Ruto to work away from State House to allow renovation

State House, Nairobi. [File, Standard]

President William Ruto will be away from the 117-year-old State House in Nairobi for two months to allow renovation.

Architects had warned that parts of the expansive colonial structure had become unfit for habitation and recommended the construction of a new building.

However, sources at State House told The Standard that the move was vetoed by the President who insisted that only renovations be done given that building a new presidential residence would cost upward of Sh2 billion.

“A new residence would have cost over Sh2 billion. The President said this is not the right time to spend such an amount with the burden he has of delivering his agenda,” said the source.

In November 2022, two months after the President was sworn in among the supplementary budget presented by the Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro led Budget and Appropriations Committee report to Parliament was an additional Sh2.6 billion and Sh9.9 billion over the increased allocations to State House to finance renovations.

“The president looked at the budgets that were being paid for the use of tents at State House lawns and the figures were outrageous. It had become a cash cow for those at the Interior and Coordination office and the Head of State said this must stop,” said a source.

A new presidential pavilion that can host between 1,000 and 1,500 people has been constructed. The pavilion has offices where the president can host smaller meetings with visiting dignitaries.

Part of the current renovations began immediately after Christmas and targeted the firming up of walls, pillars and sections of the roof. This will not affect the structure or form of the building.

The move has made President Ruto nomad forcing him to oscillate between State Houses and State Lodges across the country.

“He will be staying where it is easy for him to reach the next assignment the following morning. All other State Houses and State Lodges are there for the President and therefore the closure of Nairobi is not a crisis for him,” said another source.

They said the risk of having the Head of State in a construction site had forced his handlers to advise him to choose another base to operate from for about eight weeks.

In the last 10 days, President Ruto has spent time in State House Nakuru and Eldoret State Lodge where he has had the opportunity to operate from his Sugoi home in Uasin Gishu County.

After spending two days in Nakuru he visited Laikipia and Nyandarua. The President heads back to Eldoret State Lodge for events in Elgeyo Marakwet, Uasin Gishu, and Nandi counties before relocating to Kakamega, Kisumu, Sagana State Lodges and later in State House, Mombasa.

When Kenya became a republic, State House was Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s operation base although he commuted daily to his home in Gatundu, Kiambu county, until 1978 when he died his successor, Daniel Arap Moi moved in.

Built in 1907, and sitting on over 700 acres of land, this was first the official residence of the governor of British East Africa when Kenya was a colony within the British Empire as the Government House.

Unlike today where it acts as the residence and office of the Head of State, the governor would have his office in a small building next to Nyayo House at the corner of Uhuru Highway and Kenyatta Avenue now a national monument under Kenya Museums and only go to State House for the night.

Former Mzee Moi’s State House Comptroller Franklin Bett says even during the Moi regime, the building had become old, forcing the former President to build another office for himself and Cabinet meetings.

“I was the deputy State House Comptroller then and my boss Abraham Kiptanui assigned me the job of putting up the new office for the President, we built a replica of State House, and we had noticed that part of the house was getting old,” said Bett.

He said, unlike the old State House which has a timber floor, with the help of the then Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Sally Kosgei, they procured tilling from the United Kingdom that allowed them to have a modern office by 1996.

Bett said apart from the paints and sometimes curtains that suit the preference of the office occupier, not many renovations had been done at the State House.

He said that apart from the State Houses in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Nakuru, there were other eight state lodges; Eldoret, Sagana, Kisumu, Kakamega, Kitale town, Rumuruti, Cheran’gany, Mtito Andei, and Kisii.

“The Cheran’gany one was a Mzungu building that he turned into a state Lodge, the same as the one in Mtito Andei. The Kisii one was a District Commissioner’s building that was turned into a State Lodge. All of them are scattered across the country to provide accommodation to the president whenever he is touring various parts of the country,” said Bett.

He noted that the State Lodge in Rumuruti had been put into question after allegations that it had been grabbed.

“Every District Commissioner’s residence can easily be turned into a presidential State Lodge at the shortest time possible, all the Head of State handlers need is to relocate the DC and free the House,” said Bett.

Two months ago, a parliamentary committee on the National Security Administration Committee chaired by Narok West MP Gabriel Tongoyo recommended renovations at State House, Mombasa, noting that the old building constructed in 1879 as the first governor’s residence had begun wasting away.

“There is urgent need to restore the building and put up a water puffer so that the seawater can stop corroding the building,” said Tongoyo.

Sources the president is keen on improving the state of the House on the Hill noting that since Ruto took over power a year about 28 heads of state and governments had visited.