Kenya 2022: Ruto goes to war with the media and attacks ‘deep state’

By Son Gatitu
Posted on Monday, 27 June 2022 12:55, updated on Tuesday, 28 June 2022 11:37

Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto attends a presidential campaign rally in Nairobi
Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto, of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA), reacts as he attends a campaign rally after presenting his candidacy for the forthcoming presidential race, at the Kamukunji grounds in Nairobi, Kenya, June 4, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto is a man who believes he has the best chance to succeed his boss of nine years President Uhuru Kenyatta. During his meteoric rise, he has turned the heat on institutions that he believes stand in his way. Like US President Donald Trump before him, Ruto accuses the media of protecting the 'deep state' and the system. Is he justified? Or is this a populist pose?

For the past four years William Ruto has told his supporters how he doesn’t believe the deep state exists, and even if it did, his coalition with the people would surmount the hurdles planted in his way.

“They are threatening us that there’s a system, a deep state, that there are people who will rig us out even if you [Kenyans] vote in whatever manner […],”Ruto said in 2021. “We are waiting for those people, we are waiting for that deep state.”

He wants to label his main opponent Raila Odinga’s campaign as a state project, linking him to President Kenyatta who now chairs Raila’s sponsor political vehicle, the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition political party.

With the race now down to four including senior lawyer David Mwaure Waihiga and former spy and lawyer Professor George Luchiri Wajackoya, the battle remains largely between Ruto and Odinga.

Targeting the messenger

As he walked to the Bomas of Kenya to be cleared by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) boss Wafula Chebukati on 4 June, Ruto had a clear agenda.

“When some media houses for example Citizen (TV) give ten minutes to our competitors and they give us one minute, it flies in the face of integrity, fairness and balance,” Ruto told Chebukati.

For months now the Ruto campaign has consistently attacked the TV channel owned by media mogul S.K. Macharia, an ardent supporter of Odinga.

“When the Daily Nation, Kameme (fm) and Inooro (TV and radio) [do] whatever it is they are doing, […] “they should state that in this election they have taken a side”, said Ruto. “As Kenyans watch their news […] they should be informed that these are media houses that have taken sides.”

Taking sides

On 10 December, as Odinga declared his bid for the presidency, Macharia defended his position to back the long-time opposition leader.

“My political views and preferences are […] completely independent of my businesses which are managed by impartial and highly competent professionals,” Macharia said.

In September and October 2021, Ruto’s camp had kept off from Citizen TV news programmes protesting what they perceived as an agenda against them. Some of the politicians even took to social media to incite viewers against the station.

“I see @citizentvkenya has 4M likes (on Facebook). I’m urging all the hustlers to click the dislike button,” posted Didimus Barasa, an MP from Bungoma County.

At the time the Macharia-owned TV station had shown footage of the Ruto motorcade being stoned while on a tour of Nyeri County. Ruto’s allies claimed the footage was intended to portray them in a bad light. It forced the country’s media regulator, the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) to respond to politicians that castigated the media house.

“The contents of the post by the politician are an affront to media freedom and a clear sign of intimidation by politicians to the media house and journalism at large,” wrote David Omwoyo the MCK chief executive officer.

Politics of Media

Fast-forward to June 2022 and Ruto chose to openly castigate his new target. “The IEBC has a duty to make sure that there is a level playing ground for all participants in this election,” Ruto told Chebukati.

On the same day, an online news outlet released a survey about Citizen TV that showed that Ruto and his camp had been accorded 219 minutes (42%) against Odinga’s 300 minutes (57%) in the preceding two weeks.

“In all the videos sampled, none of them portrayed (Ruto) or Raila in a negative way as the DP (Ruto) claimed,” reported the platform.

Political analyst and university lecturer Herman Manyora finds Ruto’s claims not factual and accuses him of interfering with media independence.

“I don’t know whether there will be the need for the fairness to be measured in minutes, and then that will no longer be news,” Manyora says. “The newsman knows what is news and how long to apportion time for a story.”

When Odinga took the stage at the Bomas of Kenya a day after Ruto, he defended the media. “I have been in politics for a long time and I know that the media will praise you or will vilify you, but that is their freedom of expression, we don’t question it,” Odinga said.

Old tricks

In 2017, the shoe was on the other foot as Odinga complained against the Nation Media Group (NMG), when he called on his supporters to boycott their products. NMG runs the Nation newspapers and a television channel, NTV, and is owned by the Aga Khan.

In January 2018, Odinga through his communications director Dennis Onyango had complained that NMG had not been covering Odinga’s then coalition (NASA) objectively.

“We are putting the Nation Media Group on notice that if this trend does not stop immediately, NASA will have no option but to call on its supporters to take the company as an impediment to the realisation of electoral justice,” Onyango wrote. “NASA will then have no option but to call on supporters to boycott the company and its products.”

Barely five years later, Odinga is calling for media freedom. “We want to create a free and democratic society where there is freedom of expression, the media can censure, critique, educate or oppose.”

Presidential Debate

A group of media houses including NMG and Royal Media Services have been planning a series of presidential debates ahead of the general election. Ruto who is expected to debate Odinga in two televised sessions in July is already threatening to skip the media spectacle.

“If the presidential debate is being organised by a media that has taken sides, […] what moral authority do they have to ask the rest of us who are not their candidates to attend a pre-arranged, pre-rigged presidential debate?” Ruto posed. “Don’t expect us to come to sanitise a debate you have already skewed with the coverage of your news.”

Ruto as a Raila of yesteryears?

“Raila last time was on the receiving end; Ruto now is on the receiving end. It indicates to you that the person on the receiving end will certainly be complaining, and it is normal in our politics,” says Manyora.

For a man who has been so confident in the race, he appears to label his enemies one by one. “We already have to surmount huge challenges, we already have the so-called deep state, (the) system; we don’t mind any other hurdles,” Ruto said. “We have overcome those before, we will overcome it again.”

Ruto’s camp has been concerned with the role played by senior state officials at the office of the president and ICT ministries. They have singled out Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, his Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho and information cabinet secretary Joe Mucheru.

In a recent TV interview, Kibicho alleged that intelligence reports show that Odinga is ahead of Ruto by popularity polling 60%.

“This is intelligence data; it is a first-round (win for Odinga),“ Kibicho said on 31 May. “We don’t deal with perceptions, we deal with facts […], and they are saying very different things from the noise.”

Kibicho is a ministry’s accounting officer controlling the country’s security sector. His Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i sits at the National Security Council where the Deputy President is also a member. Kibicho claims to have access to crucial information from the National Intelligence Service (NIS). “We don’t speak from emotions ourselves, we speak from facts,” Kibicho said.

Kibicho spoke just a few days after Mucheru who told of changing numbers. “I have reports that show that numbers continue to change and are in favour of Raila. Now it is even over 64 per cent,” Mucheru said.

A few days later, Ruto’s campaign wrote to the intelligence service, NIS, seeking clarity on circulation of its intelligence.

“Our client (Ruto) is aggrieved by reckless and negligent release of NIS reports or polling information for use by the PS Interior (Kibicho) to advance the interests and cause of the Azimio Party and to undermine the confidence of Kenyans in the fairness of the presidential electoral process.”

In the letter signed by Advocate Elias Mutuma, Ruto sought an explanation on the truth of the alleged poll reports and whether the NIS boss Philip Kamweru had authorized its use.

The letter raised questions over whether Ruto had been receiving daily intelligence briefs as a member of the National Security Committee. The NIS is yet to respond to Mutuma’s letter, at least not publicly.

War with pollsters

Two days after the NIS demand letter a new opinion poll was released by Infotrak Research & Consulting, which showed Ruto trailing Odinga in the polls. Odinga had polled 42%, while Ruto’s popularity had dropped by four points to 38% in less than a month. Infotrak went to the extent of stating that were the election to be held then (27 May), Raila would have led Ruto with 9.3m versus 8.4m votes.

This was the second poll in a month to show Ruto behind Odinga. Mid-May, a TIFA poll conducted shortly after the two major presidential contenders picked their running mates showed that Ruto’s popularity had declined to 35%, while Odinga’s was up to 39%. Previously, Ruto had been leading Odinga.

“Now because they are stuck, the system is stuck, the deep state is stuck (and) their manifesto is stuck, they have turned to manufacturing an opinion poll, that shows how they are progressing,” Ruto told a campaign meeting in Mandera county on the same day the Infotrak poll was released.

“They have spoken about the NIS, they have banked on opinion polls I want to tell (the) people of Mandera and all Kenyans that we have already defeated these people, in all ways.”

Questioning the Referee

On 2 June, Ruto told a meeting with a group of EU ambassadors of his fears about the electoral register of voters. “About a million names have somehow disappeared from the register, it is in the public domain and I think IEBC has said they are doing some remedial steps,” Ruto said.

IEBC officials were quick to discount Ruto’s claims. “The data on the register of voters is intact, I want to assure Kenyans that their data is safe (and) there is no breach,” Chebuakti said.

“We want to challenge those who are saying they are not in the register to come with the details […]”, said Marjan Hussein, the IEBC Chief Executive officer.

In the days that followed, KPMG, an audit firm contracted to inspect the register of voters reported back with a damning report that showed systemic weaknesses in the management of the register.

“There are control gaps from the review of the voter registration processes (and) the underlying systems on which the voters’ register is hosted which will require some rectification in readiness for the election,” said Gerald Kasimu KPMG’s Head of Advisory.

Chairman Chebukati detailed over one million questionable records of voters comprising 246,000 deceased voters and another 800,000 records that were either duplicated or of persons with invalid documentation.

On 20 June, IEBC released a report announcing they had resolved most of the gaps in the register, ending up with a voters’ roll of 22.1 million that will be spread across 46,000 polling stations across the country.

The pattern of Ruto’s actions and concerns have had political pundits anxious wondering if he is setting the stage to reject the presidential election results should he not be declared winner in August.

“He is justified to raise issues and they must be addressed. But I would urge we don’t raise (the) alarm unnecessarily,” Manyora says. “[…] Because you are putting people in a mood to say this election could be stolen, (such) that when you lose fairly, for example, you already charged (the) people.”

Ruto recently told NTV in a live interview, “If I don’t win in August, I now have grandchildren also, I will be satisfied, millions of Kenyans have not gotten the opportunity to be Deputy President of Kenya,” Ruto said. “It is up to Kenyans to decide what really happens and if they so decide (to elect someone else) I will support whoever will be elected and be part and parcel of the Kenyan society.”

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