Deputy President William Ruto has sustained the campaign that President Uhuru Kenyatta owes the presidency to him, as the latest feud exposes intrigues leading to their election in 2013 and re-election in 2017.
And with 34 days to the presidential vote to pick President Uhuru’s successor, Dr Ruto and his camp revisited the previous transition in 2013 to paint the Head of State as a reluctant and ungrateful leader who had turned his back on his backers to side with his bitter-rival-turned-ally Mr Raila Odinga in this year’s election.
Dr Ruto recounted how after Mr Odinga had successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to annul President Kenyatta’s re-election in 2017, he had pushed him to participate in the fresh presidential election, seemingly stressing the characterisation of the Head of State that his camp has sought to project in the ongoing campaigns.
The latest accounts also turn the focus on the changing roles the main politicians play every election cycle, with Mr Odinga and Mr Kalonzo Musyoka — who in the run-up to 2013 polls briefly flirted with Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto — finding themselves fighting in one corner, while Mr Musalia Mudavadi who had been handed the baton momentarily by the President in 2013, is batting in Dr Ruto’s corner.
Speaking in Meru Town on the last day of his Mt Kenya East tour, DP Ruto said when then Chief Justice David Maraga ordered a repeat election, President Kenyatta threw in the towel and did not want to go for the repeat poll, a situation that would have handed Mr Odinga the presidency had it been allowed to prevail.
“There are people who are circulating some recordings claiming I forced Uhuru to run. Let me tell them that they don’t know how we made Uhuru Kenyatta the president. We are the ones who worked hard to ensure that we won and the Azimio la Umoja brigade are conmen,” Dr Ruto said.
“Did you expect me also to give up? No way! Even if I pushed the president, I did no mistake. Do you think I would have allowed him to give up the job I had worked for together with the people of Kenya? There is no way I could have left Mr Odinga to take our victory,” he said.
DP Ruto said he did most of the campaigns in 2013 and 2017, waking up as early as 4am and by the time Mr Kenyatta joined them, he would have done several meetings.
“I could not let it go, nilimkaza kweli kweli mpaka akakubali kwa sababu ni rafiki yangu (I pushed him until he agreed because he is my friend),” he added.
Dr Ruto said Mr Odinga, his running mate Martha Karua and his Azimio team, were now pretending to be friends with the President and castigating him yet they did not know how Mr Kenyatta had won the presidency.
“Where were they when we voted for Uhuru and made him the president? Do they know how we made Uhuru the president?” Dr Ruto posed.
The sustained onslaught on the President by his deputy has been prompted by a leaked audio recording in which Dr Ruto tells a delegation of Gikuyu elders the president had given up after the nullification of his re-election by the Supreme Court in 2017.
But it’s the DP’s apparent statement in jest that he nearly slapped his boss to jolt him from the defeatist thoughts that his rivals have capitalised on to portray him as a dangerous man who cannot be trusted with power.
Suna East MP Junet Mohammed publicly replayed the audio recording at a rally in Homa Bay that was attended by the Azimio presidential candidate Odinga, as he sought to paint the DP as a man who would not hesitate to abuse power to punish critics.
It’s this damaging campaign narrative that the DP and his camp are trying to push back by flipping it to demonstrate the lengths to which he was willing to go to defend President Kenyatta’s presidency, knowing this would thrill his support base in Mt Kenya that disapproved of Mr Odinga’s successful petition in 2017 to overturn Jubilee’s victory.
And they have gone further back in time in the campaign to paint the President as an ungrateful leader who has betrayed the one man who backed him to win power in 2013, when both Dr Ruto and Mr Kenyatta were bogged down by International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments as they ran against Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka.
Dr Ruto’s team yesterday insisted Mr Kenyatta had initially given up his presidential bid in the lead up to 2013 elections and it took their intervention for him to rescind his decision to step down for Mr Mudavadi, then vying for the presidency on the UDF ticket, and who was believed to be the preferred candidate by some powerful figures in President Kibaki’s government.
Yesterday, Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki said Mr Kenyatta was a reluctant candidate in 2013 and in the 2017 repeat election, adding that were it not for Dr Ruto he would have given up.
“In 2013, Uhuru wanted to drop his bid in favour of Mudavadi and he even signed a secret agreement that would have had Mudavadi run for president. When we learnt of the development, we refused. I tore that agreement into pieces and we forced him to contest,” Prof Kindiki said.
Dr Ruto’s running mate Rigathi Gachagua, said in 2013 when the two were facing crimes against humanity charges at The Hague, they convinced Mr Kenyatta to run adding that the President was not interested.
“When I remember these events, I think we also made a mistake to push the President because he is now forcing Mr Odinga on the people of Kenya. Uhuru has never had the interests of the people of Kenya at heart which explains why he is forcing us to vote for somebody we don’t want,” Mr Gachagua said.
During the press conference on the night of December 4, 2012, when MR Kenyatta announced the decision, he was flanked by Dr Ruto and Mr Mudavadi, with dozens of their allies, including Mr Najib Balala and Ms Cecily Mbarire, present.
Titled the ‘Agreement between Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi,’ the memorandum of understanding stipulated that the two leaders of the coalition parties had agreed that Mr Kenyatta would step down as the presidential candidate and that Mr Mudavadi would be the coalition’s presidential candidate.
“These details shall be announced within 14 days from the date of signing,” read the document that further included another clause stipulating the deal was subject to agreement of sharing of government as defined in the coalition agreement.
The power sharing proportion was stated as TNA (45 per cent), URP (35 per cent) and UDFP (20 per cent).
The document was signed by Mr Kenyatta, Mr Mudavadi and Dr Ruto in the presence of lawyers Desterio Oyatsi and Dan Ameyo.
But the agreement collapsed days later.
On December 18, when Mr Kenyatta would announce at a TNA meeting that he had been pressured by “demons” to withdraw from the race.
From an automatic nomination as flag bearer, Mr Mudavadi was told he would face off with Mr Kenyatta during joint primaries for the coalition’s presidential ticket.
But the planned joint national delegates conference involving TNA, URP and UDF was cancelled at the eleventh hour after disagreements on the mode of election.
Mr Mudavadi protested the change of heart and would later vie for the presidency with Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni as his running mate, polling about 500, 000 votes.
“Uhuru stated categorically that he had been reflecting on the state of affairs of the country and found it necessary to make a major personal sacrifice. After consultations he had decided to withdraw his candidature and wished to support me as the coalition’s candidate for president. We had given an opportunity to Uhuru, he had requested that he wanted time to speak to his constituency,” Mr Mudavadi told a press conference on December 18, 2012.
In his autobiography titled “Musalia Mudavadi: Soaring Above the Storms of Passion”, Mr Mudavadi recounts how Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto came calling at his Nairobi Riverside residence.
It was here, Mr Mudavadi says, that the two proposed to him to become their joint presidential candidate, “to be fielded against Raila”, who they accused of “fixing” them at the ICC to eliminate competition.
“We deliberated over the matter for a while, after which I asked them to allow me to invite my close associates to this meeting. I reached out to (Boni) Khalwale, Mukhisa Kituyi and Dan Ameyo (UDF Secretary General) to come in as my witnesses in this development and dialogue,” he says in the book.
Earlier in January 2012, the ICC had confirmed the charges against Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto, and it had become a bogeyman for the race to succeed President Kibaki.
The following month, Mr Odinga, who was then Prime Minister, faced off with Dr Ruto in Parliament over the ICC intervention and implementation of the Constitution in their first face-to-face confrontation since the ICC had confirmed crimes against humanity charges against Dr Ruto and three others.
And in March 2012, the political sensitivity of the ICC cases would become evident as Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto moved to sideline Mr Musyoka from the G7, an alliance the team had cobbled up to take on Mr Odinga.
Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto had begun to view Mr Kalonzo as an opportunist, and their resolve was emboldened by the utterances by one of his allies, Kangundo MP Johnstone Muthama during a rally at Machakos.
The comments were interpreted that the VP stood to gain from the committal to trial at The Hague of the duo.
Coming after then Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo, also Secretary-General of the VP’s party, had publicly stated that the two were ineligible to contest the presidency because of the ICC cases, Mr Kalonzo’s relations with the two hit rock bottom.
Not even the intervention by President Kibaki to have the duo meet Mr Kalonzo, who had accepted the VP’s position to help Mr Kibaki overcome a crisis of legitimacy following the disputed 2007 presidential vote, could mend the relations.
A leaked US diplomatic cable reported Mr Kalonzo had told Ambassador Michael Ranneberger in 2008 that President Kibaki and Mr Kenyatta had agreed to support his candidature for the presidency.
“Musyoka confided, as is generally believed, that as a quid pro quo for his accepting the vice-presidency, Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta agreed to support Kalonzo as candidate for the president in 2012,” Mr Ranneberger reportedly wrote, following a meeting on January 20, 2008 — at the height of the political crisis — between him and Mr Kalonzo.
But the crisis of confidence that engulfed Mr Kalonzo in the eyes of Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto ruled out their support for him, and that would explain why later that year they appeared to settle for Mr Mudavadi, albeit momentarily.
The ICC would become a key campaign issue around which Uhuru and Ruto galvanised their vote-rich Rift Valley and Mt Kenya bases to ride to power on the tyranny of numbers.
Fast forward to the 2017 re-election campaign.
Some have claimed the fallout between the President and his deputy can be traced to the run-up to the 2017 elections, and that Mr Kenyatta’s truce with Mr Odinga only aggravated an already bad situation.
There have been reports of a hard-line wing within the President’s circle that attempted a running mate change for the 2017 elections, and it is argued that the plan was discarded after it became apparent it would backfire and lead to a loss in the polls.
Mr Dennis Itumbi, who is in Dr Ruto’s campaign team, on Sunday on the back of the leaked audio recording, wrote on twitter: “Yes, William Ruto fought hard for Uhuru to be elected and re-elected President. You might be interested that as Ruto fought hard, the Uhuru team in 2016 wanted Kalonzo to be the running mate. They even called Ruto to a meeting and tried to tell him they would replace him.”
Perhaps lending credence that the fallout dates way before the 2017 elections is a curious statement by the DP’s office when his security was withdrawn, citing a gun attack incident at his Sugoi home among cases of alleged demeaning of his office by powerful figures in government.
The DP’s camp has capitalised on the President’s rapprochement with Mr Odinga as the genesis of the troubles in Jubilee because of its potential to create a siege mentality in Mt Kenya, where voters have been hostile to Mr Odinga’s past presidential bids.
And a line of attack Dr Ruto himself has repeatedly hammered is whether there was no worthy candidate from among the eight million Jubilee supporters who voted for Mr Kenyatta that he would opt to back Mr Odinga, who has been roundly demonised in the region in the past.
Yesterday, Dr Ruto regretted that when the President introduced Mr Odinga into the government in March 2018 after the handshake, he embraced the idea.
“I should have stood my ground and refused because Kenya could not be going through the problems we are experiencing today. It was after the handshake that the Big Four was derailed and problems of high cost of living and high prices of commodities came in, leading to the suffering Kenyans are going through today,” he said.
Mr Gachagua castigated the Azimio leaders, saying they have never supported President Kenyatta. “We have been with Mr Kenyatta since 2002 when President Daniel Moi wanted him to succeed him. In 2002 when he ran against Mwai Kibaki we were the ones who supported him with Ruto and he got 1.8 million votes,” Mr Gachagua said.