Ruto woes: It has always been a steep climb for VPs

Tuesday January 14 2020

Deputy President William Ruto. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP


He was promised 10 years in power after his boss leaves.

From 2022 to 2032, Deputy President William Ruto believed, he would be president, taking over from his current boss Uhuru Kenyatta.

“Wangoje miaka kumi, Uhuru amalize kazi yake; halafu wangoje miaka zingine kumi, Ruto amalize kazi yake, halafu sasa wakitaka, watakuja waunde yao,” Mr Kenyatta once said as he threw a jibe at the ever-critical opposition led by ODM leader Raila Odinga during his first term in office.


It translates to: “Let them wait for 10 years for Uhuru to finish his work. Then they should wait for another 10 years for Ruto to finish his; then they can come and make their own government.”

That promise to Ruto appears to be hanging by a thread at the moment.


What looked certain to Ruto three years ago — when  he agreed to dissolve his United Republican Party to merge with The National Alliance and other small parties to form the Jubilee Party — now has a “nothing is assured” stamp all over it.

Interestingly, it is not only Ruto who is finding it hard to springboard from the deputy presidency to the big seat.

It has been a more or less similar script with Kenya’s vice-presidents, including:

  • Jaramogi Oginga Odinga

The fist vice-president of independent Kenya was the second-in-command for just two years, between 1964 and 1966.

The camaraderie and nationalist spirit between him and founding President Jomo Kenyatta in the early days of Kenya as a self-ruling entity did not last long, especially with the Cold War undercurrents that were sweeping across the world.

Jaramogi was leaning to the socialist side led by China and Russia while Mr Kenyatta favoured the capitalist bloc led by the US.

The friction eventually led to the resignation of Jaramogi, who effectively quit the independence party, Kanu, to form the Kenya People’s Union.

He henceforth became the leader of opposition against Mr Kenyatta, but his attempts to rise to the presidency were checkmated by the government of Mr Daniel Moi, Mr Kenyatta’s successor, who, for the better part of his reign, imposed a one-party rule.

He finished fourth in the 1992 General Election that Mr Moi won.

He died two years later.

  • Joseph Murumbi

He succeeded Jaramogi but held the vice-president’s office for just nine months — from May to November 1966.

Historians describe Mr Murumbi as a man who had a purist approach to governance and was thus perturbed by the massive land grabbing and authoritarianism of the Jomo Kenyatta administration.

He resigned and kept off politics until his death in 1990.

  • Daniel arap Moi

He is so far the only vice-president in Kenya’s history to have assumed the presidency after the demise of the boss.

But it never came on a silver platter.

He came into office five months after Mr Murumbi left and, given his not-so-conventional path to the top, Mr Moi was often a target of the inner circle of Kenya’s first president.

It did not help matters that for most of the time that Mr Moi was vice-president, Jomo was ailing and weakening, which triggered a vicious succession war.

The war took tribal lines and the confidantes of Jomo wanted a Kikuyu to succeed the founding president.

There was even a push to amend the Constitution to do away with the automatic assumption of office by the vice-president if the president dies.

It took Jomo’s resoluteness to ward off such attempts and, when he died in August 1978, Mr Moi took over as the acting president.

The Constitution required an election to be held after 90 days and, thanks to the political support Mr Moi had marshalled, he was elected unopposed.

He would go ahead to rule for 24 years, during which he played the political chess with the vice- president’s role in ways not seen before.

  • Mwai Kibaki

He is one of the two Kenyans to have served as vice-president and president, the other one being Mr Moi.

But his ascension to the top seat was, in fact, as a result of toppling the administration of Mr Moi, his former boss, and the second president’s preferred successor Uhuru Kenyatta.

Mr Kibaki was Mr Moi’s first vice-president.

He was appointed in October 1978 and was then an active player in the independence party, Kanu.

He would hold the position for 10 years until 1988 when Mr Moi moved him to the Health ministry, dropping him from the vice-president’s office.

Mr Kibaki at first appeared unfazed by this demotion but this was what led to his resignation from the government in 1991 and subsequent quitting of Kanu, a party he had so vehemently defended before.

He would go ahead to form the Democratic Party (DP), through which he challenged his former boss for the presidency in the 1992 and 1997 General Elections.

DP entered a coalition with other parties for the 2002 General Election and saw Mr Kibaki ascend to the presidency, trouncing a youthful Uhuru Kenyatta.

  • Dr Josephat Karanja

He served as vice-president in one of the most politically charged moments in Kenya that followed the failed coup of 1982.

Appointed to succeed Mr Kibaki in 1988, he served for just over a year, then quit after being accused of ganging up with foreign powers to overthrow Mr Moi’s government.

He resigned in March 1989 to avoid a no-confidence vote in Parliament.

  • George Saitoti

Having served as vice-president under Mr Moi for 13 years, the presidency appeared very close to Mr Saitoti in the 2002 General Election when Mr Moi was standing down.

But, to his shock, Mr Moi appeared to favour Raila Odinga and later Uhuru Kenyatta.

That was the time Mr Saitoti made his famous quote, that ''there comes a time when the nation is more important than an individual''.

Saitoti died in June 2012 and as such could not play a role in the 2013 General Election.

  • Musalia Mudavadi

He was the last vice-president under President Moi’s reign, and also the shortest serving.

His appointment showed another perspective Mr Moi had for the VP’s seat: Tribal arithmetic.

He was appointed in an attempt to consolidate the Western Kenya voting bloc under Kanu, in an effort to shore up the chances of the 2002 Kanu candidate Uhuru Kenyatta.

The experiment failed.

  •  Kijana Wamalwa and Moody Awori

They served in the first term of the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) government led by Mwai Kibaki.

Mr Wamalwa served from January to August 2003 and, after his death, Mr Awori took over for the remainder of Mr Kibaki’s first term.

But Mr Awori lost his MP's seat in the December 2007 General Election, and the VP's post was subsequently handed to Kalonzo Musyoka, who was viewed as a compromise option in a power sharing agreement that was necessitated by the bloody aftermath of the election.

  • Kalonzo Musyoka

He was VP for the entirety of Mr Kibaki’s second term as President.

He might have seen the top seat as being ever so near, but Mr Kibaki preferred to keep mum on his successor, letting the top contenders square it out.

Mr Musyoka thus partnered with Raila Odinga to form the Coalition of Reforms and Democracy that lost to Mr Uhuru Kenyatta of The National Alliance in the 2013 General Election.