By David Wanjala
Sometime in May 2018, President Uhuru Kenyatta, in uncharacteristic fashion, shocked the nation when he took a swipe at his deputy in public for the first time since the two ascended to power. He referred to the country’s number two as ‘this boy’ to his face in a clear display of displeasure at DP William Ruto’s early campaigns in his quest to become the President in 2022.
The President was presiding over the issuance of 50,000 title deeds at Jacaranda Grounds in Embakasi when he lost his cool.
“Hii kijana anaitwa Ruto unajua kila weekend anatangatanga kila pahali. Atakuwa anapitia hizi machoro choro, akiona kuna kitu inaenda kona kona mumwambie, si namna hiyo? Tuhakikishe kazi ya wananchi imefanyika. Tumekubaliana? Ni wangapi wamesema tuache siasa tuende kazi?” (This boy called Ruto likes loitering every weekend. He will be passing by and should anything not go according to plans, inform him. We should work for the people. Are we together? How many are for work and not politics?),” the President posed.
It was no secret that tension had been simmering in the relationship of the ‘dynamic duo’ since the beginning of their second term in November 2017 owing to Ruto’s heightened political maneuvers focused on the 2022 General Election. But this was the first time the President had ever come out in public to show his irritation with the turn of events.
Jubilee Party diehards allied to the President aver that immediately the President and his deputy were sworn in for their second term, the later called a Parliamentary Group (PG) meeting at State House where he outlined his Agenda 4 blueprint that would secure him a legacy. He asked the party to support him in achieving the development agenda that focused on the expansion of manufacturing, affordable housing and healthcare, and food security. In turn, the President pledged to support his deputy’s presidential quest at the right time. The Deputy President reportedly failed to heed this request.
The President’s public outburst in 2018 was the genesis of the hostilities that would henceforth play out in public between the President and his second in command, with the result being the gradual but steady isolation of the Deputy President from government.
To start with, William Ruto did not take his boss’s swipe at him kindly. Neither did he take the cue and put his activities in check to appease his agitated senior. Instead, he intensified, and hardly a week later, seized an opportunity at a public meeting in the Central Kenya region to answer the President back to the chagrin of other government mandarins present.
“Lakini Mheshimiwa Rais, kwa ile ruhusa umenipatia, na amri umenipatia ambayo ulisema juzi yenye mimi nafanya kila weekend huko mashinani, vitongojini, vijijini, hata na huko kwenye vichochoro nataka nikupatie report kwamba … ile barabara ulitutuma tukaanzisha kutoka Mathathari pale, kuja Siakago Mpaka Ugweri… imekamilika.” (Your Excellency, by the recent permission you gave me of loitering, I have a report for you, that the road you sent us to commission from Mathathari through Siakago to Ugweri is now complete).
As fate would have it, it is from this back and forth on the tangatanga (loitering) tag that the splinter Jubilee Party faction allied to the Deputy President earned its present name – Tangatanga, more so as they enhanced their weekend campaign activities in the name of launching development projects. The other faction, remaining faithful to the President and keen to check and counter Tangatanga has since been christened Kieleweke, from a local hit song calling out team Tangatanga.
Since then, the public has been treated to bare-knuckle tackles between Tangatanga and Kieleweke of the ruling Jubilee Party – which makes for interesting times indeed. Of course, the biggest casualty of the governing party’s drama that has more often than not spilled over into the Executive and Parliament, and even the Judiciary, is service delivery to the people of Kenya.
Politically, however, William Samoei Ruto has borne the biggest brunt of a war that he should have avoided at all costs had he been adequately advised. First, he has been successfully branded as the lord of corruption where the biggest heists of public coffers and grabbing of public land since the Jubilee Government came to power have been, by design, associated with him.
That the Deputy President is fond of carrying around and dishing out huge amounts of hard cash, especially over the weekends, has only but helped to cement the tag of the lord of corruption or hustler, depending on where you stand. It is said that the DP is a student of politics of President Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi, the self-proclaimed Professor of politics who was also the second President of the Republic of Kenya. But if there is one thing that the DP did not learn from Moi, it is the protocol of, respect for, and secrecy of handling money.
Comedian Eric Omondi last year on Churchill Live relived his Kisumu Boys High School experience when he performed a solo verse, ‘Mobaliosis’, for President Moi at State House after emerging winner in the National Secondary Schools Drama Festivals. He says together with Kakamega Boys with a play, Loreto Girls with a coral verse, and Friends Kamusinga with a dance they cracked the President’s ribs until he gifted each school with Sh40, 000.
Moi, however, did not hand cash to their schools’ heads. The money, the comedian offers, moved from the Office of the President to the Office of the Vice President, to the office of the Minister for Education, on to the office of the Provincial Director of Education Nyanza who passed it to the District Education Officer Kisumu then on to the Municipal Education Officer Kondele, on to the Principal Kisumu Boys High School and lastly to the school’s patron, drama club. That is how protocolled Moi was with money. It exudes respect not only to the office and person of the giver but also to the receiver. It does not trample on poverty. Neither does it glorify riches. The DP needs to take a leaf as part of a concerted effort to shed off the tag of the lord of corruption that has since become synonymous with him and that is so harmful to his presidential bid.
The Jubilee Government was, by and large, shared between the President and his deputy with positions in the Executive and the bureaucracy having been dished to their kin and supporters including funders and sycophants. The so-called war on corruption, where public officers have been targeted has been tilted against the Deputy President’s side of government while it is common knowledge that the unprecedented partaking of the vice in the Jubilee Government is spread across the divide.
The body blows on the Deputy President have been coordinated and sustained. Recently, his lieutenants in elective positions have too been drawn into the radar of the President’s men as those with leadership roles in Parliament including Kipchumba Murkomen (Senate Leader of Majority), Prof Kindiki Kithure (Deputy Speaker of the Senate), and the mighty Adan Duel (Leader of Majority in the National Assembly) were stripped.
William Samoei Ruto, though very hardworking, unassuming, and meticulous, is human. He has made some costly mistakes in his entanglement with Uhuru Kenyatta in their Jubilee Coalition Government.
First, he should never have dissolved his United Republican Party (URP) to fully join President Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA). In so doing, the DP and his entire brigade technically became party-less and in the process lost a valuable bargaining chip.
His open defiance to his boss is yet another undoing in his quest to ascend to power. It hasn’t been documented anywhere in the world where people in his position defied their bosses and successfully went on to succeed them. It will be a first should he continue in the same fashion and triumph. Branding his boss as a dynasty and psyching up public emotion against the label was suicidal. Camouflaging the target as being former Prime Minister Raila Odinga wasn’t smart either. Not being able to conceal his feelings about the President’s handshake with Odinga, their former opponent at the ballot, betrayed his impatience and bad temperament.
These things have constantly put the DP on a collision path with the President “When you hear people out there talk about so and so being a dynasty, it is not about that. Leadership is not about where you were born. It is not about where you came from… It is not about your tribe. It is just about a desire to serve, a desire to do good, a desire to make a difference in the lives of people. And anybody can do that… I say that because even as we engage in our politics, let us do so in a decent manner,” the President implored a congregation last year that included his deputy in a speech during the 41st anniversary of Kenya’s founding President that also happens to be his father. The things his Deputy originates and cheers about go deep in his heart.
The Deputy President’s new catchphrase in his countrywide tours is now ‘the Deep State’, a connotation with innuendo that one in government at the level of the DP wouldn’t, or indeed shouldn’t employ. It means a body of people, typically influential members of government agencies or the military, believed to be involved in the secret manipulation or control of government policy. At whose behest would such a body work for in Kenya’s government and against who? Combined with cries of a scheme to rig the 2020 elections that the DP and his team have now resorted to at heightened weekend political rallies, they put the President of the republic in an awkward situation.
As time races towards the next General Election and the President gasps for the elusive opportunity to secure a legacy, he will become increasingly impatient with anybody within his government that is working at cross purposes. The DP is bound to be isolated even more.
There is, however, a silver lining for the Deputy President – the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) especially the prospects of a referendum to change the Constitution. Contrary to what the proponents of the BBI think, it is a very unpopular initiative with the masses, who, coming from a very divisive plebiscite just ten years ago that resulted in the current Constitution, feel drained. Besides, there is a general feeling that the current Constitution has not been fully implemented, and has not been adequately observed particularly by this government and as such, no tangible reasons have been warranted to change the Constitution merely 10 years down the line. It is in this light that Kenyans are generally of the view that it is merely for selfish ends that the BBI is being forced down their throats.
Most important, however, the push for the BBI referendum comes hot on the heels of a global pandemic, which, after being mishandled by the Kenyan Government, has left the economy battered, businesses ruined, jobs lost, education interrupted in an unprecedented way and the social fabric disrupted. All that Kenyans want to hear about now are policies, initiatives that are geared towards resuscitating an economy that is in the ICU and getting their lives back to normality. This will take a little longer than is being touted.
Furthermore, 2020 is racing faster to the finishing line. Soon we will be in 2021 and just a few months away from an electioneering year, which ordinarily for Kenya, comes with a lot of misgivings and uncertainty. If this government, known for surviving on borrowed money, has any to spend, it had better be on reviving the economy. Kenyans will oppose plans to spend money on a referendum to change the Constitution.
Already, the DP has aligned himself with the sentiments that a referendum on the Constitution does not add value to the common mwananchi. Should the President and Raila Odinga force a BBI referendum on the people, it will give the scheming, indefatigable DP fodder for political mileage that will grow him into a monster that will be too huge even for the touted Deep State to handle. Remember, it is the referendum of 2005 that gave birth to the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) after the Opposition galvanized Kenyans to vote no to a government-proposed Constitution. Today, ODM is still a formidable force to reckon with in the political arena.
It is easier to oppose than to support a government-led initiative. You do not, as a government, want to have an eloquent, scheming, and venomous Ruto against you in a referendum close to a General Election. Not when the citizenry is hungry and hapless, bartered by a pandemic that does not look it is going away any time soon — not when the Government of the day is so unpopular with the people for corruption and misguided policies.
Neither should we forget that the DP has been and is still part of the endemic system. He will turn the tables on his government; he will blame Raila Odinga for the Jubilee Government’s failure to deliver on its manifesto and it will resonate with the people. In the end, he will emerge as the people’s savior.
The DP should pray hard that the Government forces the BBI referendum on the people. (