Ruto’s pending impeachment ruffles feathers of Kenya’s elite

By Morris Kiruga, in Nairobi
Posted on Friday, 13 March 2020 11:14

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta and Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto L) attend the launch of the Building Bridges Initiative REUTERS/Monica Mwangi

The possible impeachment of Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto is the latest in Nairobi's political scene, as the country's elites escalate their rifts.

On Wednesday, 11 March, groups of legislators from both sides of the current divide held separate press conferences at Parliament buildings.

At the first one, legislators aligned to President Kenyatta, Raila Odinga, and several other senior leaders asked the deputy president to resign and described him as a fifth column.

They listed multiple reasons, including alleged corruption cases, dishonesty, and unexplained wealth.

At the second, hours later, Ruto’s allies said that the President should call for fresh elections instead.

By Thursday, several newspapers carried explanations on what it would take to impeach the first deputy president under Kenya’s decade-old constitution.

READ Kenya: The legend and legacy of Daniel Arap Moi

Unlike in the old constitution, where the #2 was titled “Vice President”, President Kenyatta cannot fire his deputy and would, instead, have to work through the two-tier parliament to get the job done.

Days before, on Sunday, Senate minority leader and Odinga ally James Orengo said, “He [Ruto] needs time and undivided attention to pursue the only thing and ambition that makes sense and has meaning in his life — dream and campaign for the 2022 presidential election.”

Senator Orengo, who once tried to impeach Kenya’s second president, said that he would begin the process in two weeks.

The Kenyatta-Odinga partnership has rearranged the loyalties within Kenya’s political leaders, and even gaming a possible impeachment is impossible at the moment.

  • Only one leader, former Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu, has been successfully impeached in the recent political history.

At the moment, Deputy President Ruto is also dealing with investigations into his office over an arms deal gone wrong, and the subsequent murder of a member of his security detail.

Sgt Kipyegon Kenei was found dead on 20 February, the day before he was to meet investigators. He had been shot in the head in what was initially thought to be a suicide but quickly turned into a murder investigation.

READ Kenya in 2020: higher taxes, higher debt, more referendums

The country’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) has said it was questioning several persons of interests, mainly drawn from the Deputy President’s office, the Department of Defence, and a telecoms company.

The head of DCI, George Kinoti, called the crime scene “stage-managed” and said the murder was meant to stop Kenei from sharing what he knew about the fake Shs. 39 billion (340m euro) arms deal.

A former cabinet secretary, Rashid Echesa, and several others are already facing corruption charges, but it is the murder investigation that has gotten particularly messy.

Kenei, 33, was also a relative of the current Cabinet Secretary for Labour and Social Services Simon Chelugui.

In the days since his murder, DP Ruto has changed tack, blaming the “system”, including the security services, for working against him.

On Sunday, he said that he would go after the “clerks and people we have given jobs” who are harassing his allies.

  • “If they are man enough, let them come forward and face me. Let them not hide behind shadows,” he added.
  • “Those executing this scheme to stop me are using all means. They may have the system, support and everything [else] but we have God,” he had said at Kenei’s funeral.

These events are just the latest in a prolonged death by a thousand cuts that DP Ruto has been facing since Kenyatta and Odinga reconciled in March 2018.

Last July, for example, his office was accused of making up a fake assassination plot. Then, in December, a sitting governor said DP Ruto had threatened him.

While the current political rearrangements may show Kenyatta and Odinga’s renewed energy in wearing out William Ruto directly —and his allies too — another way to look at it is to see at who has stuck with the Deputy President.

Majority Leader Aden Duale has toned down his fervent defence of Ruto, but he told parliamentarians before the press conferences that he would fight them the same way he had defended two of Kenyatta’s ministers during the first term.

At the counter-press conference on Wednesday, some of the most prominent pro-Ruto faces were from President Kenyatta’s Central Kenya region, led by his ancestral home’s representative, Moses Kuria.

Kuria, 49, is just one of several political leaders from Kenyatta’s perceived sphere of influence who have openly defied his actions, particularly the ongoing Building Bridges Initiative.

DP Ruto and his allies have openly criticised the BBI and first demanded it go through a parliamentary process before they changed strategy and supported it. Ruto has demanded that it be “people-driven” instead of the current top-down approach and seems to be working to sabotage it from the inside.

There’s also a sense of fatigue with the political intrigues, as Kenyans grapple with an economic downturn in addition to a locust invasion, and the global panic over the coronavirus pandemic. At the counter-presser, MP Kuria demanded either a snap election or the appointment of Raila Odinga to the cabinet.

  • “It is the prerogative of the President to reshuffle the Cabinet. He can do it anytime. If he wants to bring in Raila as his chief minister, let him do so instead of treating us to all this drama,” he said.

This sense of fatigue may work against Kenyatta and Odinga, especially if the non-political issues get worse. Even the impeachment process, if it happens, may end up hurting them and shoring up DP Ruto’s support base, especially among younger Kenyans.

A successful impeachment would give Kenyatta the space to appoint Raila to co-run the government with him, and eventually succeed him in 2022.

But the last time Ruto was removed from the government, by Odinga as Prime Minister, he ended up building a political base and using it to negotiate for the #2 position in 2013.

It would especially be seen as a betrayal by Kenyatta’s supporters in the last three elections, who view Ruto’s support as primary to his electoral successes.

Bottom Line: A failed impeachment would prove to Ruto that, despite the prolonged political warfare on him and his allies, he still has the political capital to stay on for the next two years, as he works to succeed Kenyatta.

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