Kenya: Ruto's Dilemma in Renewed War Against Graft Suspects

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) and Deputy President William Ruto addresses a rally at Uhuru Park in Nairobi (file photo).

Deputy president William Ruto is firmly back in the spotlight after his close allies renewed attacks against the war on corruption. The impending arrest of Kiambu governor Ferdinand Waititu over corruption allegations and the charging of suspects in the Arror and Kimwarer dams have also presented a big dilemma after the Deputy President's previous utterances dismissing the accusations.

WITCH-HUNT

Days after Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi asked President Uhuru Kenyatta to vacate office on grounds of incompetence, following the charging in court of Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich among 27 other officials over the dams' scandal, compounded by similar utterances by leaders from his Rift Valley backyard on Friday, the deputy president is yet to make any direct comment on the issue. Senate majority leader Kipchumba Murkomen, another staunch Ruto loyalist, is also on record criticising the recent anti-corruption court cases.

The situation presents a big dilemma: Should Mr Ruto maintain his silence and attract the interpretation that he either supports the sentiments by his allies or considers them inconsequential? Should he comment directly, and depending on his stand, be perceived either as a protector of the corrupt or a supporter of the anti-corruption efforts? For a long time and despite frustrations of some of his supporters that the deputy president was being edged out by President Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2022 succession equation, a politically suave Mr Ruto has generally played the role of a loyal deputy. That is, if you remove some of his outbursts in recent months against the Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DCI), the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the handshake between the President and ODM leader Raila Odinga.

Even then, Mr Ruto and his allies have been careful not to directly attack the President -- until recently when MP Sudi went on the offensive.

How the Deputy President handles the issue in the coming weeks could make or break the Jubilee party that is already facing deep divisions

On Saturday, the DP maintained that the war against corruption is riddled with witch-hunt and accused the opposition of hijacking it to portray the government in bad light.

"They are traversing the country propagating propaganda about corruption. That is malice. They want it to appear like the government is not performing and that there is a lot of corruption, you should ignore them. They should instead tell Kenyans what the government is doing and the achievements," said the Mr Ruto.

FIRED SALVO

It did not help matters that he is on record accusing the police and the chief prosecutor of pandering to the whims of politicians to settle scores and place roadblocks on his presidential journey.

Before the DPP Noordin Haji ratified the charges against Mr Waititu, Mr Sudi had fired a salvo at President Kenyatta accusing him of incompetence.

These and other political undercurrents put the DP in an awkward position. As he engages in activities to further his State House ambitions, he has a boss to pledge his loyalty to.

"You have heard, for example, that the government has lost Sh21 billion in the Arror and Kimwarer dams which is a flat lie. The money in question is about Sh7 billion and for every coin that has been paid, we have a bank guarantee," the DP said immediately Mr Rotich came under fire earlier this year.

On Thursday, Mr Sudi not only dared President Kenyatta to resign but also said his administration was the worst in the country's history. He accused him of running down the country's economy, an unprecedented remarks from a member of the ruling party.

"William Ruto, let me tell you that your friendship with President Kenyatta is fake. Why sacrifice innocent people in the name of fighting corruption?" he said, calling on the DP to come to terms with the reality that Jubilee was dead.

The lawmaker also defended Mr Rotich and his principal secretary Kamau Thugge, who are facing corruption charges over the Kimwarer and Arror dams' scandal, saying the duo was being used as sacrificial lamb to cover for the real culprits whom he failed to name.

It is difficult being William Ruto. He must unleash members of the political "war council" to remind his rivals that he can mount a lethal fight to get what he has trained his eyes on while at the same time reassure the President that he is a loyal and dependable deputy. It must be a delicate balancing act for the second in command.

"We are very proud members of your team to work with you," the DP reassured his boss at the launch of Bidco Industrial park in Kiambu on Thursday.

He is keen to fight off Mr Odinga while still appealing to Mr Kenyatta's Central bastion.

GONE MUTE

There have been uneasy moments with the purge on corruption being the main point of departure. And after he publicly voiced his displeasure, his foot-soldiers followed in toe, going at the duo, DPP and DCI.

"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," said Senate Majority leader Kipchumba Murkomen, who is the Elgeyo Marakwet Senator, a position he maintains to date.

"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.

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

"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."

At the same time, a number of vocal politicians who have been rooting for Mr Ruto's State House bid have suddenly gone mute in the wake of new alignments mostly brought about by the rapprochement between the President and Mr Odinga.

FIGHTBACK PLAN

Most of them are from Mr Kenyatta's Mt Kenya backyard, Gusiiland where Interior CS Fred Matiang'i hails from and Coast which has traditionally supported Mr Odinga.

The President may have dropped his guard when at the burial of politician Peter Kenneth's mother Rahab Wangui in Murang'a he said, "Uchaguzi utakuja na mungu ndiye hupeana uongozi. Tufanye kazi," (God knows who will be elected. It is time to work.) The remarks have since been interpreted to mean that the DP was not his automatic preference for the next president.

Politicians like Kandara lawmaker Alice Wahome charge that the state is tightening the noose around them through court cases in a bid to dissuade them from supporting Mr Ruto.

The truth is, some allies of the DP are feeling excess heat from the state.

Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro says there is a plot to arrest him next week and prefer 'trumped up' charges over the mismanagement of National Government Constituency Development Fund.

But unfazed, a couple of months ago, the DPP took the unusual step of revealing the names of people who had been charged over corruption to show there was no ethnic or political bias.

Nonetheless, the Ruto camp appears to have renewed its fightback plan--attacking institutions and claiming bias.

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