Kenya’s broken bromance

By Honoré Banda in Nairobi
Posted on Friday, 8 April 2016 15:12

The political friendship between President Uhuru Kenyatta and deputy president William Ruto has been one of circumstance. The pair joined together in the unlikely but victorious Jubilee electoral alliance in 2013, despite Ruto having supported Kenyatta’s bitter rival Raila Odinga in the previous poll, and the impact of the post-electoral violence of 2007 and 2008, where the Kalenjin – Ruto’s ethnic group – had massacred members of Kenyatta’s Kikuyu ethnic group.

She [Waiguru] better stop playing games with the theft of public funds in the false hope that those who stole will escape punishment

Nevertheless, it had seemed the pursuit of power healed all wounds, and Kenyans watched agog after the unveiling of the first cabinet as the two men left the dispatch box hand in hand and wearing matching outfits.

The ‘bromance’ – a play on words to describe a close friendship between two men – did not take long to unravel. The first bone of contention was the trials both men faced at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Both were accused of organising elements of the post-election violence that claimed more than 1,000 lives, charges that both deny.

Kenyatta’s case was dropped in December 2014, but Ruto’s continued until 5 April, creating tension between them. Kalenjin community leaders regularly voiced their concern that while Kenyatta used state power to clear his name, he had abandoned their man.

Don’t mess with my man

Member of parliament (MP) Johana Ngeno tells The Africa Report: “We are telling Uhuru that we elected him and Ruto so that they can sort out their cases at The Hague. How come Uhuru is now off the hook and our son, William Ruto has remained there? We know who fixed Ruto. We now have to tell Uhuru that he should not look for votes in Rift Valley so long as you have not helped Ruto win his case.”

Beyond tensions over the ICC, the Ruto and Kenyatta camps have used corruption allegations as ammunition in their largely behind- the-scenes conflict. Both sides claim the other is engaged in massive looting of state resources. Serious problems erupted in March 2015.

President Kenyatta tabled in parliament a ‘list of shame’ containing 175 names of corrupt individuals in government. According to a top Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) official, Ruto was not aware of the list and only had a glimpse of the names a few minutes before Kenyatta released it.

There was a reason for keeping Ruto in the dark: most of those on the list were his top allies. These included Ruto’s chief of staff, Maryanne Keitany, and cabinet secretaries Davis Chirchir, Felix Koskei and Kazungu Kambi.

Several of the top civil servants and parastatal chiefs affected were appointments from the United Republican Party (URP), Ruto’s side of the ruling Jubilee coalition. On Uhuru’s side of the coalition, there were just two major names: cabinet secretaries Michael Kamau and Charity Ngilu.

The URP hit back. A key Kenyatta ally and confidante, Anne Waiguru, was soon embroiled in a corruption scandal involving the National Youth Service (NYS), with URP MP Alfred Keter laying an impeachment motion against her.

President Kenyatta dispatched spokesman Manoah Esipisu to defend her, and the EACC cleared her in record time. She was, however, eventually forced to fall on her sword in November 2015 after four months of calls for her resignation by opposition MPs, led by Raila Odinga.

Corruption at the heart of it

If this were just a small spat between rival leaders, the Jubilee coalition could perhaps limp on. But Kenya faced administrative gridlock. Kenyatta and Ruto were locked in a stand-off for eight months over a reshuffle to replace dropped cabinet secretaries. This was a period where the currency weakened drastically and a series of bank failures shook public confidence in the financial system.

And the feud now continues. When Waiguru implicated Ruto’s allies in the NYS scandal in a February 2016 affidavit, Ruto was furious. The NYS affair has revealed the proxies in the conflict. Ruto called Kenyatta, who was in Israel, to protest at what he said was unfair targeting of his people by The National Alliance (TNA), Kenyatta’s side of the Jubilee coalition.

That evening, Ruto assembled his trusted troops at his office in Nairobi’s Karen area to come up with a strategy to counter claims made in court that top URP leaders, led by majority leader in Parliament Aden Duale, Ruto’s personal assistant Farouk Kibet, finance cabinet secretary Henry Rotich and Ruto’s close associate Kipchumba Murkomen looted the NYS.

At the meeting, it was evident that the gloves were off. Attendees argued that Waiguru’s affidavit had been a TNA stitch-up. The three-year bromance between Ruto and Kenyatta had suffered a direct hit.

By targeting his close associates, Ruto felt Waiguru was acting on instructions of Kenyatta or his advisers at State House. Kenyatta’s key advisers include the president’s political adviser and fixer Nancy Gitau, constitutional affairs adviser Abdikadir Mohamed and Njee Muturi, the solicitor general.

Interviewed by The Africa Report, Murkomen shielded Ruto from exposure. “I don’t see myself as an annexure of the boss. If that was the intention to link Ruto with the scam, it has failed miserably. I don’t want to imagine suggestions that our coalition colleagues may be in the loop.”

Duale took to Twitter to land his blows: “She [Waiguru] better stop playing games with the theft of public funds in the false hope that those who stole will escape punishment.”

The nomination of new ministers opened another battle front. Serving MPs were named in the new cabinet and were now required by law to quit their parliamentary seats. For Charles Keter, nominated to the energy portfolio, this triggered a by-election in his Kericho County senate seat.

Kalenjin calculations

That was a political problem for Ruto, as the Kalenjin political community – upset by his decision to merge the URP into the newly formed Jubilee Alliance Party (JAP) in 2015 – partly swung its weight behind the Kenya African National Union, the historically Kalenjin party of former president Daniel arap Moi, who had been a political godfather to Ruto.

Dissatisfied URP faction members say they were herded into the merged party where their bargaining power for jobs, development and resources are diminished. Moi’s son Gideon and former Ruto ally (but no relation) Isaac Ruto are behind the rebellion in the Rift Valley, where Kericho is located, which could dent the deputy president’s chances of succeeding Kenyatta as president.

Ruto has managed to put out the fire, for now: the 7 March Kericho by-election was settled in favour of JAP candidate Aaron Cheruiyot. But the bromance watchers will be looking to see if Kenyatta’s proxies play on the Rift Valley uprising in the future.

What Ruto has not managed to do is create a convincing reason for Kenyatta to keep him beyond the 2017 national elections. The political calculation that Kenyatta will make is similar to that which got him into power: using Ruto to bring the Kalenjin vote to create an unassailable advantage.

But Ruto, keen on succeeding his boss, will require Kenyatta to consolidate the Kikuyu vote in return – one of the reasons he was so keen on merging the two strands of the Jubilee alliance into the JAP. Given the parlous state of relations between the pair, will Kenyatta want to repay the favour? ●

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