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Ruto's chances to network hit a snag as foreign trips dwindle

Sunday September 15 2019

Deputy President William Ruto

Deputy President William Ruto launches the construction of Pemba Dam in Kinango, Kwale County, on September 14, 2019. He has not represented President Uhuru Kenyatta in several vital events in Africa. PHOTO | JONAH MWANGI | DPPS 

WANJOHI GITHAE
By WANJOHI GITHAE
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Deputy President William Ruto is increasingly getting sidelined by his boss, President Uhuru Kenyatta, when it comes to foreign trips, the Sunday Nation can reveal.

In the last one year, the DP has only made two trips, one to Congo Brazzaville and another to London, United Kingdom, with the latter being cut short by State House.

As is the norm within government, any member of the Cabinet who wishes to travel out of the country has to get a nod from State House.

In September 2018, Mr Ruto, accompanied by the President’s younger brother Muhoho, went on an extensive tour of Congo Brazzaville.

In February, he travelled to the United Kingdom and delivered a speech at Chatham house where he outlined what he believed should be included in constitutional amendments.

On February 8, he delivered his speech titled “Challenges encountered while managing change in a diverse country.”

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The London trip was cut short that evening just before he could travel to Warwick University for a public lecture after State House informed him that President Kenyatta was to travel to Ethiopia the next day.

NETWORKING

Soy MP Caleb Kositany, who had accompanied him to the UK, said they had to call off the Warwick University engagement.

“I recall it clearly because we were to travel by road, a distance that would have taken us three hours. The DP had to call the Africa students leadership, which was headed by a Kenyan where he had lunch with them that Friday and promised them another visit,” he said.

Travels to foreign capitals are essential for establishing crucial international contacts especially for anyone nursing presidential ambitions.

With his foreign movements curtailed, Mr Ruto has not had a chance to cultivate such contacts with foreign leaders.

The norm in international diplomacy is that the President and his deputy should not be out of the country at the same time.

Mr Ruto’s trip to Canada and the United States that had been slated for May and June was called off at the last minute with sources indicating that the sudden cancellation was at the behest of State House.

Mr Ruto had been slated to meet the Kenyan community living in the Americas.

RAILA'S ROLE

The reason given then was that Mr Ruto’s trip would coincide with an official visit out of the country by the President.

Mr Ruto’s trip to the US, which was to take three weeks, would have seen him visit 15 states - including Washington DC where he was programmed to meet key members of the Congress.

Sources indicated that Mr Ruto was informed the President would be visiting Canada and it was impractical for them to visit the same country around the same period.

True to the communication, President Kenyatta visited Canada in early June where he attended a global conference on women and girls, with Kenyans living in the United States and Canada told by local organisers that Mr Ruto’s visit would be rescheduled.

The DP’s camp is said to be concerned about a growing trend where in trips he would ordinarily represent the President, Cabinet secretaries are being given the task.

On other occasions, Opposition leader Raila Odinga has been picked to represent the President, especially in trips around the continent where he is the African Union representative on Infrastructure.

Deputy President’s head of communications David Mugonyi denied that the DP has been sidelined. “I am not aware,” was his curt reply.

KEY EVENTS

Last month, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i represented President Kenyatta in Mozambique to witness the historic signing of a peace accord between President Filipe Nyusi and the main opposition group, Renamo.

In April, Mr Odinga also represented the President at the burial of anti-apartheid icon Winnie Mandela.

In June 2018, Mr Odinga travelled to India where he held bilateral talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In the same month, President Kenyatta’s decision to delegate Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma to represent him at the AU Summit elicited a heated debate online.

Reacting to the debate, State House explained that the President was engaged in urgent state matters throughout that weekend but steered clear of his deputy’s engagements.

“President @UKenyatta has been held back by urgent state matters and will not attend the African Union Summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania. The President has deployed Dr. Amb. Monica Juma, CS for @ForeignOfficeKE, to lead Kenya’s delegation to the summit this weekend,” tweeted State House.

Many Kenyans were of the impression that the President’s principal assistant should be the automatic choice to represent the Head of State at such events whenever the former is unable to attend.

MANDATE

In September last year, Ms Juma represented the President during the 33rd Extra Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) Heads of State and Government on Peace Process in South Sudan and the admission of Eritrea to Igad in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

In December, Ms Juma also represented the President on an official trip to the Kingdom of Jordan for the “Aqaba Process Follow-up meeting on East Africa” on the invitation by King Abdullah II.

Mr Kositany argues that while it is the President’s prerogative on who represents him in foreign capitals, it would have been only procedural that the Deputy President was given a chance.

“I believe it is the DP who should be going for these events. Ministers are too busy with their dockets, but then again, at the end of the day, it is the President who decides,” he said.

UHURU'S DISCRETION

Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja sees nothing odd in the manner in which the President is conducting foreign relations.

“There is nothing out of place as all who undertake official foreign service do so at the pleasure and discretion of the President. This also depends on the specific assignment and who he feels is best-suited.

"There is a substantive Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other CSs engage based on their dockets. Mr Odinga engages as AU special envoy, who fortunately also happens to be Kenyan which further serves our interest,” Mr Sakaja, who also doubles as vice-chair of Senate Defence and Foreign Relations Committee, said.

Past presidents have been known to delegate foreign travels to their deputies, especially founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta whose phobia for air travel was well documented.

When he ascended to power, President Daniel Moi changed the norm, hardly delegating such trips to his vice presidents.

Former President Mwai Kibaki also hardly travelled out of the country during his 10-year term.