Deputy President William Ruto’s growing dalliance with Uganda, and specifically President Yoweri Museveni, gained fresh impetus with the inauguration on Saturday of the William Ruto Leadership Institute at the Makerere University.
Dr Ruto and his entourage first held talks with President Museveni at the Mubende State Lodge early morning before proceeding to the ceremony at the Makerere University.
During the meeting, President Museveni pledged $100,000 (Sh10 million) towards the construction of the institute.
President Museveni’s spokesman Don Wanyama tweeted: “President Museveni has pledged $100,000 towards the construction of the William Ruto Institute of African & Leadership Studies at Makerere University. The President made a commitment this morning as he met the Kenyan Deputy President at Mubende State Lodge.”
A letter to members of the Makerere University Senate made it clear that Dr Ruto would preside over the event at the invitation of the Ugandan leader.
“Makerere University has been requested by the Office of the President of the Republic of Uganda to host The William Ruto Leadership Institute with laying of the foundation stone scheduled for Saturday, December 21, 2019, with the Deputy President of the Republic of Kenya, William Samoei arap Ruto, officiating as the chief guest starting at 10.30 am at MDD Grounds,” read the letter.
Amid murmurs of discontent among a section of the Makerere University academics over the decision to have the institute, the invitation letter lists seven goals of the institute, which include developing innovative ways of teaching and learning about Africa.
The disgruntlement and opposition by a section of the Makerere University community to the setting up of the institute revolve around claims that it will be at the same location as the Mwai Kibaki Presidential Library, a Sh4.5 billion establishment that was launched in February 2015 but has never got off the ground.
One Makerere academic wondered why the university was allowing the Ruto institute to use a piece of land that had been set aside for former President Kibaki’s Presidential Library.
Also being questioned is the Deputy President’s intentions with the launch of the institute in his name, given that he is not an alumnus of Makerere University.
There are suggestions regional politics could be at play as the Deputy President strategises for the presidency, but with an eye on the East African Community.
The invitation letter stated that the university “had been requested by the Office of the President of the Republic of Uganda” to host the institute and this too has not escaped critics of the initiative, who argue that it could have been forced on the university by President Museveni, with little or no input from the university senate and council.
Also, the Makerere academics raised questions about Kenya’s Deputy President’s character as a role model to have “an entire institute dedicated to (him)”.
One said the Kenyan Deputy President “is not the kind of leader we should be hosting”.
Through his communication secretary David Mugonyi, Dr Ruto said the inauguration of the institute means a lot for African progress.
“I relate wholly with the idea of this leadership institute, which to me is the struggle for African progress through ideas and knowledge, the ambition to write the best version possible of the future of our people and to democratise leadership and exceptionalism for all Africans regardless of wealth or privilege,” Mr Mugonyi told the Sunday Nation.
The establishment and inauguration of the institute, named after the Deputy President, continues the recent trend in which Dr Ruto and President Museveni have been warming up to each other.
Political analyst Herman Manyora says the blossoming relationship between the two leaders is as a result of their ambitions converging.
“The whole issue revolves around geopolitics. It would be in the interest of Museveni, in his desire to be the regional kingpin, to have somebody in Kenya who doesn’t seem to challenge that,” said Prof Manyora.
“Ruto is also a politician and understands that developing a close relationship with Museveni is going to counter Raila’s relationship with Magufuli. Those kinds of connections in politics are important,” he added.
He also suggests that the Deputy President could be using the relationship with President Museveni to appeal to the communities that straddle the Kenya-Uganda borders, as he strategises for the 2022 elections.
President Museveni had been a vocal critic of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC’s) prosecution of Mr Ruto and others over the 2007/08 post-election violence.
When he spoke during the inauguration of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Dr Ruto in 2013, he accused the court of “blackmail” and of being used to “instal leaders of their choice in Africa and eliminate the ones they do not like”.
He was also at the forefront campaigning against ICC’s intervention in Kenya at the African Union (AU).
Over time, Dr Ruto and President Museveni have gradually been growing closer to each other.
In December 2015, two years after his inauguration, the Deputy President was in Uganda and accompanied President Museveni to a campaign rally in Kapchorwa town in eastern Uganda.
At the rally, he told the crowd that President Museveni “is the best person to continue leading Uganda”.
Dr Ruto’s appearance at the rally irked the Ugandan Opposition, which accused him of meddling in their elections.
“Ruto should be careful. He is hanging around a falling tree, it might fall on him,” Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) leader Kizza Besigye said of Mr Ruto’s activities in Uganda.
South Africa’s Mail & Guardian in September published reports that President Museveni, after realising the potential of big data in politics, had requested DP Ruto to send to Kampala a team of data specialists in his office to train the Ugandans working for the president.
There has been no corroboration of this report but it points to something big behind the scenes between President Museveni and DP Ruto.
In 2016, the Deputy President’s personal aide, Mr Farouk Kibet, accompanied Narok governor Samuel Tunai and Endebess MP Robert Pkose to a fundraiser in Sebei, Uganda, “on Mr Ruto’s request” to support construction of three schools.
It was alleged that the team donated Sh4.5 million at the event.
Just months after the contested 2017 presidential election, the Deputy President was again in Uganda, this time to receive the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award at an event held at Serena Hotel, Kampala.
On March 12, 2019, during the Africa Now Summit at the Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo, the Deputy President almost undid the diplomatic efforts President Kenyatta had been making to resolve the ongoing dispute between Uganda and Rwanda.
Speaking at the event and in the presence of President Museveni, without naming any country, he described the closure of borders within the East African Community as “retrogressive”.
He could have been referring to Rwanda, which had just two weeks earlier announced the closure of its border with Uganda as the diplomatic feud between the two countries escalated.
At the time of Dr Ruto’s speech, President Kenyatta had been shuttling between Kigali and Kampala in an effort to bring the two neighbours to resolve the diplomatic dispute between them, which was also threatening the unity of the East African Community.
The dispute between Uganda and its neighbour, Rwanda, is yet to be resolved and continues to strain the EAC integration.