Forceful DP needs Kithure Kindiki the pacifier, his allies say

Kithure Kindiki
Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Prof Kindiki first burst into the public limelight in 2008, when he was appointed as secretary of cohesion in the Justice Ministry.
  • Prof Kindiki, from Tharaka in the larger Meru region, is also being seen as an answer to the historical grievance within Mt Kenya East against their Mt Kenya West ‘cousins’.

Few would know that Prof Kithure Kindiki has been a key advisor to Mr William Ruto for nearly 20 years.

Prof Kindiki first burst into the public limelight in 2008, when he was appointed as secretary of cohesion in the Justice ministry soon after the post-election violence. He resigned three months later, complaining about lack of political will to address the challenges the country faced at the time, including resettlement of persons displaced by the violence.

He had come to Ruto’s court very young—aged only 31, armed with a PhD in international law and already consulting for the United Nations—and immediately struck him as someone he could work with.

He began work as a lawyer for the first-rising opposition MP and would stick with him through his International Criminal Case at The Hague. He was also a key architect of the Jubilee coalition deal that brought together Mr Uhuru Kenyatta’s TNA and Dr Ruto’s URP ahead of the 2013 polls.

He rode on this wave to win the Tharaka-Nithi senatorial seat in 2013 and was promptly rewarded with the Majority leader post, which placed him very close to the centre of power. Prof Kindiki has emerged among the favourites in a clique of politicians angling to become DP Ruto’s running mate in Kenya Kwanza.

He has taken a more prominent role in the coalition’s presidential campaigns. It all started when he shelved his bid for Tharaka Nithi gubernatorial seat in favour of the incumbent, Muthomi Njuki, at the request of the DP. It then crystallised when in March he took charge of UDA campaigns at a time when the DP left for the US and Europe. But does the 50-year-old former law lecturer have what it takes to be deputy president? What goes for him and what are his downsides?

Those who vouch for him say his cool, collected and soft-spoken mien will complement Dr Ruto’s forceful character and that he can be a pacifying figure in government.

They add that with his expertise in international law and his scholarship, Prof Kindiki would make a good diplomat as the country’s number two should the DP win.

Prof Kindiki, from Tharaka in the larger Meru region, is also being seen as an answer to the historical grievance within Mt Kenya East against their Mt Kenya West ‘cousins’.

 The region, which has voted with their cousins in Central Kenya, have always complained they have long held the short end of the stick. Mr Njuki describes Prof Kindiki as a team player who does not hold grudges.

“He is not a pushover. He is a firm guy who speaks his mind. If he is not happy with something he will make it very clear,” Mr Njuki told the Nation, describing the senator as a team player who acts above board.

As majority leader, he gravitated towards DP Ruto and even those early years began entertaining the dream of being his running mate in the 2022 elections.

But then he faced a stiff re-election challenge after opponents painted him as “a Nairobi man who flew too high” (he had been a member of the ‘Sky Team’ that moved around in helicopters in the early years of the Kenyatta administration, bamboozling villagers in remote places), forcing him to change tack.

A master tactician, he pulled populist antics such as joining women to wall classrooms and campaigning on a bicycle, a strategy which paid off when he won re-election comfortably.

Back in Nairobi, his dream for the deputy presidency suffered a setback when his position was taken away and handed his deputy Kipchumba Murkomen in a calculation that appeared to value a more abrasive leader.

But the professor took it in his stride and from that point he assumed formlessness in part owing to his position as an umpire in the House. He also shunned the national limelight. Apparently, however, the President still saw him as a staunch supporter of the DP with whom he had differed and came for him, joining a growing list of legislators who were being purged.

Matters came to a head when, from the Speaker’s chamber, Prof Kindiki sanctioned a debate of leaders opposed to President Kenyatta’s takeover of some of Nairobi’s functions under the Nairobi Metropolitan Service (NMS).

In the motion to oust him as Senate Deputy Speaker, on July 3, 2020, Prof Kindiki was accused of snubbing a State House meeting that sacked Mr Murkomen as majority leader and Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika as majority chief whip.

In a conversation for this story, Prof Kindiki recalled the four grueling hours of the ouster debate during which all senators who spoke praised his leadership but, in the end, “asked to be given Barabbas”. He was referring to the story of Jesus’ crucifixion in which the crowd, well aware of Barabbas’ sins and Jesus’ innocence, asked Pontius Pilate to release the former.

Those who think he doesn’t merit to represent Mount Kenya cite the fact that he doesn’t come from ‘Central proper’, a charge his supporters dismiss saying the region had accepted Dr Ruto who is not from the region to be President and wonder why it would be difficult to accept one of their own.

His reign as the Leader of Majority is remembered for the bipartisan manner he approached House business. Recognising Parliament's collective mandate as an institution to oversight the other arms of government, Prof Kindiki sought, and received, the support of the minority side and was able to deliver on his legislative mandate.

He ensured that the minority side was co-opted in leadership positions in the House committees, just as he anchored his leadership consultations before any business was introduced in the House, which was one way of building consensus.

Mr Njuki says his 10 years’ experience in elective politics places miles ahead of the pack that is being considered for the job within the Kenya Kwanza.

University of Nairobi don Herman Manyora observes that the 10 years he has served in the Senate, taking on the leadership roles as Majority leader and Deputy Speaker, cannot be ignored as they have prepared him well as the country’s second-in-command.

“He is well educated, compact and of the right age. When he speaks you see somebody serious,” noted Mr Manyora.

Yet it goes without saying that the success of Mr Ruto’s bid needs a significant voter turnout in the mountain, possibly an upward of 80 per cent. And to achieve this, Dr Ruto must arouse some sense of Gema chauvinism. He must also ratchet up the anti-Odinga rhetoric which turned out to be a vote puller in the region.

Critics point out that Prof Kindiki is not a rubble rouser who can whip up emotions with outrageous statements that fire up UDA’s political base, but his supporters counter that there are enough lieutenants in the rank and file of the coalition to do this.

“He is a political lightweight without a presence. He also lacks gravitas and no one should expect him to mobilise the mountain to support his cause. In the real realpolitik, he is a nobody in Mt Kenya region,” says Paul Ofwoko, a political analyst, adding that should he be picked it will be a sign that Dr Ruto is not ready for a popular or formidable deputy.

At just under 50, Prof Kindiki brings youth and freshness that is a break from the past. His choice will also put paid to the traditional organisational principle of politics where the big communities share power among the kingpins.

If he is handed the running mate ticket and his party triumphs in August, the third-born son of Reverend Daniel Kindiki of Mukothima in Tharaka would have become the ultimate survivor who came from a windswept corner of the country to a heartbeat away from the Presidency.