How Ruto is calculating the path to powerful presidency

President William Ruto at his home in Sugoi, Uasin Gishu County,  August 2020. [DPCS]

An all-out offensive against the Judiciary has revealed President William Ruto's desire to have his way without much friction.

Over the last few days, he has cut the figure of a frustrated president, who may not find the concept of having his policies questioned enticing.

As he posted yesterday on X, Dr Ruto views adverse judgments against some of his policies as "sabotage by corrupt judicial officers", whom he cares not to mention.

In an ideal world, Ruto would implement his programmes without resistance, as he hinted on Tuesday when he directed that a road construction project halted by the courts go on, after ordering his principal secretary to look for funds stating that he would not "wait for these people (the courts)". 

And for his remarks, vowing to defy court orders by "corrupt" judicial officers, Ruto has been accused of seeking to establish a dictatorship where his word would be the law.

"Having captured Parliament, Ruto now wants to intimidate, subdue and capture the Judiciary... Ruto wants to establish an absolute dictatorship," former Prime Minister Raila Odinga said on Wednesday.

Opposition figures have warned that the president risks inviting anarchy if he is to take on the Judiciary. As deputy president, Ruto warned of similar consequences if court orders were to be ignored, with a video clip of the same widely shared yesterday. In the clip, Ruto warned action against then-public officials who defied court orders, which he said were not mere "pieces of paper".

"We want every public servant to understand that the basis of our democracy and nationhood is the respect of the rule of law. The slide to anarchy and confusion and dictatorship starts when we do not respect the rule of law," Ruto said in the undated clip.

It is no secret that Ruto seeks to consolidate power around him, with a raft of actions, including policy changes, promising his Executive unmatched power in recent history at the detriment of constitutional institutions.

He already controls Parliament, where his policies are endorsed without as much as a whimper. That is courtesy of the majority he enjoys in the bicameral House after a sustained onslaught on the opposition benches, where he continues to fish allies.

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga. [File, Standard]

Observers have termed Parliament "an appendage" of the Executive, which he has been accused of controlling single-handedly, mostly because of his hands-on style.

Protests by the Raila-led opposition have done little to deter Ruto's forays in their coalition. Further, street protests have been ruthlessly thwarted by a police service still firmly under the Executive's grip.

Several attempts by Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya to hold demonstrations were scuttled after the president stated he would not allow protests. And the police would outlaw the said protests even when they were notified, as is required by the law.

Signs that the police service served under the Executive's whims were clear when the Inspector General Japhet Koome-led security agency turned a blind eye as looters raided business premises belonging to Raila and former President Uhuru Kenyatta's families during last year's protests.

When he assumed office in 2022, Ruto vowed that the criminal justice system would not be "weaponised" against political foes. But arresting opposition politicians for convening demonstrations, then dropping charges against them when Ruto and Raila agreed on an initial truce, told a different story.

In an op-ed on Al Jazeera, journalist Patrick Gathara warned that parliamentary majority, and by extension controlling State entities, does not equate to popular legitimacy. 

"...the humbling of would-be autocrats has been a running theme of Kenyan history over the past 30 years. And it is one Ruto would do well to pay attention to. The ability to command the loyalty of a police force that can kill and brutalise your perceived enemies and a compliant, corrupt parliament that can give your oppression the veneer of law, in the end, will only delay an inevitable reckoning with the people," Gathara said last July.

Perhaps the clearest indication of the president's intention to amass sweeping powers is in the law changes that he has proposed in recent months. A key player in Ruto's plan has been Head of Public Service Felix Koskei, who has a visibly elevated status compared to his predecessors. Koskei could soon be the custodian of the State seal emblem, currently held by the State Law Office headed by Attorney General Justin Muturi.

Attorney General Justin Muturi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The proposal, contained in the National Government Administration Laws (Amendment) Bill 2023, will see Muturi, charged with offering the government legal advice, sidestepped in State engagements.

Recent reports have indicated that the AG has been sidelined in the Kenya Kwanza administration, with some State-sponsored Bills developed without his input.

 Ruto is seemingly following his predecessor's lead, who faced accusations of ignoring advice from former AGs.

The State is also seeking to clip some powers of the National Land Commission (NLC) through a Bill tabled in Parliament by National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung'wah.

The Land Laws (Amendment) Bill seeks to bypass the NLC in the compulsory acquisition of public land on behalf of the national and county governments, granting the Lands Cabinet Secretary such powers.