What you need to know:
- To his detractors, the DP’s associations are extensions of his political and moral identity, some sort of markers of his values and philosophies.
- To his camp, however, the allies have done no wrong and are only being intimidated by the State to cut links with him.
More than 30 key allies of Deputy President William Ruto are facing possible jail time in a renewed clampdown on corruption that risks denting his public image.
A man’s choice of friends, they say, speaks volumes about his character and values, hence this targeted crowd in the DP’s circles is imagined to be an extension of his philosophies.
He disagrees. And this begs the question: Has the Deputy President surrounded himself with people of dubious character? Or are these people being persecuted for agreeing to sing in his political choir?
The answers to these questions vary from person to person and are heavily tinged with the sour aftertaste of political affiliation. To his detractors, the Deputy President’s associations are extensions of his political and moral identity, some sort of markers of his values and philosophies. To his camp, however, the allies have done no wrong and are only being intimidated by the State to cut links with him.
The latter is the position the DP took Saturday during one of his many meetings with MCAs at his Karen residence, when he said it was unfortunate that the government agencies such as the Directorate of Criminal Investigations were being used to intimidate and threaten politicians, and that the use of the criminal justice system to fight political opponents was stale.
But it appears that the Deputy President has been barking up the wrong tree, because even as he met with the MCAs in Karen, detectives on Kiambu Road were combing through a pile of documents associated with his friend and Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, who faces arrest on abuse of office claims.
In the hierarchy of fish, Mr Gachagua is perhaps among the biggest catches for Dr Ruto. Wealthy, indignant and politically smug, he has been angling to be the DP’s running mate in the next General Election, but now he is being investigated for alleged money laundering and graft.
Should the claims end up in court, Mr Gachagua would join the long list of those who belong to the DP’s inner sanctum who have ran afoul of the law. The length of that list, and the colourful pasts of those in it, have made the DP and his associates weary of the damage this is doing to the collective image of the Hustler Movement.
Joining Mr Gachagua among those who have run into trouble with the law is Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, who is being investigated on claims that companies owned by his close relatives and friends got tenders worth millions of shillings from the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) kitty during his first term as MP.
Mr Kuria, a controversial figure in Kenya’s political scene, has styled himself as a key cog in the Ruto-allied Tangatanga camp of the ruling Jubilee Party, and the DP plans to partly rely on him to deliver the mountain to him.
Kandara MP Alice Wahome told the Sunday Nation this week that the whole idea of arresting and charging politicians allied to the DP is to discourage them from supporting him, and that the arrests have nothing to do with the fight against corruption. Ms Wahome belongs to the DP’s camp and has been accused before of being one of his most vocal apologists.
“Have you heard of anyone associated with President Uhuru Kenyatta, or even the Kemsa billionaires, being arrested and charged?” she posed. “The answer is ‘No’. The President ordered for 21 days for people to be taken to court yet to date no one has been charged. The DCI is being used to fight a political battle by looking for people to intimidate. The timing right now is to slow down United Democratic Alliance (UDA) campaigns in Kiambaa.”
Kenyatta University's political economy and political history lecturer, Prof Edward Kisiangani, said the presumption that people who surround the deputy president are crooks is wrong. It is only the courts that can say that after going through the evidence in the prosecution’s possession, he argued.
“The issue I have with the fight against corruption is that it seems it has been weaponised and some investigations take forever while others are fast-tracked depending on the prevailing political situation,” he added.
For Prof Kisiangani, the question whether being surrounded by people who have been charged makes the DP look bad is neither here nor there as “you cannot choose people to work with in politics”.
“Moreover,” he poses, “Do you abandon your friends just because there are suspicions against them? If the DP took to the podium and renounced these allies who have been charged, you will see the other side warmly welcoming them and their alleged sins will be forgiven and forgotten until they take a different political route again.’
For Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, however, the issue is more about crooks and people of questionable character surrounding the DP than allegations of being targeted. Dr Ruto’s allies, he says, love to hide behind the thin veil of politics to bury the ills they have committed instead of taking responsibility.
“A lot of people who have done something wrong are hiding behind the DP so that when they are called to account they can say it is because they support him,” said Mr Wambugu.
But Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika disagrees, and Saturday, speaking during the Ruto event in Karen, accused the Directorate of Criminal Investigations of “coming up with imaginary cases against those allied to Dr Ruto” to further political interests.
Beginning 2018, the renewed war on corruption has swept away several heads of State corporations, Cabinet secretaries and principal secretaries, most of them perceived to have been allies of the Deputy President. Also hounded out are several MPs and governors, who have ditched Jubilee for Dr Ruto’s UDA. They all face various charges in court, ranging from corruption to incitement to violence and causing destruction, as well as offences committed during the recent by-elections.
Mr Rigathi has been under investigations for close to a year now and the State, through the Asset Recovery Agency (ARA), in October obtained court orders to freeze his three bank accounts on claims that he acquired more than Sh200 million through crime and looting of public funds.
Jubilee Party deputy secretary-general Joshua Kutuny says the fact that DP’s allies are facing all manner of graft charges could be an uncomfortable pointer to his own choices.
“It is very surprising that thieves are trying to defend themselves,” says Mr Kutuny, also the MP for Cherangany. “It is now obvious that if you steal public resources the only place to seek refuge is at the DP’s camp. Like master, like servant; like father, like son. It is not surprising that they are crying foul.”
“Any other claim by them is trying to scapegoat. They should return what they have looted from the public.”
However, Murang’a Senator Irungu Kangata wonders how only one corner of Kenya’s political landscape could have attracted all manner of thieves and cons. It is impossible, he argues, pointing to the persecution claim made by his colleagues in the Ruto camp.
“There are corrupt Nasa parliamentarians in Nyanza and Coast, and inside Kieleweke too, but never get arrested. How come no one got arrested after the Kemsa scandal? Is it because it was full of Kieleweke sympathisers? The persecutions are designed to scuttle the DP’s chances in 2022, but they are instead building his profile. If Kieleweke lost in Juja after the arrest of Mr George Koimburi, Mr Gachagua’s arrest will deliver Kiambaa to UDA,” said Mr Kang’ata.
For him, the only hope in the horizon is that the Judiciary will do its work and deliver justice to those who he says are facing trumped up charges.
“The Judiciary in Kenya is independent. That explains why we are fighting BBI as it intends to weaken the Judiciary. If those arrested are guilty they will be jailed. If innocent, the courts will release them,” he said.
The Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji, the Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti and the CEO of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission Twalib Mbarak did not respond to questions by the Sunday Nation this week on whether, as the Ruto camp claims, they are advancing political interests, but they have all separately said that they act independently, and that their decisions are driven by law and evidence.
Mr Dismas Mokua, a political commentator, said Kenya has suffered under the chains of impunity, mediocrity and corruption, and that anybody who has been a corruption architect must face the full force of law.
“Tangatanga suffers from reputation liabilities when a good number of corruption suspects are aligned to the Hustler philosophy. This in many ways casts aspersions on the Tangatanga brand and makes rational voters question the ability of the Hustler to deliver.”
In the list of the DP’s allies who have been charged are former Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich, former Sports CS Rashid Echesa, former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko, Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa, Sirisia MP John Waluke, South Mugirango MP Sylvanus Osoro and Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa. Others are senators Samson Cherargei (Nandi) and Mithika Linturi (Meru), MPs Wilson Kogo (Chesumei), Nelson Koech (Belgut), and Governors Okoth Obado (Migori), and Moses Lenolkulal (Samburu).
Governor Lenolkulal’s bank accounts have been frozen in line with the graft charges he faces involving procurement of fuel supplies, among others.
In this group, only Mr Waluke has been convicted after a magistrate’s court found him guilty of defrauding the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) of Sh300 million. Magistrate Elizabeth Juma condemned Mr Waluke and his co-accused Grace Wakhungu to serve lengthy jail terms and pay hefty fines amounting to over Sh2 billion.
While the MP was sentenced to serve a total of 67 years in jail or pay a fine of Sh727 million, Ms Wakhungu was to serve for 69 years or pay a fine of Sh707 million.
Ms Jumwa, meanwhile, is in the corridors of justice over claims of misappropriation of over Sh57 million from the NG-CDF kitty.
Former journalist Denis Itumbi, who now works for the DP, is also in court over claims of faking a letter that claimed a plot to assassinate the second-in-command, while Mr Francis Mureithi, who vied for the Embakasi East parliamentary seat, is in court on allegations of fraud.
Mr Sonko, who supports the DP, is facing a series of charges on economic crimes, unlawful acquisition of property and irregular payments. The same charges have been preferred against his former counterpart from Kiambu Ferdinand Waititu, who has since gone slow on his support for Dr Ruto.
Another DP ally who is facing criminal investigations is Kapsaret lawmaker Oscar Sudi, recently lost a bid to halt his prosecution on forgery charges.
Arror and Kimwarer dams
Mr Rotich, the former Treasury CS who now spends time being shuffled from court to court, was sunk by the Arror and Kimwarer dam projects after the state lost Sh21 billion to Italian contractor CMC Di Ravenna. His former Cabinet colleague and ally of Dr Ruto, Mr Echesa, is also being tried in the Sh39.5 billion fake military arms deal scandal.
Away from Nairobi, Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika’s husband Samuel Mburu, who is close to the DP, is in court battling charges of defrauding the government of Sh64 million. When he was arrested, the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) seized six top-of-the-range vehicles as part of the investigations.
Mr Osoro, meanwhile, is facing criminal charges related to incitement to violence and causing destruction to property during the Kiamokama Ward by-election in Kisii County on March 4, 2021.
Elsewhere, Meru Senator Linturi has moved to court seeking anticipatory bail against his impending arrest over claims that he used forged signatures to secure a Sh530 million bank loan using the properties of his estranged wife as collateral. Ms Marianne Kitany, his estranged wife, has accused Mr Linturi of forging signatures to secure the multimillion-shilling loan from Family Bank.
In Nyanza, while he has denied ever working with the DP, Migori Governor Okoth Obado’s dalliance with the DP is no secret. Governor, Obado has set sight to the contest for the presidency. But a lot stands in his way as he is accused of killing his alleged lover Sharon Otieno, and also corruptly benefitting from deals in his county government.
Additional reporting by Ibrahim Oruko