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Ruto sacked as Kenya’s coalition seeks to stem dissatisfaction

By Parselelo Kantai in Nairobi
Posted on Friday, 22 October 2010 10:53

In the Know features an interview, opinion or analysis on the events making the news in Africa each week.

Kenya’s higher education minister faced corruption charges but others suspect power politics at play. Our East Africa editor Parselelo Kantai examines the reasons behind the dismissal from the cabinet

of potential 2012 presidential candidate William Ruto.

It has been a bad week for William Ruto. Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki

suspended the higher education minister from the Cabinet on 19 October,

following a Constitutional Court ruling on a six-year-old corruption case accusing Ruto of illegally selling land to a state corporation.

With that case now going to a full hearing – a process that often takes years

in Kenya’s creaky judicial system – Ruto, the putative leader of the Kalenjin

community in the volatile Rift Valley region and a prospective presidential

candidate for the 2012 elections, faces a long season in political

isolation. This suspension, coupled with a strong perception that Ruto will

be listed among suspects who may face trial at the end of the International

Criminal Court investigation into Kenya’s post-election violence, has

suddenly dimmed his future political prospects.

While a press release from State House, Nairobi, cited the fact that Ruto

had been “stood aside” because of the Constitutional Court ruling, many

pundits read political motives in the suspension. Last February, Prime

Minister Raila Odinga surprised the nation by suspending Ruto and his

education counterpart, Prof Sam Ongeri, on corruption charges. That decision

was angrily overturned by President Kibaki. This time around, on the back of

a referendum victory and subsequent promulgation of the new constitution in

late August, it was much easier for Odinga to manoeuvre.

Ruto’s departure is confirmation that PM Raila Odinga is now working closely with Kibaki.

Many also interpreted the Prime Minister’s move as being partly motivated by

the wrangling within his own Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), where Ruto, a

deputy party leader, had led a rebel faction composed mainly of Kalenjin MPs

in opposing Odinga.

Once a close Odinga ally, Ruto had fallen out with the Prime Minister soon

after the signing of the peace deal in February 2008, following a bungled

presidential election and the two months of violence that ensued. The break stemmed from

differences in the handling of jailed Rift Valley youths implicated in the

post-election fighting. Ruto also opposed the Prime Minister’s stand

regarding encroachment of the Mau Forest Complex, East Africa’s biggest

forest block, which had been invaded by members of Ruto’s Kalenjin

community. While the Prime Minister favoured their eviction, Ruto demanded

that they be compensated before they were moved out.

Odinga seemed to recognise that his relationship with Mr Ruto was beyond salvation,

especially after Ruto led the campaign against the

passing of the new constitution, a stance diametrically opposed to the prime minister’s.

But while the constitution was passed by an

overwhelming majority, Ruto was able to muster well over two

million votes (with some help from the churches), firmly establishing himself as

an independent political force. As he himself remarked, if he could garner

such a following in a such a short time, what would he be able to do between

now and 2012?

“Ruto’s suspension has nothing to do with a new commitment by the government

to fight corruption,” observes Mwalimu Mati, executive director of Mars

Group Kenya, an anti-corruption lobby. “Some of the new cabinet appointments

that accompanied Ruto’s suspension are of people themselves facing

corruption charges. This is all power politics at play.”

The argument used to remove Ruto came from the new constitution, which

states that any sitting cabinet minister with a corruption charge over his

head must step aside. The legal position was confirmed to Kibaki and Odinga

on 19 October in a report from Kenya’s Attorney-General, Amos Wako, who said

Ruto had to go. The irony is that there are other Cabinet ministers still

sitting who face delayed or unfinished corruption charges from previous

scandals, including the AngloLeasing and Goldenberg affairs.

Why now?

Despite the fact that the case against Ruto has been going on for six years,

the timing of his dismissal comes from a need to purge the party of its

demons or face further defeat at the polls. The two coalition parties –

Kibaki’s PNU and Odinga’s ODM – have lost three by-elections so far in 2010

to smaller parties.

This is the manifestation of the public’s long disenchantment with the

coalition government, impatience with some of its MPs and suspicion of the

way candidates are nominated in primaries. The public has begun to behave

very independently and against many expectations. The victory of the Ford

People’s candidate Manson Nyamweay in South Mugirango in June was a complete

surprise.

There are murmurs of something seriously wrong with the ODM’s organisational

machine, despite its good country-wide network. Kibaki’s PNU is also in

disarray and has not won a by-election since 2007. The Kikuyu have already

started registering new parties ahead of the elections in 2012. One, the

Grand National Union of Kenya, was registered in early October. Meanwhile,

the Narc-Kenya party, chaired by former Justice Minister Martha Karua, is

gaining growing influence in central Kenya.

For his part, Ruto will remain as an MP, working as a backbencher

accompanied by his faction of 16 ODM MPs. Their loss will hurt ODM badly in

Parliament where it only had a slim majority. Ruto could decide to become an

independent, populist candidate, trekking up and down the country to build

support for his presidential bid in 2012. But if the court case rumbles on –

which it well might – he might not have time to put in his nomination. Or if

he really is on Ocampo’s list, that stain would be very difficult to erase.

The real story is which direction will the Rift Valley take. Four

million of the six million voters are Kalenjin who have become increasingly

isolated under Ruto’s leadership. Their loyalty will be closely watched.

Talks of a possible alliance between PNU Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru

Kenyatta and Ruto could bring an extra dynamic.

Some say Ruto is a victim of a ruling gerentocracy, of old men who became

uncomfortable with him as a loose cannon. Whatever the reasons, getting rid of

him was always on the cards because he completely refused to play ball.

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