President Uhuru Kenyatta’s remarks that he would not succumb to public pressure to sack officers in his government being investigated for corruption appeared to have punctured the groundswell of national psyche against the vice.
Since Thursday, many Kenyans have been asking what could have made the President climb down from what had looked like a sustained crackdown on corruption not seen in the country in a long time.
There are strong suggestions that the Head of State was prevailed upon to go slow on a cause that was potentially explosive.
In confidence, a number of politicians allied to the President and Opposition leader Raila Odinga have expressed disappointment, even as Deputy President William Ruto celebrated the President’s seemingly new approach to the fight against the vice.
Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi feels President Kenyatta should have adopted a more aggressive approach.
He wants those named in various scandals to get out of the way. “It is advisable that they step aside and let investigators to do their job independently,” he said.
Mr Ruto has particularly taken issue with Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DCI) boss George Kinoti, whom he accuses of being used to fight him through “selective investigations”.
The President did not hide the fact that he had been under pressure to crack the whip. On the other hand, analysts did not hesitate to term the sitting a lost opportunity.
On Saturday, an officer at the DCI admitted that a restive public, always baying for blood of the suspects, is in a way a contributing factor “to hurried cases” that have ended up being dismissed by the courts.
But Sunday Nation gathered that the bigger challenge for the investigative agencies, going forward, would be to balance political interests in cases individuals with political connections are involved.
Sources at the DCI revealed that while they had initially secured the President’s authority to do their work without any inhibition, they are still trying to come to terms with what the new reality portends for their work.
The presidential address has become the turning point in what may either see corruption completely rooted out or entrenched further in high places.
To Mr Ruto’s camp, the Head of State eventually did the right thing.
Isiolo Senator Fatuma Dullo said Mr Ruto's opponents had hoped that he and his allies would be reprimanded during the President's national address.
"However, the President made it clear that his government will not resort to mob 'justice'. Those hoping to use the handshake to ascend to the presidency are daydreaming," she said.
RULE OF LAW
On Thursday evening, there was celebration in government. Earlier in the day, ministers and principal secretaries were holding their breath as they awaited “the drastic measures the President was expected to take”.
“I must however caution that the pursuit of the corrupt will be undertaken strictly within the law — and not through vigilante justice and pitchfork protest. Though media narratives rally our resolve as they should, our actions will not be based on condemnation before one has been heard,” Mr Kenyatta said.
And added: “The cornerstone of our democracy is the rule of law, and the principle of due process is a critical anchor.”
Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen who had led the onslaught against the DCI was all smiles. He had been vindicated, he said.
“With President Uhuru Kenya and Deputy President Ruto when they called on me in my office today after the President delivered a fantastic State of the Nation Address!” he said in a tweet.
Professor Winnie Mitullah from the University of Nairobi told the Sunday Nation that the war on corruption needs its fighters to take action in a strategic way for sustainability to be maintained.
She thinks President Kenyatta chose the institutional approach over a radical move of sacking ministers anyhow.
“When a country is highly affected by corruption it is advisable that the approach to deal with it is more strategic, and that is the route the President seems to be following,” she said.
According to her, most Kenyans had expected the President to sack a number of Cabinet secretaries, which never happened, but that did not necessarily mean that the war on corruption was not on course.
The climb down by Mr Kenyatta was a product of a well-thought-out strategy by the Ruto camp that played out in Parliament on Thursday.
Some analysts have also pointed that Mr Kenyatta must have realised that a vigorous fight on graft must be tempered with caution otherwise there was the real risk of the government collapsing.
The Sunday Nation learnt that initially, the Ruto camp had made a conscious decision to boycott the event out of fear that the President would use the address to quarrel his deputy and off load the Cabinet secretaries suspected to be corrupt, a majority who it is believed belong to their side.
However, at a meeting on the eve of the event held at the office of a top Jubilee politician, the decision to boycott was rescinded and all agreed to attend, out of a fear that keeping away from the event could backfire.
But there was a caveat on this attendance. They had agreed unanimously to call the President’s bluff and walk out on him if he used the opportunity to sack the CSs.
They also agreed to jeer in the event the President resorted to use the address to attack, disparage or even demean Mr Ruto, or make comments that appeared to praise the ODM leader Raila Odinga.
Inside the chamber, most of the MPs allied to the DP had carried pieces of paper which they used to scribble notes and pass to each other over the duration of the address.
Whatever was scribbled on these pieces of paper is not clear.
A member of the group, who did not want to be named, said the use of hand-written notes was part of the scheme by the MPs to compare notes on different thematic areas contained in the President’s speech.
“That was our idea of sharing our thoughts and ensuring that where necessary our response on every issue was synchronised,” the MP, who did not want to be named, said.
When Mr Ruto entered the chambers and took his seat in the Speaker’s gallery, members of his team, who had by this time strategically taken their positions, gave him a thunderous applause.
On the left of the Speaker, usually occupied by the minority side, the silence was deafening.
They looked bemused and blankly stared at the gallery as the DP took his seat between Chief Justice David Maraga, to his right, and Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko, to his left.
BATTLE OF WITS
When the President entered the chambers, the opposite happened. The Minority side cheered and applauded while a section of the Majority side watched in bemused silence as he assumed the Speaker’s chair. It was a battle of wits.
The same pattern of events was to play out during the duration of the President’s speech that lasted for one hour and seven minutes.
For example, when the President declared that there will be no turning back on the fight against corruption or his handshake with Mr Odinga and the Building Bridges Initiative, the greatest applause came from the minority side.
On the other hand, when the President cautioned that the pursuit of the corrupt will be undertaken strictly within the remits of the law — and not through vigilante justice and pitchfork protest, the loudest applause came from the opposite side.
Even the DP himself, who until this time had cut a forlorn figure, totally disinterested with the events taking place in the chamber, got an opportunity to finally clap.
Additional reporting by Nyaboga Kiage