Not too long after his release on bail after spending more than a month in remand prison charged with the brutal murder of his young lover Sharon Otieno, Migori Governor Okoth Obado has been a frequent presence by the side of Deputy President William Ruto.
This past Sunday, November 11, he joined Mr Ruto at the Governor Wahome Gakuru Memorial Half Marathon in Nyeri. The previous day, he had accompanied the Deputy President on a daylong campaign jaunt across Nyamira and Kisii counties dubbed an ‘inspection of development projects’.
At the beginning of the same week, Mr Obado had just days after earning his freedom hosted Mr Ruto in Migori in yet another campaign foray, this one under the guise of commissioning some roads.
The engagements, especially the Migori-Kisii-Nyamira legs, were highly loaded political events. They served to showcase Mr Ruto’s acquisition of a valued ally from the political stronghold of his arch-rival, former leader of the opposition Raila Odinga.
It may serve Mr Ruto well to demonstrate that he is making inroads in hostile territory as he ramps up his early campaign for the 2022 presidential election.
The nature of politics is that Mr Ruto will build alliances and seek support across the board, as will Mr Odinga or any other candidate. However, it is highly disturbing that the Kenyan politician throws all morality out of the window in cultivating friends who might be worth a few votes.
To be sure, Mr Obado has not been convicted of any offence. He remains innocent until tried and found guilty; and there is more than ever the chance that he eventually might be acquitted.
The very fact that he faces a criminal charge should still dictate that he be kept at arm’s length, especially by those bound by the leadership ethics code and are serving in office where they influence government decisions.
What we are seeing is not just Mr Obado declaring support for Mr Ruto’s presidential quest, but the latter publicly demonstrating his backing for a governor facing serious criminal charges.
Mr Ruto is not an ordinary Kenyan, or politician, who would not raise eyebrows for standing by a friend who falls afoul of the law.
He is the Deputy President of Kenya. This makes him a key player in the Executive arm, a powerful official who not just provides political leadership, but also exercises broad supervisory powers over all functions of government.
The investigators and prosecutors who determined that there was compelling evidence to put Mr Obado in the dock work for this same government. They implement policies set by an administration in which Mr Ruto is an integral part.
By consorting with Mr Obado, the DP is signalling his rejection of the findings and recommendations of the Director of Criminal Investigations and Director of Public Prosecutions in charging the governor with murder.
Beyond the two individuals and the offices they hold, Mr Ruto is, by extension, rejecting his own government’s handling of the matter, essentially distancing himself from the Jubilee government’s stated vow to fight crime without fear or favour or any regard to political considerations or the status of those involved. Now, this is not about whether Mr Obado is guilty or innocent, but about fears created when a powerful person in government expresses support for someone under criminal indictment by state agencies.
Questions could be raised on the prospects of policiticisation and high-level interference with the case. There will be legitimate questions on why there is no sympathy, support and commiseration for the slain victim.
This is not just about support for a friend or ally, but about subversion of the government’s anti-crime efforts. It is also a very public demonstration of impunity and utter contempt for the organs of law and justice.
But then we should not be surprised. In the run-up to the 2013 elections, we Kenyans decided that constitutional and statutory law requirements on ethics in leadership counted for nothing.
We elected as President and Deputy President two individuals facing charges of crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court; using the indictments facing Mr Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Ruto to rally our ethnic political bases.
Four years later, we threatened our own Supreme Court when it found against the same individuals in a historic election petition.
Another election season is on even before the dust has settled from the last one. We can expect all manner of suspected felons to get shelter on the bosoms of politicians.
Email: [email protected] Twitter: @MachariaGaitho