Deputy President William Ruto this week made the clearest statement yet that his own Jubilee administration had turned against him under the guise of the war on corruption.
It was the culmination of weeks of high-fever politics in the Ruto camp, whose prime targets have been President Uhuru Kenyatta, ODM leader Raila Odinga and Director of Criminal Investigation George Kinoti.
On Saturday, a top ranking member of Dr Ruto’s inner circle, who is part of the parliamentary leadership, told the Sunday Nation that on Friday night, the deputy president summoned a clique of trusted allies to his Karen home.
The agenda? To review the President’s comments during a visit to Namibia that he will not spare even his closest political allies in the graft fight — a quote seen to target Ruto.
Friday was a day of drama that included the suspension of the President’s Twitter accounts supposedly after they were hacked and the “offending” tweet posted.
“If you are corrupt, we will fight you. You can be my brother or my sister or my closest political ally, but if you are corrupt we will fight you. I won’t be clouded by ethnicity or status in my quest to leave behind a united nation; and I will continue championing for Kenya’s unity,” the President said on Twitter but his Chief of Staff Nzioka Waita later announced the hacking.
That was before an unedited video emerged showing the President making the same comments.
On Saturday, the war of words between pro-and anti-Ruto groups continued, threatening to tear apart the ruling Jubilee Party, which had previously declared it would be in power for at least 20 years from 2013.
On Twitter, a social media site, #DissolveTheGovernment trended, putting into perspective the cloud of uncertainty facing the once close relationship between the President and his deputy.
Analysts say the President, aware that even friendly fire kills, may not want to push so hard at the risk of destroying his own government.
Added to the political battle is the “handshake” between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga that Dr Ruto initially welcomed in 2018, but now attacks it at every turn.
The thinking in his corner is that Mr Odinga is out to destroy Jubilee, and by extension upset the succession plan.
Then there is investigation on the Arror and Kimwarer dams that involve Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich.
DP Ruto and his allies from the Rift Valley have dismissed the investigations as a witch-hunt. It is all linked to 2022 succession politics, the deputy president’s camp has often said, with the counter argument being that they are sabotaging the war on corruption.
The parliamentary leader in Dr Ruto’s camp, who spoke to us in confidence, said that to show the gravity of the situation, the Friday night meeting included discussions on phone by the deputy president’s allies who wanted “permission” to fight back this weekend.
So palpable is the tension in Jubilee that some Cabinet Secretaries have deliberately avoided to be seen in public with the DP on his ‘development tours’.
On Saturday, Jubilee politicians like Tharaka-Nithi Governor Muthomi Njuki expressed concern that if not mitigated, “the civil war” in the ruling party is threatening to bring down the government.
“Jubilee Party is about to collapse because of the bickering. We should let offices mandated to fight corruption do their work unhindered. All leaders regardless of their position in government should take responsibility if found on the wrong,” he said.
The development followed loud complaints from Dr Ruto’s allies in recent weeks, with Kapseret lawmaker Oscar Sudi at some point challenging Mr Kenyatta to conduct a lifestyle audit on his own father, the founding president, to prove he is serious about the exercise.
The President was also dared to sack his deputy, a move with political and legal roadblocks.
Recently, a group of lawmakers and the DP himself have addressed many gatherings across the country and charged that the war on corruption is actually a ploy to dim his political star.
“We do not want double standards in the fight on graft. Institutions dealing with the vice should not operate at the whims of individuals, that we will not allow,” Nelson Koech, Belgut MP and a Ruto ally said.
The last three weeks have seen Dr Ruto take a gamble in what may complicate his ambition to not only inherit the vote-rich central Kenya but also become the fifth president of the country.
By taking on the DCI boss, Dr Ruto has sent the wrong signal to those around the President, with some vowing to fight back.
“When politicians allied to the DP such as Sudi attack the DCI, they are directly attacking the President in a bid to undermine and frustrate his fight against corruption. There is no tribe called corruption. Everybody should carry their own cross,” nominated Senator Isaac Mwaura told Sunday Nation, repeating statistics recently released by Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji on the ethnicity of those charged for graft.
Indeed, the President’s allies are unhappy with Dr Ruto, as they accuse him of subjecting his boss to ridicule.
Instead, the Sunday Nation has learnt that Mr Kinoti has got further seal of approval from State House in what is poised to attract more noise from Dr Ruto’s side.
“There have been attempts to profile the political war wedged against William Ruto to be war on corruption. I am the deputy CEO of a company called Kenya, and so if I don’t know what is going on in the company then I should not be in any position in that company,” Dr Ruto said on Thursday.
He was responding to criticism on his earlier remarks that the money in contention in the scandal-hit Arror and Kimwarer dam projects was Sh7 billion, and not Sh21 billion as indicated by the DCI and DPP Haji.
Mr Kenyatta had before Dr Ruto’s remarks gave Mr Kinoti thumbs up in the anti-graft war.
Dr Ruto has lately abandoned his long held script where he always advocated for non-combative politics, especially towards Mr Kenyatta.
Maseno University don Tom Mboya likens Dr Ruto’s outbursts, especially in attacking Mr Odinga and Mr Kinoti, to a wife who is angry at the husband but chooses to load her frustrations onto their child.
“It is a very clever trick, the husband is right there but she chooses to violently reprimand the child and tells him he is as unruly as the father. The message is delivered and she would rather deal with the consequences later,” he says.
The DCI boss has already come out to say that he will not be distracted by the ‘political noise’ in discharging his duties.
The attacks on Mr Kinoti, and by extension President Kenyatta, are a potent ammunition to those from the Mt Kenya region who are opposed to Dr Ruto.
The strategy the second in command is implementing is no doubt fraught with many risks.
Nominated MP Maina Kamanda holds that Dr Ruto should not expect the region’s support, yet he is ‘busy giving Uhuru hard time in office’.
“He will find it rough in central. He cannot publicly take a different position from his boss’s on the ongoing war on graft and expect to be treated with kid’s gloves in the President’s home turf. Let him forget about our support,” the lawmaker with roots from Murang’a said.
He asked Dr Ruto to resign if he does not agree with how President Kenyatta is ruling. “He should bolt out if he is convinced he is man enough,” he said.
Mr Mwaura said the DCI should be allowed time and space to execute his mandate without any political interference.
“He needs maximum cooperation. He shouldn't be attacked simply because he is from Mt Kenya, region and is doing his job well so far. It appears that he is doing things right and this is sending shivers amongst some people,” he said.
A member of the DP’s kitchen cabinet confided to the Sunday Nation that their boss had been pushed to the corner and had to do something.
Dr Ruto’s Rift Valley backyard had more than ever become so restive by the ongoing crackdown on corruption that they believe targets their sons and daughters.
“He had to come out, voice their frustrations and also show his support base that he still looks out for them. While it is more about self-preservation, the DP was also sending a signal to his detractors in Jubilee that choosing to keep quiet did not mean he cannot fight,” the source said.
Prof David Kikaya, a career diplomat, agrees with this position. “Ruto comes from a constituency that has always looked up to him for leadership. Look at it from the position of African chieftainship where the chief never bows to another from a neighbouring community.
"He has to be seen to be his own man, and he wanted to be seen as taking care of his people who say the war on graft targets them. In it is also the theory of brinkmanship,” he explains.
The DP is walking a well-trodden path only that he chose to approach it differently. The succession of Jomo Kenyatta was dotted with many cases of hubris retired President Moi had to contend with.
Some of the DP’s advisers are of the view that he does not have to meekly put up with open humiliation. They say he is not Moi.