Uhuru seems to borrow Jomo’s tactics in taming Ruto

Saturday January 25 2020

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) and Opposition leader Raila Odinga demonstrate their cordial relationship during the annual prayer breakfast in Nairobi on May 31, 2018. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Just like President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, President Jomo Kenyatta and his deputy Jaramogi Odinga started out as the best of buddies.

They wore similar beaded caps, had matching walking canes and flywhisks. The founding President even had a room named and reserved for him at the Odinga family home in Kisumu.

But from the word go, it was clear the camaraderie would not last long, foremost because of their ideological differences.

Odinga hewed to communism though, ironically, he was a rich capitalist. Kenyatta was unapologetically capitalistic.

Insider accounts, however, have it that the Jomo-Jaramogi falling-out had more to it than ideological differences.

It is said Jaramogi’s undoing was carrying himself as if the presidency was collegiate and setting up a separate centre of power – a suicidal move in power politics.


Kenyatta’s close advisers decided that Jaramogi immediately and decisively be cut down to size lest he consolidate his powerbase to a point he couldn’t be stopped.

They wanted him fired as vice-president, expelled from the ruling party Kanu, and his source of political slush funds frozen.


But, wisely, Kenyatta ignored the counsel from his inner circle. He figured that taking his deputy head-on would hurt his own position, and likely hand his deputy an opportunity to turn the tables on him.

Kenyatta knew that Jaramogi was formidable and too entrenched to be easily uprooted. He and Kenyatta owned Kanu, roughly on a 50/50 basis.

Jaramogi had the second largest ethnic vote bloc behind him. He had almost half the MPs on his side, and commanded the loyalty of about one-third of the ruling party branches.

Second, Kenyatta’s deputy wasn’t in shortage of slush funds secretly channelled from the communist bloc.

So, in addition to his fanatical support base, he could buy or rent one he didn’t command.

Third, Jaramogi was a populist and given to whipping up emotions by capitalising on themes close to the hearts of many: poverty, joblessness and the land question.


Lastly, but most crucial, there existed a strong opposition in the Kadu party eager to reap from any falling-out in the ruling party, on the principle that the enemy of my enemy must be my friend.

With that in mind, Kenyatta avoided the likely suicidal path of clipping Jaramogi’s wings at once, but instead chose to pluck off his feathers one after the other.

The first masterstroke was to seek a “handshake” with the opposition Kadu, which agreed to dissolve and join Kanu on the Kenyatta side.

In one fell swoop, Kenyatta’s Kanu faction made the clear majority in the ruling party.

The next move was to dehorn Jaramogi in the government structure. Though the Constitution at the time allowed the President to sack his deputy, Kenyatta chose the softer option of letting Jaramogi keep the vice-president title but stripped him of any powers and influence. He was left a cowboy with a hat but no cattle.

To slight Jaramogi further, his powerful ministerial docket of Home Affairs was handed to former Kadu man, Daniel arap Moi, who was more than eager to demolish the VP’s political apparatus in Kanu and government.


Next, Kenyatta’s troops in Parliament, now shored up by the disbanded opposition, moved fast to strip the Jaramogi faction of all key positions in the House.

The VP was dethroned from the chairmanship of the Backbenchers Committee, the equivalent of leader of government business, as his protégés were removed as whips and chairs of committees, reducing the Jaramogi wing to a spectator’s position.

Kenyatta’s next move was to slam the brakes on Jaramogi’s source of slush funds. His advisers wanted him to sever diplomatic ties with the Eastern bloc countries, especially China and the Soviet Union.

But, once again, the President overruled them, reasoning that it was better to keep the enemy close where you can monitor him.

Kenyatta summoned to State House ambassadors from the communist countries and reached a gentlemen’s agreement that there should be no funding for anyone opposed to his government.

At the same time, he wielded the big stick by ordering constant surveillance on embassies of interest and instructed Home Affairs minister Moi to put on the next flight home any diplomat with links to Jaramogi – including foreign spies posing as journalists.


A faction in the labour movement sympathetic to Jaramogi, and through which the communist bloc clandestinely channelled funds to their man, was ruthlessly dismantled.

Jaramogi’s lead strategist and conduit to the communist states embassies, Pio Gama Pinto, was shot dead in mysterious circumstances one early morning.

The successive blows badly hurt Jaramogi. But he was still in the ring, swinging. He still flew the flag as vice-president and the deputy party leader.

He could pretend the two titles still meant something as long as he sat next to Kenyatta at Cabinet and party executive meetings.

Kenyatta was adamant that he wouldn’t sack Jaramogi, but instead have him frustrated to a point he would walk out on his own.

He wanted his deputy given enough rope to hang himself. He let his hatchet men plot how to force Jaramogi to surrender without the President having to fire a shot.

They figured out that if Jaramogi could be humiliated within Kanu, a party he regarded as his creation and property, he would feel provoked enough and walk out to form another party.

Here, an element of surprise and speed was of essence to deny Jaramogi the opportunity to upset the apple cart at the last minute.

Party grassroots elections would abruptly be called, followed by a national delegates conference.


But, not knowing how many delegates would be loyal to Jaramogi, and how many he could buy, Kenyatta’s men, using the state machinery, secretly hand-picked and drew delegate lists in all the 41 party branches.

When the elections were suddenly called, the Kenyatta men took control of all 41 branches – including those in Jaramogi’s Nyanza backyard!

Before Jaramogi knew what had hit him, a national delegates conference was hurriedly convened at Limuru. There was drama in the days to the conference.

Moi called a press conference and claimed that Jaramogi had received millions of shillings from foreigners to buy support at the Limuru conference.

The Kenyatta men followed it up with a signed statement denouncing the VP as “a sell-out and a foreign stooge”.

The following day, six diplomats and “journalists” from the Eastern bloc countries were deported.

Early the next morning, Jaramogi arrived at the Limuru conference hall lonely and crestfallen, aware that his goose was cooked.

Kenyatta set the mood with a hard-hitting speech denouncing “those out to mortgage our hard-won freedom”.


When Jaramogi rose to defend himself, Kenyatta cut him short, saying he had in his coat pocket the “names of the traitors and where and when they met with their foreign masters”.

With that, the meeting’s only agenda, “electing” the already handpicked officials, sailed through, and Jaramogi’s position of deputy was abolished, to be replaced with eight of them representing each province.

The die was cast. Jaramogi couldn’t take the humiliation. He resigned as vice-president and quit Kanu. At last Kenyatta had him where he always wanted – out in the cold.

The Uhuru and Ruto political romance, which began on the same high note as the Kenyatta-Jaramogi one, and symbolised by white shirts, red neckties and references to “my brother”, is now on the rocks despite pretensions to the contrary.

Whereas there are no ideological differences, the reading from different scripts and separate powerbases is the same.

In taming his deputy, the younger Kenyatta has lifted straight from the book written by the senior – and looks set to continue the trend.

Like his father, he started off with a handshake and rapprochement with the leading opposition party, ODM.


Second, he took away meat from the Office of the Deputy President with the appointment of Internal Security Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i to coordinate government business and projects, essentially pulling the carpet from under the DP’s feet.

The latter insists on launching “projects” and reiterating that he is the only one elected to deputise the boss, but the writing on the wall says the opposite.

Like the elder Kenyatta, who came up with the Sessional Paper No. 10 on African Socialism to rally the country against Jaramogi’s communism, the younger Kenyatta has come up with the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) supposedly to unite the country, but sceptics say to deflate the DP’s wheels in the race to the top.

This week in the Senate, the Kenyatta Jubilee faction and ODM teamed up in a vote to defeat Ruto’s Jubilee faction in the matter of the procedure to follow in Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu’s impeachment hearing.

It was the clearest indication that going forward, there could be a formidable coalition similar to the Kanu-Kadu parliamentary bloc crafted by the senior Kenyatta.

Assuming that there was a 50/50 split of the Jubilee vote in any of the Houses, the Uhuru faction teaming up with ODM would be a clear majority.


But for Uhuru and his new-found friends, the DP remains a hard tackle.

He is still an equal stakeholder in the Jubilee coalition, and his rivals are not sure of the loyalty he commands, or can buy when push comes to shove.

A bigger headache could be how to, if possible, humiliate the DP at the coming Jubilee elections and perhaps make him bolt of his own volition, as did Jaramogi.

An even bigger challenge could be how to contain Ruto outside Jubilee should it come to that, given his energy, deep pockets, and what his detractors say is inclination to play outside the rules.


Postscript: Is the DP already planning ahead should the worst come to the worst on State House?

On the day the boss was announcing a Cabinet reshuffle and wide-ranging reforms in the agriculture sector recently, the DP was on a private mission to Sudan, visiting a highly successful poultry farm.

Is a return to the roots – selling chickens – on the cards for the self-declared “hustler”?

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