Ruto sacked as Kenya’s coalition seeks to stem dissatisfaction
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.
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
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.