Kenya: Power play in Ruto’s State House as Kenyatta shrugs off retirement

By Victor Abuso

Posted on Tuesday, 14 February 2023 13:45
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Aug. 27, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Kenya’s former president Uhuru Kenyatta says he is not retiring from active politics just yet, almost six months after he handed power to his successor, William Ruto.

His declaration opens a new political battlefront with Ruto, his former deputy president of 10 years whom he opposed while siding with opposition leader Raila Odinga during the August 2022 presidential vote.

“I am retired, but I am not tired,” Kenyatta told opposition supporters last weekend in Western Kenya accompanied by other opposition leaders.

He has vowed to remain behind five-time unlucky presidential candidate Odinga. This comes as the Orange party leader refuses to recognise President Ruto’s government, which he calls illegitimate over claims he did not win fairly.

“Raila is an honest man, follow him politically, he is my coalition leader,” Kenyatta added.

Kenyatta’s sentiments are seen to be energising Odinga’s anti-Ruto rallies across the country, which Ruto recently said are financed by powerful individuals from the former regime and are aimed at destabilising his government.

Jubilee ‘traitors’

Kenyatta, who remains the Jubilee party leader, was reportedly annoyed that 30 MPs from his party met Ruto for talks at State House last week.

After the talks, the MPs resolved to ditch the opposition coalition, Azimio la Umoja, which Jubilee is a part of, and join the ruling Kenya Kwanza.

A day later, the MPs announced the suspension of Jubilee Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni, Kenyatta’s close ally. Kioni said the suspension was not carried out properly.

Following this development, Kenyatta was reported to have held secret talks with close allies and resolved not to relinquish his position as party leader. He promised disciplinary action against the rebel MPs.

On the other hand, Ruto has hailed the decision, saying it was their choice to work with him on development projects.

“Welcome home, we shall treat you as our members,” he said.

The Azimio la Umoja coalition is referring to its members who have crossed the floor as traitors and accusing Ruto of buying its leaders to try and weaken the opposition.

Kenyatta ready to lose money, keep party power

Section 6(1) of the Presidential Retirement Benefits Act states that a retired president shall not hold office in any political party for more than six months after ceasing to hold office as president.

Kenyatta has until 13 March to hand over the leadership of his party and resign from the Azimio la Umoja coalition to receive his retirement benefits worth KSh700m ($5.6m).

However, a political showdown is looming. The ruling administration is expected to use its majority strength in parliament to initiate a motion to block Kenyatta from accessing his retirement perks on grounds that he is still involved in active politics.

He accuses the Ruto government of politicising his retirement benefits as intimidation to keep him away from politics.

“I’m not seeking any political position, but I’m ready to move across the country to support Raila,” he said.

No surprises

Edwin Kegoli, a Nairobi-based political analyst tells The Africa Report that Kenyatta’s declaration is not a surprise, considering that he retired at 60, the youngest Kenyan president to ever leave power at that age.

“Kenyatta is still politically relevant. He feels he still has a political contribution to make,” he says.

On whether he is blocking new political blood on the scene, Kegoli says the younger generation is not showing enthusiasm to take leadership positions from the likes of Kenyatta and Odinga.

“The youth must be more aggressive, political leadership is not given —  they have to fight for it,” he adds.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options