3 March 2019

Kenya: Ruto's Dilemma as Anti-Graft War Pushes Him Into a Tight Corner

Photo: Jared Nyataya/Daily Nation
Deputy President William Ruto (file photo)

Deputy President William Ruto this week veered off his own script, going hammer and tongs on Opposition chief Raila Odinga in what promises to shape the political discourse going forward.

His reference to Mr Odinga 'as the lord of poverty' and talk of 'mandazinomics' in Garissa on Friday rekindled memories of the hotly contested presidential poll in August 2017 that left the country divided.

The newfound approach, whether temporary, presents him with a dilemma that observers reckon may make or break his chances of succeeding President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2022.

Does he go full throttle on Mr Odinga without appearing to criticise the March 9 handshake between President Kenyatta and the Opposition leader?

"Some people told us that if they lose an election they will go and make mandazi. You lost the election, why are you not making mandazi instead of bringing petty politics into serious programmes that we are focusing on?" he wondered.

CORRUPTION

For a long period now, Dr Ruto had told his lieutenants that he would not take on President Kenyatta in public, saying that doing so would jeopardise his chances of inheriting his central Kenya bastion.

"DP's behaviour this week did not come as a surprise. This he has been holding back but he eventually reached the boiling point. The officers he is accusing of being used to fight him in the war on graft were duly appointed to office, it leaves him in a precarious position," Dr Tom Mboya, a don at Maseno University, observed.

While he may not have directly fired a salvo at the Head of State and his allies, saying that the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) was being used to settle political scores, he may be guilty of contradicting his boss who at a funeral in Murang'a earlier in the week reiterated his full confidence in the DCI boss George Kinoti and Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji in their ruthless crackdown on graft in high places.

DPP HAJI

It was a precursor to a series of statements issued hours later by Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich, his Water and Irrigation counterpart Simon Chelugui and Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen on alleged financial scam in construction of dams.

"For us to win this war on corruption we need to hire an extra DPP and DCI, competent ones who can prosecute their cases in court. The current drama queens can be left to run the war on headlines and social media; there they do really well. But that is just about it," fired Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot, a Ruto ally, in a tweet.

A shrewd Dr Ruto is aware that he can get his message to the President by attacking Mr Odinga.

"My personal position is that the DPP is knowingly or unknowingly maliciously being used to fight Dr Ruto in part of a wider scheme to scuttle his 2022 presidential bid," Murkomen, who is the Elgeyo Marakwet Senator, said.

BACKLASH

The tough balancing act that faces Dr Ruto and his lieutenants is how far to go in their criticism. Taking on the DPP and DCI in whom the President said he has confidence in would in any way look antagonistic.

By choosing to go for Mr Odinga, blaming him for the controversy that has rocked the dam projects, Dr Ruto risks being seen as fighting the handshake, his bosses' panacea for ethnic divisions in the country.

"The fight against corruption would not be won in the manner it is being done now, not with the negative campaigns clearly being waged against the Deputy President and his allies," Mr Murkomen said.

Belgut MP Nelson Koech says the DCI has engaged in a fishing expedition to galvanise his cases, which have no legal basis and cannot hold in court.

"It is unfortunate that the DCI and the DPP are prosecuting the alleged cases through the mainstream media and the social media. It should not be misconstrued that by keeping quiet for a long time as the scenario unfolds amounts to being pushed to a corner or an act of submission. Enough is enough! We will not take it lying down any more."

SYCOPHANTS

It is an all-out war and only time will tell how it ends. Some in the government think that the DP is out to undermine the war Mr Kenyatta is waging on corruption in government.

However, nominated ODM MP Wilson Sossion differed with his colleagues, saying a few politically correct individuals are destroying Kenya's economy through looting public coffers as a result of entrenched corruption in the civil service.

"Sadly, the people glorified by the voters in this country and the society as a whole are those who thrive in corruption. They loot public coffers and dish out handouts to voters," Mr Sossion said.

Senior government officials including Cabinet secretaries, principal secretaries and regional commissioners have lately kept off Dr Ruto's functions with only a few MPs accompanying him.

Before the handshake and the elevation of Interior boss Fred Matiang'i to chair Cabinet Committee on Service Delivery, politicians and government officers were falling on each other trying to catch the attention of Dr Ruto.

ALLIES

It is a system that was perfected in the Moi era where a vice president or minister's clout was gauged on the basis of how he was handled by members of the provincial administration.

The absence of provincial or district commissioners in a VP's or minister's function would send clear signals that one was a marked man politically.

In Mount Kenya region, MPs who support Dr Ruto's 2022 presidential bid have started keeping off his functions as witnessed last weekend when he attended a medical camp in memory of the late Nyeri Governor Nderitu Gachagua at Railway grounds in Karatina.

Only area MP Rigathi Gachagua, Governor Mutahi Kahiga, his deputy Carol Karugu and Woman Representative Rahab Mukami were present, but other MPs kept off.

Local MPs including Anthony Kiai (Mukurweini), Gichuki Mugambi (Othaya) and Mwangi Gichuhi (Tetu) said they were engaged in other "private family matters".

ISOLATED

Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, who is the face of Dr Ruto revolt, said he has always avoided sharing platforms with him because of the 2022 debate, and that more MPs from the region ae leaving the DP's camp.

"The DP is getting isolated because of the corruption issues facing him, ranging from illegal acquisition of land and claims he is a beneficiary of looted public funds," Mr Ngunjiri said.

An MP who did not want to be named said the working relationship between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga has made some MPs tread cautiously in their relations with the DP while others adopted "a wait-and-see strategy".

Additional Reporting Joseph Wangui

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