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Can Kenya’s Catholic Bishops end the cold war between Kenyatta and Ruto?

By Jeff Otieno
Posted on Wednesday, 29 September 2021 13:39

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 September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

After years of a political cold war between Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, the clergy is now offering to reconcile the two to prevent further violence between supporters. Is it too little too late?

In 2014, Kenyatta appointed Ruto as acting president after the International Criminal Court (ICC) ordered him to attend a status conference on his crimes-against-humanity case in The Hague.

The two had won the fiercely-contested presidential election a year earlier, despite facing trial at the ICC for their alleged role in the post-election violence that engulfed the country in 2007, leaving 1,300 people dead and 600,000 homeless.

Kenyatta had asked the court to allow him to attend the conference virtually or be represented by his lawyers, but the court rejected the request maintaining that he must appear in person – a decision that irked him and his supporters.

“Let it not be said that I am attending the status conference as the president of Kenya. So, to all those who are concerned that my personal attendance of the status conference compromises the sovereignty of our people or sets a precedence for the attendance of presidents before the court be assured this is not the case,” the president told parliament before signing an executive order appointing Ruto as acting president  for 48-hours, while he was away in the Netherlands.

In a show of trust in his deputy, the president handed over the instruments of power, including the presidential limousine, to his deputy before leaving the country.

Upon his return, the president showered his deputy with praise, saying the respect of Kenya had remained intact while he was away. “I had no fear because I know we work closely with my brother (Ruto). Why fear your colleague? We have to learn to trust one another,” the president told a crowd that turned out to welcome him back home.

Fast forward to 2021, the bonhomie that existed between the two is long gone. They no longer appear in public wearing similar-colour bespoke suits, exchanging niceties or giving each other high-fives.

Deteriorating relationship

Instead, they accuse each other of being responsible for the deteriorating relationship and the ills bedeviling the government.