President William Ruto’s rich bank of gratitude spread across the country Central, unmatched charisma and a monolithic tribal vote behind him is what saved him from inevitable betrayal in 2017 and 2022.
In revelations contained in Defence CS Aden Duale’s book For The Record: The inside story of power politics, law-making and leadership in Kenya, Ruto was almost dropped by his bosom buddy, retired President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017.
Duale, a man who stuck by Ruto in all his tribulations recounts that long before the 2017 re-election moment, Kenyatta’s allies had changed mood as soon as President Kenyatta’s International Criminal Court (ICC) case was dropped.
“As soon as he got off the hook, the coterie of cronies around him with a grudge against Ruto began scheming against Ruto. However, there was yet another camp around Uhuru that knew without Ruto, Uhuru was toast in his re-election bid. They prevailed upon Uhuru to call the hardliners to order,” he writes in the book.
When Ruto’s case at the ICC was also dropped, he set out to make friends across the country, riding on his Deputy President role, and the idea of one political party - Jubilee Party. Duale says there had been murmurs that Kenyatta was shopping for another running mate in the run-up to 2017.
First, he cut Ruto’s influence by drowning his appointees in the cabinet - Davies Chirchir, Kambi Kazungu and Felix Koskei over graft claims. Kenyatta administration bureaucrats and family started toying with the idea of replacing Ruto with either Eugene Wamalwa or Kalonzo Musyoka as a running mate.
Duale writes that politicians around the President opposed the idea of dropping Ruto because it looked practically impossible to win re-election without him.
“They looked at the electoral maths in 2013 and the troubles of the Jubilee administration in its first term, and realised they had no one with the charisma, energy and political capital to match Ruto’s, especially in what promised to be a gruelling re-election campaign,” he writes.
However, it was Jubilee Vice Chair David Murathe’s statement that rattled Ruto’s camp. Murathe, a bosom buddy of Kenyatta from their Kanu days said the President’s true colours would be seen after the 2017 re-election, and that he would be ‘different.’
“Right now, he is still wooing the chic (proverbial damsel). In the next administration, it will be bare knuckles,” Murathe was quoted saying.
Ruto’s team approached the re-election with that awareness, of an impending betrayal. They still doubted that Kenyatta would have the audacity to drop his number two, focusing on his re-election and expanding their bank of gratitude.
“Ruto, politically smarter and agile, had a great rapport with the majority of parliamentarians, including members of the opposition. Plus, many of those vying on the Jubilee ticket, across the country, owed him (Ruto) a debt of gratitude. They were unlikely to betray him to please the President,” Duale says.
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He says Ruto cultivated loyalty in “tangible, human connections.”
“You work with him once on something, you will want to do it again. He kept his word.”
True to Murathe’s prophecy, as soon as Kenyatta was declared the winner in 2017, his colours changed, immediately. Their main challenger, Raila Odinga, had barely moved to the Supreme Court to challenge the results when Kenyatta assembled the Jubilee MPs at State House.
“When we arrived at State House for the meeting, things had changed. There was a table with three chairs- one for Uhuru, another for Ruto and the third for the Jubilee Secretary General Raphael Tuju. The rest of us sat on the other side of the tent, packed tightly together. The tension between the President and his Deputy was palpable,” Duale writes.
He says he expected the President to welcome them, and congratulate the newly elected first-term MPs. But the President was in no mood for that, instead hurling expletives at them, and warning them that the election season was over.
He was going to conduct business in a manner quite different from the first term. He was the President and wanted the government to work. He had no time for politics and if they wanted to discuss politics, Ruto was the man to go to, he told them.
“It was shocking. I watched as Ruto squirmed in his seat, successfully masking his emotions with a gentle smile and a nod of the head. As the DP, he understood his position in the political hierarchy. He did not want to rattle his boss. This was Uhuru’s show, his final term,” Duale writes.
In the foreword to the book, Ruto confirms the events of that day, saying the president went ballistic, read the riot act and made it clear that he, the DP, would be at his mercy in the second term: “There was only one centre of power, he said. It disturbed me, but that was the job - serving at the pleasure of the president. I took it like a man.”
When he was done talking, the President walked away without giving MPs to ask questions. The MPs, especially the newly elected ones, hang on there baffled, wondering where all that was coming from. Duale says he later learned that the President had gotten wind of discussions among the newly elected MPs from his backyard who had written him off in succession arithmetic.
When the Supreme Court overturned the win, Kenyatta had no face. At State House, he was marooned, fuming, and giving up. Duale says the way the President interpreted the verdict was that the Supreme Court had said he had not only stolen the election but had also been caught in the act.
“Now the whole world knew he was unpopular, he thought. A man big on public perception, he wanted somewhere safe to hide his face: ‘I am going back to Ichaweri,’ he told Ruto, referring to his rural village in Gatundu South,” Duale writes.
In the run-up to last year’s election, Ruto spoke of this moment, saying he almost slapped his boss. Besides, Kenyatta knew he had already jumped the gun with the earlier meeting, during which he antagonised the new MPs and Ruto’s camp.
The fear in Kenyatta’s camp was that Ruto would walk away and hand victory to their enemy, Raila who would proceed to crush him. The President called another meeting of Jubilee’s elected leaders, and when they arrived at State House, the set up was reset.
“All parliamentary leaders sat on the same table with the President. When Uhuru spoke, his tone had changed. He told the leaders how important they were to the people, and talked of the need to work together. He was the man on the ropes. But he had messed up the first time, and the leaders, already sworn in, were not quite keen to go back to the grassroots for fresh campaigns,” he writes.
If only Raila knew what was happening in Jubilee’s big house, history would have been changed.
Rather than seize the moment, Raila’s team began playing poker with the repeat poll, coming up with “irreducible minimums” for participating in the repeat election.
Duale says it was obvious given the 60-day timeline, it was impossible for the electoral commission to yield to the demands for new printer of ballots, new supplier of election technology, electoral commissioners to be fired and international experts to run the election.
Just when the President was capitulating, and was losing support of his ground soldiers, the opposition handed him a free pass after boycotting the poll. Kenyatta was not done yet, and revisited his unfinished business with Ruto once he was sworn in for his second term.
He named the cabinet without his DP, and proceeded to undertake a ‘handshake’ with Raila. The coming together of the handshake duo tightened the screws against Ruto, leading to Kenyatta eventually endorsing Raila for 2022.
But Ruto had already read the signs of the times, and put his house in order under United Democratic Alliance (UDA).