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Fallout with Kenyatta: Door closed on succession for Ruto

By Morris Kiruga
Posted on Wednesday, 10 June 2020 18:03

Kenya Elections
Uhuru Kenyatta, left, and William Ruto, right chat after they were announced the winners in the rerun of presidential race at the Centre in Bomas, Nairobi, Kenya, Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/ Sayyid Abdul Azim)

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta has escalated his control over the ruling party and legislature, as he consolidates his new alliances and sidelines old ones.

Nearing the end of his second and final term, President Kenyatta’s relationship with his deputy and likely successor William Ruto took a turn in early 2018, when the latter entered into a pact with opposition leader Raila Odinga.

  • The ruling Jubilee Party, founded in September 2016 to consolidate a 2013 alliance between Kenyatta and Ruto, is now firmly in Kenyatta’s control after it replaced its senior leaders in the country’s legislature.
  • In May, the party replaced Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen with independence party KANU’s Samuel Poghisio, as Kenyatta consolidated his alliance with his former party.
  • The party also quickly replaced the Majority Chief Whip in the upper house, before turning to changes in the lower house. While Majority leader Aden Duale, a Ruto ally, survived the purge, others were removed in a parliamentary group meeting on 2 June.

“Pulling from different ends”

After their reelection in 2017, which was preceded by a historic annulment of a presidential election, Kenyatta and Ruto have progressively been pulling from different ends. Their likely separation escalated in March 2018, and has been marked with accusations and counter-accusations from both sides.

  • Kenyatta has accused his deputy of doing early campaigns to succeed him, instead of focusing on their legacy projects.
  • DP Ruto’s side, on the other hand, sees the moves to limit his likely succession as a betrayal of their pre-2013 pact that was made while both of them were facing criminal charges at the International Criminal Court.

Kenyatta has built his new alliances around Ruto’s political opponents, bringing in Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), Moi’s KANU, and Isaac Ruto’s Chama Cha Mashinani.

  • Although the ruling party and KANU have been allies since 2017, they had an informal relationship mainly built on a shared history. The independence party was President Kenyatta’s inheritance in the early 2000s, after he took over from the country’s third president.
  • KANU is numerically weak in the legislature- it has just 13 legislators across both houses -but it carries a storied history of having ruled Kenya for four decades, and has access to the vast resources of the Moi’s.

Political shifts

Kenyatta’s new alliances also include the affiliate members of Odinga’s 2017 National Super Alliance (NASA) such as CCM’s Isaac Ruto, Wiper Democratic Movement’s Kalonzo Musyoka, and Amani National Coalition’s Musalia Mudavadi.

READ MORE With Kenyatta, Ruto and Odinga, three’s a crowd

The new political shifts have triggered chaos in some opposition parties, as politicians move to consolidate their own power bases. In early June, for example, Ford-Kenya party leader Moses Wetangula was kicked out of his own party.

The shifts give Kenyatta a firmer control over the legislature, which now effectively has no opposition. While this will be instrumental in the remaining two  years of his presidency, it may also harm the legislature’s perceived independence from the executive.

The alliances, which are anchored on Kenyatta’s rapprochement with Odinga, might also shift as the two leaders continue with plans for a constitutional referendum in the near future. Campaigns for a possible plebscite were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but both Odinga and Kenyatta have insisted that it will still happen.

READ MORE Kenya’s fight against coronavirus difficult with its two-tiered governance system

For Ruto, the decimation of his allies in the power ranks mean that it is now abundantly clear that their 2013 election pact, which would have seen him succeed Kenyatta as Kenya’s fifth president, is now void. While his current position on the back pedal mean he has to rethink his 2022 strategy, he is most likely going to be the biggest beneficiary of any fallouts in Kenyatta’s new, large, grouping of allies.

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