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Martha Karua different from DP William Ruto by acknowledging who is the boss

Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya alliance Presidential candidate Raila Odinga and his running mate Martha Karua during a joint media briefing in Nairobi on June 28, 2022 over issues they plan to do should they win the election. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Watching the pair of Azimio presidential candidate and running-mate Raila Odinga and Martha Karua field questions from the media on Tuesday, and again at a consultative session with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission on Wednesday, the good chemistry between them came out clearly.

The running-mate let the boss be boss and kept referring to him as “my principal”. On the other hand the candidate was secure and confident in himself to allow the running-mate say her piece and be part of the show. The two complemented as opposed to competing with the other.

Not so for the pair of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto. Much as they attempted to put a show of camaraderie in the early days—holding hands and appearing in white shirts and red neckties—you could tell it was all pretense and just for the cameras.

I observed it when the media was invited for breakfast at State House in April 2013 hardly a month after the pair was sworn-in. When he rose to speak, the deputy president completely eclipsed the boss, talking for so long to a point we thought the president wasn’t going to speak. It was easy to think the president wasn’t present and that it was the DP’s function.

Lengthy welcome speech

The trend was also noticeable at national holidays when the DP rose to invite the president. He would give a lengthy “welcome” speech summarising all that was in the president’s written text. It gave impression the DP had read the president’s speech in advance and deliberately went out of his way to take away the thunder from the boss.

A bombastic member of the DP media team even had the guts to state there was no president and deputy president but a shared office called the “presidency”. In other words he was saying UhuRuto was a collegiate of two equals.

It was clear the person who said that had not read what Robert Greene writes to elaborate on the first of his 48 Laws of Power which states: “Never outshine the Master”. 

He writes: “There can be only one sun at a time. Never obscure the sunlight, or rival the sun’s brilliance; rather fade into the sky and find ways to heighten the master star’s intensity.”

Greene goes on to tell story of a 16th century Japanese emperor known as Hideyoshi and his assistant called Sen no Rikyū in whom he had full trust to a point he was invited to reside in the palace.

Sadly the emperor’s assistant allowed it to get to his head and he thought he was the co-emperor. He had a wooden statue made of him and strategically placed inside the palace within clear sight of the royalty who would pass by.

The principal assistant thought he was equal with the Emperor and had same rights. He forgot that his position depended on the Emperor and believed he had earned it on his own. The Emperor had him arrested and hanged. The principal assistant had made the unforgivable miscalculation of his own importance and paid for it with his life!

In a radio interview last year, Jubilee Party vice chair David Murathe who is well wired at State House alleged that in early days of UhuRuto presidency the deputy president equated himself to the boss to a point he would want to know what was in the president’s diary, who he would be meeting and why! He went on to allege the DP deliberately manipulated Jubilee Party nominations in 2017 with intentions to have a line-up that owed allegiance to him and not his boss!

There are many examples of those who came so close to the sun and got burnt. In early days of Moi presidency, two of his close confidants Charles Njonjo and G G Kariuki had such a hold on him to a point they behaved like it was a collegiate presidency. They would even ride in the president’s limousine resulting to a joke that the presidential vehicle was a State House matatu (PSV).

Years later, Stanley Murigo, the then Deputy Comptroller of State House told me that Njonjo and GG would telephone to ask what was in the president’s diary, go to State House uninvited and “plant” themselves in president’s meeting.

As schoolboy, I remember President Moi coming to my home village in Laikipia where G G Kariuki was the area MP. He made a lengthy speech laced with boastful and threatening remarks you would have thought he was the Head of State.

Another time he had editors from a leading newspaper arrested and locked up merely because the newspaper had referred to an unsigned statement from Kanu headquarters as “anonymous’’.

The editors were punished to teach them lesson that the ruling party wasn’t anonymous!

Passports seized

When time came, Njonjo and Kariuki didn’t know what hit them. First the presidential guard was instructed never to allow them near the president’s limousine. Next, a circular was issued to the effect that Cabinet Ministers not step at State House without appointment.

Next, they were fired from the Cabinet, expelled from the only political party Kanu and their passports seized. From riding in the presidential limousine and behaving like co-presidents, they were reduced to political nobodies!

Another one to make the goof of forgetting who the boss is Vice President Dr Josephat Karanja. While President Moi was on a foreign trip to France, he made the mistake of thinking he was the one in charge and demanded to be given security briefs meant for the Head of the State.

Before that, he had asked the Treasury to advance him money to buy golden earrings for his wife who would be accompanying him to a meeting with Queen Elizabeth.   

He too never got to know what hit him. On his return from France, an angry President Moi declared at the airport that he was the President of Kenya even when out of the country. Not long after and in what clearly was choreographed vendetta, politicians in Mount Kenya region held series of rallies to condemn unidentified senior politician allegedly behaving as if he was the president and demanding that colleagues kneel down before him.

Next, Dr Karanja was named in Parliament as the kneel-before-me senior politician, and MPs demanded he resign from government. The following day he was sacked and soon after expelled from the ruling party. Like Njonjo and G G Kariuki he was thrown from grace to grass and made a political nobody.

Responding to a question when he spoke at London’s Chatham House in February, the DP disclosed that upon their re-election in 2017, the president summoned him and told him to the face that he was the president and henceforth wanted to do things differently and define his legacy.

Earlier, a tough-talking president read the riot act to Jubilee MPs whom he told there were no two centres of power and they had better shape up or ship out. He followed it with Executive Order No 1 of 2019 which put responsibility of coordination of government programmes on the Interior CS Dr Fred Matiang’i, effectively reducing the DP to a passenger in the Cabinet.

Postscript: On Thursday, DP Ruto said he will order probe on conduct of his predecessor in event he is elected the next president. Presumably, that will be with intention to open prosecution. Heady stuff that. Ever heard the saying that you don’t show the cow the rope you will use to tie and slaughter it!