Long-serving retired African Inland Church (AIC) Bishop Silas Yego has enjoyed unique access to the corridors of power for almost 50 years, establishing close ties with presidents Daniel Moi, Mwai Kibaki, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto.
Having retired in 2020 at the age of 70, Bishop (Rtd) Yego has largely kept off the media, and with it, hidden secrets and decades of history in politics, religion, the place of the Church and the State — and everything in between.
In this exclusive wide-ranging interview with the Sunday Nation, Bishop Yego talks about his attempts to reconcile then President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy (now President) William Ruto. He also revisits his 1997 bid to get President Moi to let Dr Ruto (then a bubbling Youth for Kanu ’92 member) run for the Eldoret North seat.
“Moi by then did not want Mr Ruto or any other YK 92 member to run in the 1997 elections, but I personally took him to the President and convinced him to allow the youngsters to contest. General Election is all about numbers and I managed to convince the former that Central Kenya was more united and had many votes and the young politicians had the influence necessary to penetrate such vote-rich regions,” says the retired bishop.
He would later face the wrath of the former president — who died in February 2020 — when Mr Ruto was linked to Mr Kipruto arap Kirwa’s United Democratic Movement (UDM), to the chagrin of President Moi.
“This was the highest form of betrayal that almost destroyed my cordial relationship with the former president. It is the first time I saw him almost go mad over what I had done. He reprimanded me saying the young men were bad yet I had convinced him to allow them to run for elective positions,” says Bishop (Rtd) Yego.
Even after retirement, his influence seems to continue. He was, for example, among the first clerics to visit State House after the swearing-in of President Ruto last year in September, and met First Lady Rachel Ruto.
“It was a delight to host Retired Bishop Silas Yego of the African Inland Church (AIC) at State House, Nairobi. Bishop Silas, who officiated my wedding with William, is a father figure and we are grateful for his many years of service to the church and the nation,” Mrs Ruto posted on social media site X (formerly Twitter) after the visit that stirred debate online. Notably, Ruto grew up attending AIC.
The retired cleric has also sometimes found himself in trouble. In 2021, for example, he was in the news after auctioneers advertised the planned auctioning of his multi-million shillings apartment in Nairobi’s Kileleshwa —whose value was variously indicated to be between Sh153 million to Sh200 million — over a debt owed to a bank.
In an interview with the Sunday Nation at his Kibomet home in Trans Nzoia County, the retired bishop talks about his failed bid to unite President Uhuru Kenyatta and his then deputy, Dr Ruto, after a bitter fallout following a 2018 Handshake with opposition leader Raila Odinga, and what the man of the cloth thinks could have been the point of difference between the Jubilee duo.
He also talks about his access to State House, how his counsel was valued by the different presidents, what he thinks of their leadership styles, and what he is now up to in his retirement.
It is said you played a big role in convincing President Moi to allow the YK92 team that included William Ruto to contest for parliamentary seats in the 1997 elections but things took a different turn after that…
When I took William Ruto to Moi and convinced him that they had the votes required to help Kanu retain power, I expected them to stay loyal to the party and the Head of State. It later turned into an act of betrayal when they teamed up with Kipruto Kirwa to popularise UDM. This made Moi to be very mad with me.
How did you handle this so-called betrayal?
Although Ruto later pulled out of UDM popularity crusade, Moi and elders, especially in the Rift Valley, were unhappy over what he had done but I considered him an articulate leader with a promising future. I therefore took Hosea Kiplagat (Kanu-era businessman, who was related to Moi) and we flew to a fundraiser in Eldoret where we met Ruto. Elders were still hostile over their constant criticism and abuse against Moi. As a shrewd leader, Ruto realised things were not good and we managed to convince him again for another reconciliation with Moi. It is through my intervention again and the support of Hosea that we managed to convince Moi to forgive him and accord him another chance in politics. What you need to know is that Moi was by then very influential in Kalenjin politics.
This eventually proved to be a turning point in Dr Ruto’s political career. It is from then that he rose from Assistant Minister to Minister and now the fifth president of the country.
What else can you recall about the relationship between Moi and now President Ruto?
Although we managed to unite him with Moi, Ruto was at it again in 2005 (after the ‘Orange versus Banana’ referendum) when he parted ways with Moi and Kanu to join the ODM bandwagon but I consider that to be a personal political decision.
What can you say about your relationship with Moi and his style of leadership?
Frankly speaking, Moi was a true Christian and a good leader. He was a keen listener and a generous person who donated without expecting any favours.
Although the country has undergone a lot of socio-economic and political changes, I still consider him one of the country’s best leaders.
Moi operated an open-door policy and I had free access to State House to discuss issues facing the country. He valued elders and nurtured most of the current breed of leaders.
But how did you come to know Moi and develop your close friendship?
I consider it as divine intervention. I met Moi in two separate occasions in 1984. First when he attended service while I was preaching in Mombasa and secondly when I presided over a wedding at Eldama Ravine the same year. He was so impressed with my style of preaching that he invited me to his Kabarak home. We had excellent relations until his death (in February 2020).
What can you say about Moi’s successor, the late President Mwai Kibaki? Like Moi, did he consult you on issues facing the country?
Kibaki shaped Kenya’s economy. It is during his tenure that the country realised socio-economic growth and development. He consulted freely and took his good time to listen to issues. Kibaki was not a prisoner of time.
He consulted me freely and I can recall that between 2005 to 2007 when the Sabaot Land Defence Force was causing trouble he sought my opinion on what could be done to crush the militia group.
I recommended forceful operation involving the military and that is how the war against the militia was won. The same should apply to bandits who are harassing residents of Kerio Valley region.
Fast forward to 2018 when former President Uhuru Kenyatta and his successor William Ruto differed after the famous Handshake. Did you play any role in reconciling the duo?
Honestly speaking, I and the other clergy totally failed on this one. Despite the fact that we pushed for a face-to-face meeting between the two leaders, the reconciliation just failed to materialise. What I can tell you is that Uhuru and Ruto proved to be some of the hardest people — out of all those I have met in my life — to compromise on issues of diverse opinion.
What was the genesis of their differences and why do you think they failed to agree despite efforts by people like you?
I believe Ruto is a man who is determined to achieve his goals. He was the force behind Uhuru running for the presidency in 2013 and when they won the elections, they entered into a deal that one goes for 10 years and later support the other for the next 10 years.
It is during this period that Ruto was consolidating his ambitions to ascend to the presidency.
But anyway, there could also be other underlying factors that contributed to this; probably business deals or diverse political opinions along the way.
When do you think their political differences became irreconcilable?
As you can recall, after the 2017 General Election, Uhuru and ODM leader Raila Odinga had a political Handshake (in March 2018), a move that did not go down well with Ruto. The Handshake between Uhuru and Raila resulted in the Building Bridges Initiatives (BBI) and in my opinion Ruto viewed the move as a wider scheme to scuttle his ambition to succeed Uhuru.
But by 2019, Ruto started political campaigns which did not go down well with Uhuru...
Who else was involved in the reconciliation bid?
There were many clerics who included Archbishop Anthony Muheria (Catholic Bishop of Nyeri Diocese), Jackson ole Sapit (Anglican Church of Kenya), Philip Anyolo (Kisumu Catholic Archdiocese and now Head of Catholic Church in Kenya), Bishop David Oginde (retired head of Christ is The Answer Ministries) and Robert Lang’at of African Gospel Church.
Do you see any possibility of the two leaders reconciling in near future?
I cannot say yes or no but it will definitely not be easy. They seem to have deep-rooted differences and a lot of imaginary fears.
What can you say about President Ruto’s style of leadership?
It is only one year since he took over power. We want to give him more time to see how he will revamp the country’s economy. He is a shrewd and visionary leader who I can equate to the likes of Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso (who died in 1987) and John Pombe Magufuli of Tanzania (who died in 2021) who were determined to transform the economies of their countries after they came into power. But unlike the two leaders, what we are witnessing is a lot of wastage of public resource despite an increase in taxes.
What is the point of the President attending functions including church events in a convoy of fuel-guzzling vehicles? There is need to cut down on such unnecessary expenditure and pump money into public expenditure. I believe if he reverses such wastages, he can be a brilliant leader who will make a good president.
Have you had a talk and expressed this to him?
I am still waiting for such an opportunity and I will tell him my mind. What I know with Ruto is that there is nothing for free. Although just like the late President Moi, he is generous, but he expects reward for it.
What can you tell us about your retirement? What have you been doing?
Currently I am concentrating on my Bishop Silas Yego Welfare Foundation. This is my self-sponsored project aimed at empowering the needy in society.
The project is on a four-acre family land on the outskirts of Kitale town and last year alone we donated 200 bags of maize and non-food stuff to street children and widows in Western Kenya region. My vision is to empower the boy child who has seemingly been neglected by the society and I will be reaching out to Dorcas Rigathi (Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua’s wife) who is passionate on this.
I am out to equip farmers with modern skills to increase crop productivity and generate more income.
At the moment, construction of a hall and conference facility is ongoing and I will be seeking support from local and international well-wishers to accomplish this mission.
What else are you doing as part of giving back to society?
I was instrumental in setting up AIC Tumaini Centre in Kitale Town that hosts 49 former street children. At my home here I support 15 children. Seven of them have completed university and are looking for employment.
How do you manage to do all this?
I am back to my farm where I majorly concentrate on zero-grazing dairy farming. I have 50 dairy cows, 27 of them lactating. Whatever I generate from the farm is little but enough to support those in need.