Despite his public display of bravado, sometimes barking orders to lazy road contractors to speed up the job, Deputy President (DP) William Ruto cuts a figure of a lone ranger in a government caught up in intense succession politics ahead of his boss Uhuru Kenyatta’s retirement.
Just two days ago, Cabinet secretaries (CS) Fred Matiang’i (Interior) and Eugene Wamalwa (Devolution) joined ODM leader Raila Odinga at a Building Bridges Initiative meeting in Kisii while DP Ruto addressed the public in Luanda, Vihiga, some 130 kilometres away, in the company of local members of the county assembly and a handful of MPs with no senior government official present, not even the county commissioner.
Rarely is he accompanied to his public functions by ministers compared with Mr Kenyatta, calling into question the level of synchrony in the Jubilee administration.
While this has been going on for a while now, observers say that officially, the isolation started when President Kenyatta issued Executive Order No 1 of 2019 that elevated Dr Matiang’i to a super CS, kick-starting a frosty relationship between the ministry and the DP that at one time nearly generated into a physical confrontation between him and PS Karanja Kibicho.
OFFICIALS KEEP OFF
DP Ruto is said to have protested the move that he says was meant to usurp some of his duties as the principal assistant to the President.
In the new role, Dr Matiang’i was mandated to chair a Cabinet subcommittee on development and given the powers to supervise all government projects in what was seen as move to tame the DP’s national tours in the name of inspecting government projects.
It is also in the aftermath of the executive order that reports of senior public servants giving the DP’s functions a wide berth emerged.
So bad have things become that most government functionaries do not want to be associated with him for fear that overzealous Harambee House operatives may target them for disciplinary action as a result.
The same is true of parastatal chiefs who in the past would without worrying invite him to attend their public events and give speeches.
Save for a few daring ones, especially those ‘investing’ in his presidential push, no one wants to touch the second in command now.
A public quarrel pitting DP Ruto and Kieni MP Kanini Kega last week over a Sh500,000 donation from President Kenyatta appears to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, forcing him to fight back.
The DP on Tuesday assailed Mr Kega, accusing him of undermining his office after he brought the money to the family of Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua during the burial of his mother.
The President did not attend the funeral in Nyeri but dispatched two different representatives, triggering what has only fortified perceptions of a major rift in government.
While the President detailed the DP to deliver his speech to the mourners, he gave Mr Kega his donation to deliver to the family, which he did, attracting the DP’s wrath, telling mourners that he is the only person who can represent the President.
“You all know that there is only one person in Kenya who was sworn in to deputise the President. And I will do that very diligently. Everybody should do their job. If you are working in a hospital, do that. If you are a watchman or MCA do your job. Let us respect each other,” the DP said before reading a written message from the Head of State.
It was not the first time the DP was finding it necessary to remind the country that he was the second in command.
Last year, he told Mr Odinga, who had on several occasions been dispatched by the President to represent him in official engagements, that he was the only principal assistant to the Head of State.
LEARN FROM HISTORY
The ensuing tiff between Mr Kega and MPs allied to the DP, and the fact he felt constrained to respond to assertions by the MP, is baffling because it is not the first time this was happening.
In March last year, the President dispatched Public Service CS Margret Kobia to represent him during the launch of the 2019 Lenten campaign in Nyeri County, even though it was attended by the DP.
Coming in the heat of the Kimwarer and Arror dams scandals, the function has remained a sore thumb in the relationship between the two Jubilee men after the DP publicly contradicted the President’s speech.
What is happening to DP Ruto has historical antecedents.
In many respects, it is increasingly becoming clear that BBI is to DP Ruto what the 1966 Limuru conference was to Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and the Kanu/NDP merger was to the late George Saitoti.
In March 1966, President Jomo Kenyatta, the Kanu president, chaired a three-day party caucus in Limuru that amended the party constitution.
In the changes, the position of Kanu deputy president, which was held by Jaramogi, was abolished and eight other positions created in what was a scheme to neutralise Jaramogi.
A similar scheme was re-enacted in 2002 when, after the Kanu/NDP merger, a scheme was hatched to dilute the position of the Kanu vice-chair then held by Saitoti.
The chorus on the DP Ruto’s isolation was amplified at the weekend following the arrest and detention of Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria on allegations of assault.
Mr Kuria is a member of the Tangatanga faction of Jubilee allied to the DP and his colleagues wasted no time in linking his arrest to the isolation of the DP in the government, with Kandara MP Alice Wahome accusing the President of clawing back on civil liberties.
Those who went to help secure his release were brutally dispersed. His allies, such as Kisii Deputy Governor Joash Maangi, are under siege.
On Friday morning, he filed a complaint to the police that his life was in danger and claimed that several police officers had stormed his Kisii home and demanded to take his official car alleging his strong support for the DP.
“A contingent of about 12 armed policemen came to my residence in Kisii town at about 4am, ready with a truck to tow away my county government-allocated vehicles but my domestic staff offered to give them the keys and they took away the vehicles,” he told the Sunday Nation, linking his predicament to politics.
“I am being fought for opposing the BBI meeting. The national government has nothing to do with this. If you know my politics, I am not fighting Matiang’i now. I may be with Ruto but I have no problem with Matiang’i and Odinga,” he said.
THE MATIANG'I FACTOR
Times have changed in the ruling party in the past two years, with the DP becoming a stranger in the palace, alienated and isolated from the heart of decision-making in government.
“I only take instructions from President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga. You should not listen to any other person. You should listen to the President because that is the future,” Dr Matiang’i said when he addressed the gathering in his native Kisii language. He deliberately avoided mentioning the DP.
During the DP’s tour of Kisii County on May 31 last year, Dr Matiang’i’s absence was notable, and so was that of County Commissioner Godfrey Kigochi, his Nyamira counterpart Amos Mariba and the two governors — James Ongwae (Kisii) and John Nyagarama (Nyamira),
During this period the absence of high-ranking provincial administrators has become a common feature in DP Ruto’s frequent tours across the country, unlike during President Kenyatta’s first term when they routinely accompanied him in his various engagements.
It has been a blame game between Harambee Annex and Harambee House, with the Interior ministry charging it was failure by the office of the Deputy President to furnish it with the itinerary of his tours across the country that caused the absence of senior security officers at some of his functions.
Dr Kibicho said the allegations that the government had withdrawn security from a church function attended by DP Ruto in Tetu, Nyeri, late last year were false.
Senior county security officials, who always accompany him or the President whenever they come calling were conspicuously missing.