Kenya: William Ruto’s deepening frustrations and the 2022 reality 

By Son Gatitu

Posted on Wednesday, 25 August 2021 08:10
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto leave after delivering a statement to members of media at State House in Nairobi
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto in happier times. REUTERS/Baz Ratner - RC1C84AF2AB0

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta has dared his nine-year deputy William Ruto to quit government, complaining of months and years of criticism levelled against the administration. Kenyatta’s call joins a chorus of those opposed to Ruto’s ascendancy to the presidency. It also follows a campaign of humiliation against the vice president and his entourage.
Is it time for Ruto to call it quits - or will he plough on with his ambitions?

In a rare interview with media editors in Nairobi, Kenyatta broke his silence and called for his deputy’s resignation; the first time he is doing so despite several provocations by Ruto. “I have an agenda that I was elected on, and that work has to continue,” Kenyatta said on Monday 23. “It would be the honourable thing – that if you are not happy with it – that you would step aside and allow those who want to move on [to] move on and then take your agenda to the people.”

In early August, Ruto – while speaking on a local radio station – distanced himself from the government’s second term programmes. “When I was the substantive deputy of Uhuru Kenyatta between 2013 and 2017, there was a lot of progress in Kenya. After 2017, I was asked to step aside and some other people would help the president,” Ruto said, adding that he has no idea why he was alienated and that the president knows best.

On his part, Kenyatta claimed ignorance. “I have no idea of what transpired,” he said. “He [Ruto] is probably trying to create a (political) base for himself, which is his right and I have never denied him that. But it is unfortunate […] the manner he is doing it. By going against the same government he is serving, I think it is wrong.”

Ruto’s changing fortunes

At 54, Ruto stands the chance of becoming the second youngest president of Kenya should he win the elections next year. Kenyatta, 59, has been president since 2013.

The past few years have been difficult for Ruto. He has moved from being the most important contact in government to being locked out of state operations and consultations; his place taken up by newfound loyalists of the president, among them former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

I suspect Ruto is driving towards resignation, but he is doing it in such a manner [that] he will get maximum political capital from it…

It has been a protracted struggle for Ruto who has continually thrown barbs at Raila, indirectly targeting Kenyatta. The president has however defended his alliance with Raila saying it was necessary to tame the 2017 post-election tensions. Kenyatta and Raila agreed to bury the hatchet on 9 March 2018. Kenyatta’s dare, that Ruto should quit, is a culmination of this handshake deal.

Taming a moving deputy

Ruto was recently denied the chance to travel to Uganda, an incident that may have inched him closer to saying ‘enough is enough’.

On 2 August 2021, Ruto went to the Wilson Airport in Nairobi. He was to travel alongside three MPs, a Turkish citizen and three other individuals. Ruto was kept waiting at the airport for nearly five hours then told he could not travel because he lacked a clearance certificate.

For Ruto though, it has never been necessary for him to seek travel clearance. “What law is this? I have been DP for the past nine years. I have traveled to Uganda, Rwanda and DRC on official and private travels. I have never been required to produce any clearance from anywhere.”

Karanja Kibicho, the interior principal secretary and accounting officer in charge of immigration, who is stationed at the office of the president, later told the media that as per regulations, every member of the cabinet as well as senior government officials require travel clearance. “It is his word against the regulations,” Kibicho said.

It would later emerge that Harun Aydin – the Turkish citizen in Ruto’s entourage – was a person of interest. Aydin had proceeded to Uganda while Ruto returned home.

On 7 August, Aydin returned to Nairobi from Kampala to a rude welcome. He was immediately detained by officers from the Antiterrorism Police Unit (ATPU) for the weekend. Despite efforts by lawyers and Turkish embassy officials to secure his release, he had to spend two nights in custody.

Media outlets had reported that Aydin would be presented in court on the morning of 9 August, but that never happened. It would later emerge that he was forced to return to Turkey in a negotiated deal with Turkish officials, saving him the embarrassment of deportation.

Government vs Ruto

Interior minister Fred Matiang’i, a right-hand man of Kenyatta and one of Ruto’s critics, later told a parliamentary committee on national security that Aydin had exhibited criminal behavior. “His behavior is one consistent with someone involved in money laundering,” Matiang’i said. “Money laundering and terrorism are joined at the hip. He has left the country twice (sic) without a stamp of having arrived in the country on his passport. This means for two times he was sneaked into the country.”

I will not allow my deputy to be humiliated like […] me…

The deputy president had a few days earlier dismissed talk that Aydin was a terror suspect. “I am the deputy president of Kenya. I cannot associate with terrorists and I know what I am doing.” Ruto said he was a foreign investor scouting for opportunities in Kenya and Uganda. “We must support our business people. I have done my best to look for investments for our country and region. You want to destroy our country merely because you are fighting your political wars. Why don’t you direct the political wars […] to the right people?”

Ruto was addressing local leaders in Garissa, North Eastern Kenya and his sentiments were seen as a veiled attack on his boss.

Matiang’i deconstructed Ruto’s narrative saying Aydin had no investment in Kenya in his name, despite having been issued with a work permit in June 2021. “He (Aydin) said he was working in the energy sector. We have discovered he provided a dummy contract,” Matiang’i told the security committee.

A humiliated deputy

Ruto was humiliated by government officials that he and Kenyatta picked for appointment. So much so that when Aydin landed in turkey, Ruto said on Twitter: “Just talked & apologised on behalf of GoK (government of Kenya) to Aydin Harun, now in Turkey, who was politically arrested, tortured & falsely profiled as a ‘terrorist’ but later asked to fly out not to shame those involved. Political pettiness is expensive/dangerous & will destroy our economy. SHAME(sic).”

Matiang’i told the parliamentary committee that the government had not and would not apologise as the decision to have Aydin return to Turkey had been through consensus with Turkish officials.

Lost power grip

This was the continuation of a litany of frustrations Ruto has faced in the hands of a government he helped constitute. He recently spoke on Inooro FM, a local radio station that broadcasts in Kikuyu (Kenyatta’s ethnic language), how his role has been transferred to Matiang’i.

“When he (Kenyatta) decided that my roles be taken to Matiangi’s office, I did not complain. I said let it be,” Ruto said. “Unfortunately those that got that role, […] have not performed as desired. That’s why our second term agenda is [not] visible.”

This was the first time Ruto was acknowledging that indeed he had been structurally sidelined from government.

In January 2019, Kenyatta appointed Matiang’i to chair a committee, comprising all cabinet secretaries, to coordinate government programmes. The only other person who chairs a meeting of all ministers is the president. Matiang’i was required to report directly to the president, effectively edging Ruto out of state operations.

In October 2020, Jubilee party’s secretary general Raphael Tuju – who also sits in cabinet – announced that Ruto was banned from accessing their headquarters in Nairobi. Kenyatta is the Jubilee party leader while Ruto is the deputy. Ruto believes that for Tuju – his junior – to make such a bold announcement, it had to have been approved by his boss.

“I will not allow my deputy to be humiliated like […] me,” Ruto says. “There are some who say that it’s just like what happened to other vice presidents, Moi, Kibaki… We must stop that nonsense.”

Is it time to surrender?

In less than 12 months, Kenya will hold a general election and up until 2018, it had been anticipated that Kenyatta would back his deputy of nine years. The humiliation that Ruto has suffered during his second term has made it clear that Kenyatta’s aspirations are elsewhere.

Kenyatta has been holding talks with Raila and other opposition leaders like Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetangula. Raila is highly suspected of being Kenyatta’s preferred candidate but will not admit it, just yet. “It has nothing to do with his (Raila’s) candidacy. This is all propaganda build around to poison people’s minds.”

If you are pushed out, you leave. We cannot be treated to endless lamentations by a whole deputy president.

Herman Manyora, a political commentator in Nairobi, believes that Ruto is buying time. “I suspect Ruto is driving towards resignation; but he is doing it in such a manner [that] he will get maximum political capital from it. A series of [incidents] where he is being humiliated and he gains sympathy, then finally one […] may happen and he says ‘enough is enough’. He will move out with a bang.”

Ruto has been building a coalition of politicians around himself, most of whom have fallen out with the president. However, Opiyo Wandayi – an MP from Nyanza region, under Raila’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) – believes Ruto is merely playing victim.

“If you say that you have been tormented so much and no one else should suffer what you have suffered, ask yourself, what did your predecessors do when they were tormented? Some of them resigned to go and oppose government from outside,” he said.

Disowning the system

Ruto’s criticism of the government has grown over the years. He recently questioned a guns factory launched by the president in April 2021, taking issue with the fact that the KSh4bn ($36.5m) project – with potential to create a thousand indirect jobs – only created 100 direct jobs.

“Had we put the KSh4bn in a manufacturing project in the informal sector, we would have created 20,000 jobs.” The funds, Ruto said, “would have given us [Kenyans] 5,000 jobs in [the] housing sector. We need to change policy to invest where you can create more job opportunities.”

Wandayi however criticised Ruto saying: “If you are pushed out, you leave. We cannot be treated to endless lamentations by a whole deputy president.”

Ruto’s political backers believe Ruto must stay put until the end of the term and not yield to Kenyatta’s perceived machinations. Gladys Boss, an MP from Ruto’s home county of Uasin Gishu in Rift Valley, says previous deputy presidents may have quit based on the nature of their positions. “Those who walked out that time were appointed officials not elected,” Boss said. “The deputy president was elected to that position. Only Kenyans can remove him from that position.”

Kamotho Waiganjo, a constitutional lawyer in Nairobi, says though he does not believe that Ruto’s alienation and Matiang’i’s elevation were the right reaction to differences within the presidency, he does not agree with Ruto’s defiance.

“Collective responsibility demands that if you have issues and are in government, you are bound by those decisions. You cannot be in that government and continue to attack. Even if the constitution does not stop you, there is a principle of collective responsibility.”

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