Did Uhuru’s absence expose Ruto as being non-presidential?

Sunday May 19 2019

Deputy President William Ruto

Deputy President William Ruto addressing wananchi at Lokichar Baraza Grounds in Turkana South on May 11, 2019. Some of his allies have abandoned him. PHOTO | JONAH MWANGI | DPPS 

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For a time in the last fortnight, there was speculation about the whereabouts of President Uhuru Kenyatta, who seemed to have stepped away from the public eye. The President’s itinerary wasn’t made public either, leaving Kenyans guessing as to where the Head of State was.


As is routine whenever there’s insufficient information regarding a matter of public interest, all manner of conjecture came into play. There were sarcastic comparisons being drawn with Cameroon’s Paul Biya who has a habit of spending long periods of time in Switzerland. This was before State House clarified that the President was busy working, and that the country had nothing to worry about.

It was apparent that due to the immense symbolism and centrality of his office to national unity, the person occupying the top seat and the institution which he serves in are more often than not conflated into one, such that Uhuru Kenyatta the person and the Office of the President are deemed to be one and the same.

This means that Uhuru the individual may struggle to differentiate himself from Uhuru the Commander-in-Chief, who the country will not tire to scrutinise and make continuous demands on as a public servant.

Yet there should be a distinction between Uhuru the man and Uhuru the President, such that the man can be expected to suffer fatigue and retreat, as every human being does.

This reminds one of the days President Barack Obama would be photographed enjoying a mug of beer in public, or the confessions he would make about struggling to quit smoking from the time of his presidential campaign, and how First Lady Michelle Obama had kept vigilant to ensure he didn’t smoke.

These incidents showed Obama’s human side, that he was a mere mortal made of flesh and bones much as he was in possession of the nuclear codes of the world’s most powerful country militarily.

Whether travelling or not, Kenyans seem to want to feel that the President is present in a way, since the public has an eternal need for reassurance that their symbol of national unity is intact. It doesn’t matter whether the Head of State is whiling away in a foreign beach somewhere, as long as he is deemed to be present.


Therefore the inescapable conclusion from the manifestations out of the #FindPresidentUhuru chorus on social media was that President Kenyatta has somehow become the sole personification of the presidency, much as such a scenario should never be desirable or encouraged.

The 2010 constitution purposely fashioned the presidency as something bigger than any individual, being that for starters, the presidential ticket comes with a President and his deputy. The duo’s joint ticket receives a joint mandate, meaning they should both symbolise national unity, among other things. The deputy presidency is further buttressed by the fact that the President doesn’t have powers to dismiss the office holder.

This, coupled with the provision that the Deputy President steps into the President’s shoes were the Head of State to vacate office, get incapacitated or go on a hiatus, even if unexplained, means that in the event of the President’s absence, the Deputy President should give the country a sense of comfort and relief, as if the President was around.

However, the Deputy President’s usual rounds across the country as Kenyans wondered about the President’s whereabouts didn’t seem to inspire the sort of confidence the country needed at the time.


The Deputy President’s reassurance that things were on course would or wouldn’t have turned the tide of inquiries, but seeing that the Deputy President seemed either nonchalant or uninformed, and the fact that he couldn’t offer reassurances either verbally or by his actions, by just being present – not as the President’s spokesman or his keeper but as Kenya’s principal number two – left more questions than answers.

Could it be that through his actions of early campaigns, the Deputy President has lost the presidential poise necessary for someone who is part of the presidency, and that even if he got an opportunity to step in as a substantive sit-in for the President, he wouldn’t command requisite confidence?

The President can certainly contemplate a future break, as is humanly reasonable, but before he does so, the presidency as a whole needs to ponder over some of these questions, such that even in his absence – even if he has been perpetually critiqued for non-performance – there will be no sense of the country’s roof caving in.