The big Jubilee split: No end in sight to the Uhuru, Ruto supremacy battle

What you need to know:

  • On January 23, President Kenyatta handed Internal Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i sweeping powers on the oversight of government programmes.
  • The move, which elevated the CS to the role of "prime minister" or "chief minister", was the first tangible sign that all may not have been well between the President and his deputy.

  • In essence, Matiang’i was assigned roles typically associated with the President’s principal assistant.

The manifestly frosty relations between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, the drifting apart of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his colleagues in the National Super Alliance (NASA) outfit, as well as the hyped Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), are among the dramatic occurrences which defined and influenced Kenya’s political landscape in 2019.


But it is the heightened tension in the ruling Jubilee party and open hostilities between camps separately allied to Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto, fashioned as Kieleweke and Tanga Tanga, that dominated events on the political scene. And right from January, the President initiated a host of tangible moves, believably aimed at addressing the internal mess.

On January 23, President Kenyatta handed Internal Cabinet Secretary, Fred Matiang'i, sweeping powers on the oversight of Government programmes. In the new role, Dr Matiang'i chairs a key committee on the implementation of development programmes, whose membership includes all Cabinet Secretaries, the Attorney General and Head of the Public Service.

The move, which elevated the CS to the role of "prime minister" or "chief minister", was the first tangible sign that all may not have been well between the President and his deputy. In essence, Matiang’i was assigned roles typically associated with the President’s principal assistant.

According to Executive Order number 1 of 2019, signed in Mombasa, Matiang’i reports directly to the President.


Before the drastic move, Mr Kenyatta had repeatedly stressed on the need for elected leaders to focus on his government’s development agenda and warned against premature 2022 election campaigns, a warning his deputy apparently ignored.

While observers view the President’s move as aimed at clipping the DP’s political wings, his backers have dismissed it as a “harmless administrative changes”, maintaining the DP’s position is “well secured in the Constitution.”

Nonetheless, this has not stopped Matiang’i from being an “irritant” to the DP and his backers, who have roundly accused him of “usurping executive powers” and harassing politicians aligned to the DP.

On December 1, Ruto took a swipe at the CS, warning those appointed to serve in senior positions in government against alleged arrogance and disrespect to him.

Speaking earlier on November 29 in Kirinyaga County, Matiang’i maintained he was accountable only to the President stating, “hata kila boma pia iko na mzee mmoja, na hakuna boma inakaliwa na wazee wawili (same as in politics, there is only one head in every homestead, and not two).


The elevation of Matiang’i followed another crucial development within the ruling party — the resignation of David Murathe on January 6 from the post interim vice-chairman.

A harsh critic of the DP, the one-time Gatanga MP set the ball rolling by boldly declaring existence of “solid efforts” to block Ruto’s bid for presidency.

Same as Matiang’i, Murathe is considered a pawn in the bigger Kenyatta-Ruto political cold war. While exiting from office, Murathe, a close ally of the President, explained it was no longer tenable for him to continue attacking the DP as they both sit in the party's National Executive Council (NEC).

He vowed nonetheless to do anything to puncture Dr Ruto’s bid, including petitioning the Supreme Court.  In another move in March, viewed by pundits as an extension of the Kenyatta-Ruto tiffs, the President relieved Rashid Echesa of his duties as Sports and Culture Secretary. The CS may have been kicked out for underperformance, or any other reason, which the Head of State opted not to disclose.

But pointedly, Echesa is a strong ally of the DP, who was openly doing political bidding for Ruto in western Kenya region at a time when the President had warned his officers against politicking.


Incidentally, the President’s action on Echesa was in sync with the warning by Murathe, who predicted at the turn of this year, that Mr Kenyatta was going to be “ruthlessly efficient” in his second term of office.

With political pressure piling on Ruto and his allies over premature campaigns, the DP gave the strongest hint in July that his quest for presidency was unstoppable. Presiding over a funds drive for 35 churches in Eldama-Ravine, Baringo County, he indicated he had gathered enough resources to run for the top seat in 2022. He also boldly, but shrewdly, warned against being gagged from reaching out to the electorate.

Indeed, the stand taken by the DP would later be amplified by his backers with President Kenyatta facing introverted political rebellion from his Mount Kenya region backyard.

Among the legislators who have exhibited open defiance are Kimani Ngunjiri (Bahati), Alice Wahome (Kandara), Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu), Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu), and Moses Kuria (Gatundu South). Ngunjiri has particularly been heavily critical of Mr Kenyatta, including daring the President to call for fresh elections to “test his popularity”.


Second term blues for sitting Presidents are ordinarily aggravated by rebelling allies, keen on realigning themselves with incoming powerhouses. But Mr Kenyatta has constantly reminded legislators from his backyard that he will determine their political fate: “They think because Uhuru is going home in 2022, he will not have a word on what will happen. I am telling them when the right time comes, I will have something to say.”

And in June, the long-running suspected split in the Executive just got worse with four Cabinet secretaries from the Mount Kenya region being summoned to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) over an alleged plot to assassinate Ruto.

Ms Sicily Kariuki (Health), Mr Joe Mucheru (ICT) and Mr Peter Munya (Industry, Trade and Co-operatives) revealed they had been accused of holding meetings allegedly to plan how to assassinate the DP. Mr Munya, who addressed the media shortly after the visit to DCI, termed the allegations as very serious, political, irresponsible and intended to portray the ministers in bad light.


With the DP’s handlers cleverly avoiding a head-on confrontation with the President, ODM leader Mr Odinga has been the face of attack by the Ruto camp. And the reason for the friction has all along been the BBI, which the DP has all along accused Mr Odinga of allegedly “forcing it down the throats of Kenyans for personal political gain”.

The tension within the Executive nearly exploded on November 27 during the official launch of the BBI report at Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi.

The DP cut a lonely figure at the event, and even spoke ahead of the former PM in a clear breach of protocol. The DP’s backers, including Senate Majority leader Kipchumba Murkomen, could not hide their fury and discomfort.

Before the launch of the report, another constitutional initiative, the “Punguza Mzigo Bill”, had fallen victim of political competition pitting Ruto against Odinga. By mid October, 32 out of the 47 county assemblies had voted out the Bill sponsored by Dr Ekuro Aukot’s Thirdway Alliance. Mr Odinga and allies of Mr Kenyatta were openly critical of the Bill, which initially enjoyed the support of the DP.


Besides the constitutional initiatives, the political battle between the DP and former PM, viewed by Ruto’s allies as the man responsible for emerging rifts in Jubilee, has been characterised by political contests in 2019 by-elections.