The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Undertones of Ruto's Triumphal Tour of Central

The clearest sign yet, if any were needed, that President Uhuru Kenyatta and his handlers will stick by Deputy President William Ruto through thick and thin in his ordeal in The Hague was communicated by his triumphant tour of Nyeri in Central Kenya.

Officially, Ruto was in Nyeri to open the Agricultural Society of Kenya Show in Kabiruini Grounds. Politically, he was in the region to make a big point. For one thing, the tour was a last-minute feat of improvisation.

No one expected the deputy president to be in the country that week, the first week of his trial on crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

But then ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's team failed to produce the first witness and pleaded for another full week to do so. Ruto promptly took the opportunity to return home and go back to a busy constitutional duties diary.

The opening of the Show was most likely scheduled as a presidential function, just like the Mombasa Show earlier this month. Ruto and his handlers were also reinforcing another point, this time directly for the court's benefit - he has a pending application before the judges to be allowed not to attend every session of the trial.

This is a motion supported in court by other members of the Rome Statute besides Kenya - Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Ethiopia. Two more signals of the very special relationship between president and deputy president in the face of the ICC predicament were Uhuru's dispatching of his younger brother Muhoho Kenyatta and Chief of Staff Jomo Gechaga to The Hague to be with Ruto during the first week of his trial.

The president's powerful and influential inner circle does not get much more powerful and influential than Muhoho and Jomo, the son of his half-sister Jeni.

And then there was the inaugural monthly press conference by Manoah Esipisu, Communications Secretary and Head of the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU), in which he spoke of the President's "distress" at seeing the Deputy President in the dock at The Hague and hearing the charges spelt out by the prosecution.

Speaking at State House, Esipisu told journalists that watching the start of the trial was "difficult" for the president because he believes the cases have no merit.

"The president has worked with the deputy president for a long time and, knowing where they have come from and what they stand for, he was distressed to see him appearing in the dock', Esipisu said.

Ruto therefore arrived in Nyeri, where he was hosted by Governor Nderitu Gachagua and his Kirinyaga counterpart Joseph Ndathi, with maximum endorsement and not a little empathy from State House.

Nyeri is the heartland of the Mount Kenya region and the political backyard of retired President Mwai Kibaki, who handed power over to Uhuru on April 9, after two consecutive terms at State House.

Ruto's remarks in Central were carefully monitored throughout the political sector, including in the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy of the opposition triumvirate of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and Senate minority leader Moses Wetang'ula.

The tour was clearly choreographed as a triumphal event, complete with crowds lining the Nyeri-Nairobi highway at a number of stopovers on which he made remarks via the public address system of the Deputy President's Press Service (DPPS).

And it came just a jump ahead of the testimony of Bensouda's first witness, a survivor of the Kiambaa church fire during the post-election violence who had plenty to say about Kalenjin marauder intimidation and attacks on Kikuyus in the Rift Valley.

The enthusiasm with which Ruto was received in Nyeri, despite and in spite of the ongoing cases in The Hague and the attendant hugely negative media publicity, underscored the extraordinary "Tyranny of Numbers" narrative at the heart of the Kikuyu-Kalenjin power pact that underpins the Jubilee coalition government.

For instance, it was the second time in three days, on two continents, that Ruto's handlers had their man going for Raila's political jugular. In The Hague on the Tuesday, Ruto lawyer Karim Khan made a point of showing video footage of Raila calling for mass action protests in the wake of the disputed presidential election results at the end of 2007.

Ruto, standing next to Raila and looking straight ahead, is shown subtly but unmistakably prompting the ODM leader and Presidential candidate to include the word "peaceful" in his call for mass action.

In Nyeri at the opening of the Show, Ruto tore into Raila, faulting him over his repeated calls for a national referendum on devolution. Ruto accused Raila of attempting to sneak into power, having lost in the March 4 general election.

"If he wants power he should talk to the voters. He wants to try another way of ascending to power because we defeated him," Ruto scoffed. All this went down very well indeed in Nyeri and Kirinyaga.

Ruto was careful to touch on two other overriding themes in Nyeri and Kirinyaga - the development agenda and Jubilee's ability to deliver on its manifesto pledges.

On Wednesday morning this week, the opposition's fight-back kicked in. Bungoma Senator and Cord pillar Wetang'ula was on Citizen TV's Cheche talk-show elucidating the opposition's stance on the cases afflicting the presidency in The Hague.

Wetang'ula supported the process to the hilt and poured scorn on the National Assembly's twin Jubilee votes that set in motion Kenya's departure from the Rome Statute.

Wetang'ula, a former Minister for Foreign Affairs and a lawyer, emphasised that abrogation of the Rome Statute and repeal of the International Crimes Act would have no impact on the trials that would be beneficial to the accused whatever.

Turning to Jubilee's flexing of legislative numbers, he cautioned it could well be the beginning of "the road to nowhere" and described the legislators of the ruling coalition as being akin to dogs baying at the moon in the matter of the ICC.

Wetang'ula said that although he fundamentally disagrees with the man, he "would shudder to see my president" confined to travelling to AU nations and failing to attend larger gatherings of the community of nations such as the UN General Assembly and the Commonwealth, in the event of Kenya's ceasing cooperation with the ICC.

Wetang'ula also expressed the opinion that, speaking as a former Foreign Affairs minister, former US President George W Bush and former British Premier Tony Blair belong before the ICC on account of the war on Iraq.

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