Ruto, Gachagua avoid infighting claims during city prayer event

President William Ruto and Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua during the National Prayer Breakfast at Safari Park Hotel, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

President William Ruto and Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua did not discuss claims of infighting between them and in the ruling UDA party when they shared the podium at Thurday’s National Prayer Breakfast.

The two leaders instead stuck to the meeting’s theme of ‘hope’ and the power of prayer, making indirect references to their journey together, now going through a rough patch.

Referring to the biblical verse of Matthew 5:9, President Ruto called for unity. “Blessed are the peacemakers - those who unite people, those who bring people together, those who make peace - those qualify to be the children of God,” said Ruto. 

Peacemakers, it appears, have been hard to come by in recent days, particularly in the Kenya Kwanza administration. There have been obvious signs of cracks in the ruling alliance with two camps emerging -- one attacking the Deputy President and another coming to his defence.

“I speak to you leaders, as the father figure of the nation, that we work together and build bridges, and synergy. We have a common destiny. There will be no success of one county against the other. We must pull together and succeed together as one nation,” Ruto said.

Speaking during the prayer breakfast, Gachagua reflected on his partnership with the President, which he said was forged by prayer.

“President Ruto and I were prayed into office by the people of Kenya. Our administration continues to thrive because of prayer,” he said.

Gachagua, too, had a verse to share -- Jeremiah 29:11-14.

“For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not evil to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and I will listen to you and you will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity. I will gather you from all nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive,” read Gachagua.

In the past few weeks, the Deputy President has been the subject of unprecedented attacks from politicians from his Mt Kenya backyard and the Rift Valley who are close allies of the President. 

On Wednesday, Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja joined the bandwagon, accusing the DP of “bullying him for the last two years” and “crying the loudest after one week of criticism”.

Ruto has all the while kept mum, with observers reading his silence as an endorsement of the attacks against his deputy.

The prayer event offered them a chance to put up peaceful front and dispel the claims of bad blood between them. But they didn’t take it.

Ruto and Gachagua were not their usual chatty selves.

For lengthy periods, the high table, occupied by the pair, their spouses, Speakers Moses Wetang’ula (National Assembly) and Amason Kingi (Senate), Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi and National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah, seemed cold.

Ruto and Gachagua walked together into the prayer venue and would occasionally lean to share whispers. But their engagements appeared tense, a far cry from the chemistry they displayed during the election campaigns and early days in office.

There was the briefest eye contact when Gachagua received his boss at the Safari Park Hotel, and the two appeared to avoid each other’s gaze throughout the morning.

But the DP eventually broke the ice with the usual flattery and reflections on how images of his boss holding First Lady Rachel Ruto’s hand in the US had got him, and many Kenyan men, in trouble.

“Our spouses, led by mine, Pastor Dorcas (Rigathi), were demanding that we emulate the President and hold their hands wherever we go,” joked Gachagua, adding that Mudavadi had encountered similar demands.

“I knew that you would solve that challenge for us when you come back... and, this morning, you did just that. As we welcomed you from your car to the holding room... you were walking fast with me chatting as Mama Rachel was trying to catch up with you as we came to this room. So the matter is sorted. That was an American thing,” he added.

And, briefly, there was laughter, with the President jesting that he had been “summoned by the men’s conference” to explain his actions.

Earlier, former Ethiopia Prime Minister Tamrat Layne, the keynote speaker during the event, had urged leaders to maintain the hope that enabled Kenya’s founding fathers to defeat colonialism, even as he challenged them to deliver for the people.

“Kenyan leaders, critically starting from the three arms of government... must stop externalising and look into the deepest corner of their hearts.

“The leaders must start relearning that they are the primary reason for Kenya’s problems, shift their minds and become models for renewing and restoring Kenyans’ shattered hopes,” he said.

“The first and foremost action of the leaders of Kenya must shift their perspective from ego-system to ecosystem.”

Kingi, too, was big on rekindling hope in the face of challenges gripping the nation.

“I am firmly persuaded that there is never a better time to embrace hope, than when we are navigating the open seas of tough circumstances that life inevitably brings our way. As we fellowship here today, we are still nursing the pains of recent national tragedies and setbacks that drastically tested our faith and resolve as a nation,” said Kingi.

Wetang’ula said the nation needed to be hopeful to move into the future.

“As leaders we must inspire hope to our people and we must lift those who are weary to a better future,” he said.

While speaking about hope, Ruto said the virtue, coupled with prayer, had seen the country make strides in the journey towards food security and in avoiding debt default.

“Hope has always been the light that has shone brightest in our darkest times, a beacon that has always guided us through the storms of life. Every time we have been tested as a nation, we may have at times wobbled and even tripped, but we did not fall,” he said.

The national prayer breakfast is an annual event hosted by Parliament.

Leaders of the opposition were absent during the event. Azimio leader Raila Odinga is in the United Kingdom for official and personal reasons while Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka was attending his party’s National Executive Council meeting.