Fury over move to scale down Uhuru security

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta speaking after condoling with Dr Barbara Odudu Magoha, widow of former Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha on January 31, 2023, at Lavington, Nairobi County.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Allies of former President Uhuru Kenyatta have accused his successor, President William Ruto, of “crossing the line” as they reacted with fury over a move by the administration to scale down the security detail of the retired Head of State.

The sharp reactions by Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition politicians came as the Inspector General of Police, Japhet Koome, confirmed yesterday that he had recalled senior rank officers in the former Head of State’s security detail. 

Mr Koome termed the recall as a normal re-organisation of the former president’s security personnel.

Yesterday, Mr Kenyatta’s office refused to give details of the exact number of security officers who have been withdrawn, with former State House Spokesperson Kanze Dena referring Nation to Vigilance House for the breakdown.

Ardent allies of Mr Kenyatta, however, including Jubilee Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni and his deputy Joshua Kutuny, questioned the timing of the scaling down of the security officers, which they described as an ‘overreach’.

“This is a pure personal vendetta. The presidency should be an office that brings people together not dividing them... The timing and sequencing of their activities, including scaling down of Uhuru’s security, tell us that we are in for a rough time. As opposition, we shall say no. The withdrawal of security is an overreach,” said Mr Kioni.

 “This is a personal vendetta when Kenyans are wondering who will rescue them from the yoke of the many problems they are facing now. How do you mistreat a person who is leading peace initiatives in other countries?” he added.

It emerged that 96 elite officers attached to Mr Kenyatta were scaled down to 25, while the former First Lady now has five security officers. 

IG Koome yesterday said that as an officer in the rank of assistant inspector general, the head of the former President’s security unit was too senior and needed to be of a lower rank. 

Japhet Koome

Inspector General of Police Japhet Koome addressing the press in Mombasa on February 3, 2023.

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

The withdrawal of the head of the former president’s security team came at a time when President Ruto’s allies have accused the former president’s family of tax evasion and being behind the opposition party’s political rallies. 

Mr Kenyatta last week accused the Ruto administration of giving Kenyans empty promises.

 According to the Presidential Retirement Benefits Act, a retired president is entitled to guards for personal and escort units, as well as ‘adequate security’ at the rural and urban residences. 

A repealed section of the law had put the maximum number in both scenarios as six security guards, but the new provision did away with the upper limit.

“It is very unfortunate that politics has taken the centre stage at this time when Kenyans are facing many challenges,” said Mr Kutuny, who is Mr Kioni’s deputy in the ex-President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) Secretary-General, Edwin Sifuna, said Dr Ruto was now hitting back at the former Head of State using all State agencies, linking it to the 2022 General Election in which the ex-President backed the ODM boss instead of his then deputy. 

“When we warned Kenyans that Ruto was a bitter and vindictive man not fit for office they didn’t listen. The very same things they accused the former regime they are now doing,” said Mr Sifuna, who is also the Nairobi senator.

Former Nakuru governor Lee Kinyanjui, who backed Mr Odinga in the August polls, described as unfortunate the current scenario.  

“Sour relations between the former president and the current is not good for the nation. It’s a bad omen. More effort is required to restore the two offices to normalcy,” Mr Kinyanjui said. 

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta's motorcade

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta's motorcade on Uhuru Highway on February 11, 2020.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi said Dr Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza team was suffering from a ‘collective inferiority complex’.

“Uhuru is not involved in Azimio rallies. He has not attended any of the rallies. It is far-fetched for them to lie that he is sponsoring Raila. Raila has been funding his political activities for decades even before Uhuru joined politics. If they are men enough they should go for Raila himself and face the consequences,” said Mr Osotsi.

Former Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu said the government should provide the context and the rationale behind the decision, as well as its timing.  

“If the government can explain this effectively, then they will ensure that the decision on Uhuru and his family does not look like a political witch-hunt,” Mr Wambugu said. 

But key Ruto allies are not taking the accusations lying down. 

National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah accused the former Head of State and his allies of using the security issue to seek sympathy from Kenyans at the expense of what he described as ‘perpetuating impunity’.

“Uhuru should be honest with Kenyans and tell them how he abused power to allocate himself and non-deserving family members government resources like security officers and government vehicles. Why doesn’t he tell Kenyans how many officers he had taken above his official allocation and how many government vehicles and other equipment, including furniture, he took with him?” Mr Ichung’wah posed.

National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung'wa

National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung'wa. Mr Ichung’wah accused the former Head of State and his allies of using the security issue to seek sympathy from Kenyans at the expense of what he described as ‘perpetuating impunity’.

Photo credit: Jared Nataya | Nation Media Group

Gatundu South MP Gabriel Kagombe, alias GG, a Ruto ally and who is now Mr Kenyatta’s MP in his rural constituency, said rationalisation of the security of the former Head of State is in order as long as he is protected as dictated by the law.

“Rationalisation is okay because you cannot enjoy the kind of security you enjoy as a President when you retire,” said Mr Kagombe.

Former National Majority Leader Amos Kimunya was a little less charged as other pro-Uhuru colleagues.

“The minimum security for retired Presidents is prescribed in the law, and as long as this is provided, there should be no issue,” Mr Kimunya said. 

Mathira MP Eric Wamumbi, a firebrand defender of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, said the scaling down of Uhuru security has been done per the law and there is no need of politicising the whole issue.

The latest withdrawal of VIP security, however, rekindles similar action by President Kenyatta’s government in 2021 when the security of then-Deputy President Ruto was downgraded.

However, President Ruto’s allies say they are not vengeful.

Deputy National Assembly Majority Leader Owen Baya yesterday said their focus is not on denying the former Head of State his State perks.

“It’s not on the cards but when you enter a boxing ring get ready for whatever punch is thrown at you,” said Mr Baya.

Belgut MP Nelson Koech added: “He [Uhuru]  should avoid careless political utterances that reflect poorly on his stature as a former president.”