Facing Uhuru: Ruto, Gachagua's about-turn

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) with President William Ruto (centre) and Deputy Rigathi Gachagua during the swearing-in at Kasarani stadium on September 13, 2022. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

After five years of bashing his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta, President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua appear to be having a Damascus moment and are now praising the man they have loved to hate.

Ruto and Gachagua have since 2018 dedicated their energies to demonising the fourth president, whose policies they trashed, and dismissed his politics as misguided, divisive and a threat to democracy.

Building an anti-Kenyatta movement, the duo won the critical vote-rich Mount Kenya by painting Uhuru as a member of dynasties which were unsympathetic to the plight of so-called hustlers. 

However, a year into office, Ruto and Gachagua seem to have taken a 360-degree turn. They are not only embracing his development policies and projects, but have turned into Uhuru’s cheerleaders and pledged to defend him.

While commissioning the locally assembled MV Uhuru II vessel at Kenya Shipyards Limited in Kisumu on Monday, Ruto uncharacteristically praised his predecessor for his foresight. He said his former boss exhibited immense foresight by introducing a refurbishment of the shipyard as well as the construction of a new vessel.

“I must congratulate my predecessor, President Uhuru Kenyatta, for his foresight in coming up with this shipyard refurbishment,” the President said.

“One morning he asked me for us to visit Kisumu and see what the military could do. When we came here, it was a heap of dirt, wreckage and old buildings,” he recalled.

MV Uhuru II was commissioned in August 2022 by Uhuru to complement the old MV Uhuru I built in 1966. The President at the time visited the Kisumu Port to oversee the flotation of the newly refurbished ship while also commissioning the shipyard.

“To see what we are seeing here is phenomenal and I must say both President Kenyatta and the military’s leadership, with a lot of foresight, drove this programme to where we are today,” Ruto said.

MV Uhuru II has capacity of 1,800 tonnes while MV Uhuru I has a capacity of 1,260 tonnes, bringing the vessel capacity at Kisumu port to over 3,060 tonnes.

Protect Uhuru

A week ago, Gachagua stunned the nation when he declared he would henceforth protect the former president and forbade politicians from insulting the man he served as a personal assistant in 2002.

Equally strange was Gachagua’s pronouncement that he would seek Uhuru to unite residents of Mt Kenya.

The DP took every opportunity after the 2017 election to lambast Uhuru and on a number of times tore into the Kenyatta family painting it as a source of pain to Mt Kenya region.

During an interview with Inooro FM, Gachagua said he was ready to meet the former President, whom he described as “our son” a departure from the past when he accused him of all manner of ills and had vowed to rescue dairy farmers from exploitation in reference to a dairy processor owned by the former president’s first family.

“The elections are over, it is time to gather and unite our people including those that opposed us in last year’s General Election since they are still our people. We have agreed that no leader will pelt stones to the former President because he is still our son and although we faced each other during elections, that period is over and he is our son,” he said.

“When the right time comes, I will definitely reach out to him,” said Gachagua.

In July, Uhuru came out to castigate state agents after they raided the residence of his son Jomo in Nairobi at a time when the security of former First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta was withdrawn.

The Kenya Kwanza government accused the former President of funding opposition’s mass protests called by Azimio leader Raila Odinga. On a number if occasions, Uhuru indicated he did not support his former deputy, Ruto.

Ruto wooed Jubilee MPs including Nominated MP Sabina Chege who was propped up to replace the former president as Jubilee party leader.

Political scene

Last week, Gachagua said the former president had kept off the political scene in line with the wishes of the community leaders who have always wanted him to retire with the respect he deserved.

“For three to four months he (Uhuru) has lived like an elder and a community leader and that is why I have directed all our MPS to respect him and let him enjoy his retirement,” he said.

The DP’s change of heart also comes months after goons who many claimed had the blessings of Kenya Kwanza leaders, invaded the expansive the Kenyatta family farm, Northlands in Ruiru where they felled trees, sub-divided the land and stole over 2,500 goats.

The invasion followed a raid on Raila’s company by goons on a day of anti-government protests. The twin attack created a picture of a divided Mt Kenya cannibalising itself given that some politicians had warned of a possible invasion of the property.

Gachagua’s decision to extend an olive branch to Uhuru, could however be a subtle political move to benefit from his former boss’s networks to help him tighten his grip on Mt Kenya.

Jubilee Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni welcomed the DP’s move to reconcile with the former President. He said Gachagua should explain to Ruto why he wants to reconcile with Uhuru and indicated that Mt Kenya will have a candidate in 2027.

Could the President and his deputy have realised the reality of being in the steering wheel? Political pundits are wont to decipher the sudden change of their political hearts.

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