The Executive Order that has set Kenyan politics aflame did not bother with niceties requiring Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and his Cabinet group to be reporting to the “Presidency” (which conveniently would include the Deputy President). In the wording of the decree, he will be reporting solely to President Uhuru Kenyatta. The political implications are obvious – and huge.
Ignore all that spin about “oh, we are politicising the matter too much; oh, the role of the DP is not affected; oh, this is just an administrative appointment with no wider significance.” Really? Those saying so are in deep denial. And they know it. There would be no panic in the DP’s backyard if they thought the Executive Order was harmless. The die is cast.
“My friend, mambo ni kujipanga.” We all know who is fond of saying that. Unwittingly the same person is the one who is now being straightened out. Add into the mix the “Handshake” which altered everything. When President Daniel arap Moi decided to be his own man, he brought up the “Traitor” issue, which cleared the way to dump Charles Njonjo. A similar game is under way, albeit being played differently. But the goal is the same. Checkmate.
I dare say William Ruto misread the whole plot from the very beginning. Raila Odinga was not the evil instigator the Tanga Tanga crowd wanted to make him out to be. He merely took advantage of a situation that presented itself. There is the Swahili adage: “Kikulacho ki nguoni mwako.” The DP is now learning, with shock, that his real foe was lurking much closer home, inside Jubilee. The ultimate showdown, and its collateral damage, was inevitable. It is all unfolding now.
Ruto had been slow to wisen up, and along the way he tripped badly. The President has repeatedly spoken against the endless and premature pre-2022 political hustling. His deputy’s allies didn’t seem to be listening, or care that there was an incumbent in office. They brazenly conducted themselves as if their countrywide campaign for power come 2022 – dressed up as “development tours” – was the only thing that mattered in the world. The backlash was bound to come.
I noticed a belated change in the DP’s demeanour during the January 13 inauguration of the Ridgeways Catholic Church parish in Nairobi, where he showed up and joined Uhuru and members of his family as the service was going on. He spoke glowingly like never before of the “Big Four” agenda, which the President has pinned his legacy on. He also extolled the “Handshake,” which otherwise everybody knows he loathes. I am just a loyal assistant to the President, he told the congregation. This was a new Ruto, different from the one who previously gave the aura of a co-president during Jubilee’s first term. Bruised by recent upheavals within Jubilee, the DP was visibly changing tack. Mr DP, you are cornered, but not defeated. There’s a big difference. Go full blast in support of the President’s signature Big Four programme, plus the war on corruption. Look sincere. Drop those excessive Tanga Tanga campaign forays, for now. They signal disrespect to the boss. Listen to him, if only to show him you are in his team. Truth be told, he genuinely believes he has a vision for the country other than just being there to serve your 2022 ambition.
Avoid reckless supporters who pose as your spokesmen. Tell them to tone down. Stick to people who speak with sobriety, and who know better than to keep using the language of threats. Only recently they were issuing dire threats of ouster against Jubilee secretary-general Raphael Tuju. A loony fringe was even at one point threatening to impeach Uhuru.
Ah, threats, threats, threats all the time. They’ll backfire spectacularly. Rethink your strategy. Everybody who is anybody across Kenya’s political scene knows a constitution referendum is coming. In all probability it will reshape the post-2022 governance structure in ways that will make your obsessive focus on the presidency superfluous. Don’t isolate yourself.
Every president assesses who, in his estimation, is a fit successor and who is not. Moi flatly ruled out Vice-President George Saitoti. “Uongozi na urafiki ni tofauti,” Saitoti was bluntly told in public. Mwai Kibaki, on his part, was not comfortable with Raila, or with Kalonzo Musyoka. Uhuru seems to have developed a very different rapport with the same Raila. It could be he finds his presumptive heir – the DP – unpalatable for some reason. At some point we will come to know why.
Kangema MP Muturi Kigano is one politician who has nothing but contempt for the Tanga Tanga mob. He happens to be the senior MP in Central Kenya in terms of age and counts loyalty to the President first. When the Matiang’i announcement came, he gave me a very similar analogy as an earlier one by Baringo Senator Gideon Moi: The guitar has been tuned. The music has started. The dance has begun.