In attendance were presidents Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, Sahle-Work Zewde of Ethiopia and Salva Kiir of South Sudan.
Dr Ruto’s sentiments were interpreted by many as disrespect for Mr Kenyatta in front of dignitaries.
Yesterday, the President’s actions told of a man who was keen on avoiding a repeat embarrassment.
When he spoke on the need for the incoming administration to shun political strife and hypocrisy, it was seen as a veiled attack on Dr Ruto. “There are those that have been saying I have not achieved much in my second term. I want to tell them that I have. Key among the accomplishments was the construction of over 6,000km of road… and this has happened due to the stability brought about by the handshake,” he stated.
Yesterday’s was the second time in less than a week that the tiff between Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto played out.
On Thursday last week, during the National Prayer Breakfast at Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, the two leaders, who have always shared a table at similar events, sat apart, each sharing own table with two other companions. Mr Kenyatta shared his with Justice Koome and the Attorney General, while Dr Ruto sat with National Assembly Speaker Mr Justin Muturi and Senate’s Mr Ken Lusaka, both in the Kenya Kwanza alliance.
After yesterday’s event Dr Ruto invited media to accompany him for a rally in Kikuyu Constituency, where he officiated the Hustler Cup football finals hosted by MP Mr Kimani Ichungw’a. The DP kept off what transpired earlier at the Madaraka Day celebrations. But his foot soldiers expressed disappointment that it was a scheme to humiliate him.
In Thogoto, Ford-Kenya leader Mr Moses Wetang’ula and Kiharu MP Mr Ndindi Nyoro said the President should have acknowledged the presence of Dr Ruto and allowed him to speak. “Uhuru turned a national day into an Azimio campaign day, belittling our country in front of international guests. It’s pity that a foreign President took the microphone to recognise the DP,” said Mr Wetang’ula.
Mr Ndindi said: “We witnessed with shock how state machinery treated William Ruto. Kibicho should take caution that this will not happen again in this country. Kibicho should stop giving us cooked statistics and opinion polls and matters to do with the National Intelligence Service,” he said. [Additional reporting by George Njunge]