By Ouma Django
When archivists finally put pen to paper on President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta’s legacy, he will, among other firsts, go down in history as Kenya’s first two-term President with three presidential elections. He was voted for twice in 2017 in his bid for re-election after the Supreme Court nullified his victory and called for another presidential vote in 60 days.
But the most intriguing first of President Kenyatta, where historians will dedicate acres of literary space on, will be that he was the country’s first President under whose tenure Article 148 of the 2010 Constitution was operationalized. The annalists will be keen to investigate how the same shaped his leadership and, by extension, his legacy.
Article 148 establishes and cements the tenure of the office of the Deputy President. Unlike in the old order where the holder of the Office of the President appointed a Vice President at his pleasure after elections, Article 148 establishes a presidential ticket by requiring the naming of a running mate by a presidential candidate long before elections and ties the two together like Siamese twins for the entire term.
“Each candidate in a presidential election,” Article 148 (1) states, “shall nominate a person who is qualified for nomination for election as President, as a candidate for the Deputy President.”
The Article then orders the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. in sub-article three, to declare the candidate nominated by a successful presidential candidate as the elected Deputy President who, just like the President-elect, is sworn in publicly by the Chief Justice or the Deputy Chief Justice.
Unlike in the pre-2010 Constitution, the Deputy President does not serve at the pleasure of the President. It shall be remembered that the late President Daniel Arap Moi dropped Prof. George Saitoti as Vice President after the 1997 General Election, only to reappoint him months later by the roadside. For the 24 years (1978-2002) the late President Moi ruled, he had three vice presidents: Mwai Kibaki, Josephat Karanja and Prof. Saitoti. They were appointed and served at his pleasure, with their firing as humiliating as was typical in the KANU regime. Prof. Saitoti’s history as President Moi’s Vice President was the most disgraceful. He was bypassed even as Vice President in the succession line-up at the tail end of President Moi’s leadership for a political greenhorn, Uhuru Kenyatta, despite being the most loyal vice president.
With the 2010 Constitution, Article 148 (6), the term of office of the Deputy President runs from the date of their swearing-in and shall end only when the person next elected President at the ensuing presidential election is sworn in or on the Deputy President assuming the office of President or on their resignation, death or removal from office. This makes it very difficult for the President to fire their deputy.
In fact, according to Article 150 of the Constitution, the Deputy President can only be removed from office on the ground of physical or mental incapacity to perform functions of office or on impeachment, which is restricted to three grounds; gross violation of the Constitution or any other law, where it is seriously believed that they have committed a crime under national or international law or for gross misconduct.
The Constitution, in Article 147, also lists functions of the Deputy President, including that he shall be the principal assistant of the President and that where the President is absent or is temporarily incapacitated and during any other period that the President decides, they shall act as the President.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy, William Samoei Ruto, were the unlikeliest of running mates on a presidential ticket. They were forced to come together in a coalition by circumstances when it became apparent that ascending to and assuming the country’s reins of power was the only way they could circumvent their cases of crimes against humanity in The Hague. The cases had come about from the violence that engulfed the country post-2007 General Election. The two had been accused of funding, among other felonies, their tribes against each, leading to death, destruction of property and forced displacement of people.
While the two survived their first term purely on the exigencies of their re-election, they have run the course of their second term solely on the requirements of Articles 147-151 of the Constitution. Were we still under the old Constitution, it is an open secret that it wouldn’t have taken long after re-election before President Uhuru Kenyatta relieved his deputy of his duties.
Even though the headwinds in the relationship of the President and his deputy came to the fore early in their second term when it became apparent that they were charting divergent paths, a legacy for the President and 2022 elections for the Deputy President, it had been fomenting from the tail end of their first term. It must be agreed that the duo’s first term in office was wasted. Much of their manifesto was not implemented.
Corruption skyrocketed mostly in the programmes they had attempted to implement, notably infrastructural and, more specifically, the Standard Gauge Railway, where public coffers were fleeced through fraudulent land compensation schemes. The 2014 Sh132 billion Eurobond, whose proceeds couldn’t be pinned down on any development in the country, had also left egg on the government’s face. The NYS scandal in which an inquiry revealed that monies were withdrawn from banks and taken away in sacks and many other frauds involving the loss of vast sums of money from public coffers had portrayed President Kenyatta’s first term government as one riddled with runaway corruption.
Evidently, the President was desperate to turn around this perception and secure a legacy right from the sunrise of his second term. He came up with the Big Four Agenda, whose pillars were food security, affordable housing, universal health care, manufacturing and Job creation. He wanted his entire government to focus on the same.
His Deputy, however, had other things in mind. He channelled his energies too early campaigns for the 2022 August elections. This divergence in focus between the two strained their association with the man on whose shoulders the country’s destiny was bestowed, choosing to quietly edge out his number two from the sanctum of government operations. The two strayed apart, especially towards the last year of their tenure.
The President has since come out openly to declare his number two as lacking in character and not fit for the rigours of the big office. He has accused his second in command of having deserted duty and chosen to spend much of his time on car rooftops in campaigns. He has also endorsed the Official Leader of the Opposition, Raila Odinga, as the most qualified to succeed him. The Deputy President, who is now all out in campaigns to succeed the President, on the other hand, has accused his boss of constructive firing. Were it not for the Constitution, President Kenyatta and his deputy wouldn’t have reached the touchline of their second term together.
This relationship between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, in view of Article 148 of the Constitution, has informed how presidential candidates in the August 9 General Election have chosen their running mates. William Ruto himself, even though he later disregarded his own mechanism to choose his bosom friend, had put in place a vigorous process of finding a Deputy President-designate in his Kenya Kwanza Alliance, including opinion polls and voting through delegates. On the other hand, Raila Odinga went for a selection panel that included representatives from major parties that formed his Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Alliance.
In many elections to come, presidential candidates will still look back to how President Uhuru Kenya related to his deputy, William Ruto, especially in their second term, choosing their running mates. (