Ruto's Chatham House lecture draws referendum battle lines

Saturday February 16 2019

Deputy President William Ruto gives a key note speech at Chatham House in London on February 8, 2019. PHOTO | REBECCA NDUKU | DPPS


Like old soldiers, empires also never die. London, the metropole of defunct British Colonial Empire, continues to have a vice-like grip on the psyche of our leaders and publics alike.

Few in my generation were born when the founding fathers of our Republic trooped to London to attend the series of conferences (1960, 1962, 1963) at Lancaster House, in which Kenya's constitutional framework and independence were negotiated, ending 70 years of British rule.

Today, the old metropole-periphery relation between London and Nairobi lives on.

Whenever there are policy disagreements at home, our elite now routinely troop to the Royal Institute for International Affairs, also known as Chatham House, London, to deliver lectures.

On October 13, 2017 Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga travelled to London to give a lecture at Chatham House on why he withdrew from the repeat election of October 26, the IEBC reforms he and the Nasa coalition would like to see implemented, and how the next government can drive forward institutional reforms to strengthen Kenya’s democracy.



In the wake of Raila Odinga’s move to swear himself as “people’s president”, President Uhuru Kenyatta travelled to London to deliver a lecture at Chatham House on Kenya’s Priorities for Inclusive Growth: Towards Domestic Development and Regional Peace, on February 17, 2018.

In the latest of these forays, on February 8, 2019, Deputy President Dr William Ruto travelled to London where he delivered a lecture on “Kenya's National Unity and Regional Integration: Challenges of Inclusion, Growth and Change" at Chatham House.

Ruto journeyed to London against the backdrop of intense debate on changes to the Constitution.

Here, he unveiled his most profound thinking on constitutional changes needed to underpin the future of power in 2022 and beyond.

Ruto seems to have embraced the popular clamour for an ethnically inclusive constitutional order which inspired the overly populist campaign for “electoral justice” in the aftermath of Jubilee’s victory in the double election in August and October 2017.


In a nutshell, Ruto made a six-point pitch on the direction changes to the Constitution should take.

First, he rejected the dual executive system proposed in which a president exists alongside a prime minister and a Cabinet, pouring cold water on the clamour for an expanded national executive to create the position of premier and two deputies.

Instead, he backs the retention of the 2010 pure presidential system where the President and his Deputy are elected in a joint ticket.

Second, he calls for the return of the position of the “leader of the opposition” to be occupied by the leader of the party garnering the second highest vote in elections.

Under the current dispensation, the runner-up and his deputy are “virtual strangers in leadership”, he argues.

Ruto links this lacuna in power to the trend by losers in elections not to accept defeat, and to use the electoral commission as a scapegoat, a clear reference to Odinga who lost the 1997, 2007, 2013 and 2017 elections.


Third, he proposes that the deputy president be leader of government business in parliament, suggesting that this should also be replicated in counties.

Fourth, Cabinet secretaries should become ex-officio MPs, attending sittings in Parliament at least once a week when required to answer questions in the House.

Fifth, Senate should be made the upper House. Six, he argues for a progressive process of realising the two-thirds gender principle.

While signalling Ruto’s acceptance of the referendum, the proposals effectively draw the battle lines for the coming plebiscite.

Ruto's roadmap is diametrically opposed to Raila Odinga's prescription of a parliamentary system with a ceremonial president, premier and two deputy premiers.

A variant of this system is the recent call by Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi for a parliamentary system that allows the president and governors to serve for a one seven-year term only.


By pitching for a pure presidential system, Ruto has rejected the “Putin Model” proposed by some Jubilee wonks.

The Kenyan-Canadian lawyer Miguna Miguna speculated that the handshake deal was designed to allow President Kenyatta to be Prime Minister in a Vladimir Putin-Dmitry Medvedev style.

For all intents and purposes, Ruto’s referendum blueprint is likely to push Uhuru’s presidency to its lame duck phase earlier than expected.

It also sounds the death knell to his future role in the post-2022 executive.

Ruto’s proposed pathway to a new constitutional order also runs counter to those envisaging the removal of the two-term limit, thus enabling Kenyatta to have a third term.

During a recent Wiper meeting in Komarock, Nairobi, Kalonzo Musyoka reportedly called for the removal of term limits, but later dismissed claims that he had called for a third term for President Kenyatta.


But he does not rule out a premier position for Kenyatta. "If Uhuru leads his Jubilee troops to the 2022 contest and his party clinches the majority of seats, then whoever wins as President must appoint him Prime Minister", he said.

A strong sense of déjà vu rents the air. For Ruto, who spearheaded the campaign against the new Constitution during the August 4, 2010 referendum, it is 2010 all over again.

He posits that the challenges experienced in the implementation of the Constitution had vindicated his 2010 referendum position that 30 percent of the draft constitution of the time needed to be re-looked.

"I bear witness that the issues with the constitution do actually predate its promulgation," he said.

The referendum may be a dry run for Ruto and other 2022 contenders to mobilise and win votes.

But whichever way one wants to look at it, the referendum will create an electioneering climate likely to undermine the President's development agenda. He needs a longer time to consolidate his legacy.

Peter Kagwanja is former Government Adviser and currently Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute (API).