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Kenyan fake murder plot threatens Ruto in more ways than one

By Morris Kiruga, in Nairobi
Posted on Thursday, 11 July 2019 22:17

Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta (L) and deputy president William Ruto (R) are not singing from the same songbook. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Kenya has been wrapped up in a case of political skullduggery after President Uhuru Kenyatta went so far as to call the FBI over a disturbing letter hinting at a murder plot against deputy president William Ruto.

The letter, describing a high-profile clandestine meeting where several of President Kenyatta’s cabinet secretaries discussed ways to stop deputy president Ruto’s 2022 presidential campaign, was circulated on Twitter and other social media platforms.

It read as a written report to the President, in which an unnamed cabinet secretary detailed why he/she wanted out of meetings that senior government officials from Kenyatta’s Mt. Kenya backyard have been holding to shore up his support.

  • The author wrote that what worried him/her the most was “the third agenda”, detailing that “the PS [Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho] told the meeting that DP must be stopped but more worrying was the allusion to the late Cabinet Minister and former Vice President Prof. George Saitoti’s plane crash.”
  • Saitoti, who died in a helicopter crash in June 2012, was considered a frontrunner for the 2013 presidential elections. The crash, in which five other people died, is suspected to have been more than an accident.

After reading the letter, the Deputy President confronted the President, who invited the FBI to investigate alongside Kenya’s criminal investigators. The joint investigation found the letter to be a fake and traced it to a cyber café in Karen, an upmarket part of Nairobi where many leading Kenyans, including Ruto, live.

Who was the faker?

The finger is pointed at State House digital director Dennis Itumbi, who appeared in court on Wednesday and was released on a KSh100,000 ($972) bond after investigators sought more time to gather evidence.

  • Itumbi is a journalist and blogger who built his public career on leaks during the years of the International Criminal Court looking into Kenyatta, Ruto and others.
  • Just two days before, Itumbi had castigated a newspaper for writing that the letter had been traced to the Deputy President’s communications team.

Itumbi is likely to be charged with making a false document, though there is a push for a more serious charge of treason for imagining the death of a sitting deputy president.

Four cabinet secretaries named in the letter as attendees of the meeting were questioned on 24 June: Joseph Mucheru (ICT), Sicily Kariuki (Health), James Macharia (Transport) and Peter Munya (Trade).

  • Munya, while confirming that there had been a meeting, said the allegations of a murder plot were “unsubstantive and intended to portray [us] as criminals”.
  • “At no time have we ever met anywhere […] to plan to kill the Deputy President, or any other person for that matter,” he added.
  • Interior principal secretary Karanja Kibicho said that everything in the letter is “a figment of the imagination”, “utter nonsense” and “unfounded”.

Itumbi’s arrest on 3 July brought the story full circle. Although he technically works for the presidency, he and several of his colleagues were pushed out of State House last year and have been working from the deputy president’s office.

  • He is accused of posting the letter to a WhatsApp group affiliated with Ruto’s supporters, from whom the investigation is seeking statements.
  • When he first appeared in court, Itumbi said he had video and audio recordings of the meeting, although he has not been allowed to play them yet. Several of Ruto’s allies have also insisted that the recordings should be made public.

Ruto’s allies want the murder plot allegations probed and consider Itumbi’s arrest a distraction. Kenyatta’s allies, on the other hand, want Ruto held personally responsible since investigations have traced the alarming letter back to his office. In the middle of what has fast become a scandal are 2022 politics, Kenyatta’s legacy – particularly among his core support base – and the growing cracks in Kenya’s ruling party.

  • While one newspaper reported that the President had called off such cabinet secretary meetings, another quoted Munya, who chairs the meetings, saying that it was untrue.
  • Neither Kenyatta nor Ruto have publicly commented on the letter or the investigations, but the prompt investigation and the FBI invitation indicates they took its contents seriously.

Kenya has a dark history of political assassinations – the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Tom Mboya, a young and ambitious cabinet minister in post-independent Kenya’s first government, was on 5 July this year.

Bottom line: While political tensions tend to heighten in the lead up to election years – and the past three elections had more than their fair share of fake news – this most recent case is a scandal both Kenyatta and Ruto probably want to move on from as fast as possible.

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