In President Ruto’s State House, it's business unusual
What you need to know:
- Dr Ruto is largely described as being a keen listener, who gives advisers and technical brains all the time needed to explain their points.
- Those expected to call the shots in the new regime are Prof Kithure Kindiki, the President’s personal assistant Farouk Kibet and his chief of staff Davis Chirchir.
President William Ruto is no stranger to State House, having straddled the corridors of power for the past three decades.
Never before, however, has he had a chance to call all the shots at the house on the hill.
Having taken over officially from President Uhuru Kenyatta on September 13, President Ruto is said to be quickly stamping his authority at the imposing, white-walled seat of power.
His hands-on, time-conscious approach is quickly replacing the laid-back, easy-going State House of his immediate predecessor, multiple interviews with the new President’s allies have revealed.
The political associates and technocrats with access to the highly guarded fortress paint the picture of a President in full control of operations at the State House.
His momentum in trying to assemble a team of men and women for his Cabinet was interrupted by an international trip that saw him travel to the UK for the burial of Queen Elizabeth II, and later to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
In the six days he was at State House before departing for London on September 18, insiders told the Sunday Nation of a complete departure from President Kenyatta’s tenure, with the fifth President at times having meetings running late into the night and being an early riser.
He is largely described as being a keen listener, who gives advisers and technical brains all the time needed to explain their points.
As much as he has kept his political allies close, President Ruto is said to value competence. His predecessor is said to have placed a higher premium on trust and loyalty.
They cite Mr Kenyatta’s decision to kick out some of his former allies, especially in parliamentary leadership, for maintaining allegiance to Ruto at the height of their fallout in the Jubilee administration. “He is a good listener and reaches out to people. He embraces everyone and he is a practical and pragmatic politician. His philosophy is ‘what works’ as opposed to some abstract ideals,” said Murang’a Governor Irungu Kang'ata.
Another close ally and lawmaker described Ruto as being hands on. Unlike his predecessor, the lawmaker says, the new president rarely delegates his duties. He opines that excessive delegation gives rise to power brokers who purport to act in the name of the president, predicting that this is not likely to be commonplace in Ruto’s tenure.
Some MPs who attended the ruling Kenya Kwanza Alliance two-day retreat in Naivasha last weekend talked of how they were surprised when President Ruto turned up for the Saturday morning meeting earlier than majority of them.
The President flew to Naivasha on Friday at around 4pm and chose to spend the night with the MPs in one of the hotels. The following morning, he woke up earlier than most of the lawmakers who found him already seated at the meeting venue, according to MPs who attended the retreat.
“He did not go to Nakuru State lodge as we had expected, but chose to spend with us in one of the nearby hotels. We were many, so not all of us spent the night at Sawela Lodge. Some went to nearby hotels,” added the MP.
Former nominated MP David Sankok says the President “is an intelligent guy and I don’t think there would be people purporting to speak for him. He will have technical people to advise him but not power brokers.”
Mr Sankok says Ruto likes having most of his meetings early in the morning. He cited a past instance when he convened a meeting in Olokurto, Narok County at 9am. He arrived even before the area governor.
“I can tell you it is a whole shift. It will be business unusual. In the past we would be called for the Jubilee Parliamentary Group meeting at 9am and sit at State House way past 11am. We could not have any morning meetings. William will tell you the meeting is at 8am and it will be at the exact time,” said Mr Sankok.
As a staunch evangelical Christian and teetotaller, President Ruto is markedly different from Mr Kenyatta, who enjoyed his tipple.
Mr Sankok predicts that alcohol will not be available at State House. In his address to Kenya Kwanza leaders after ascending to power, President Ruto advised the leaders to either quit alcohol or cut the volume they consume.
Moi-era State House Comptroller, Franklin Bett, compares President Ruto to the late President Daniel arap Moi with regard to time-keeping discipline.
He says the late President Mwai Kibaki and Mr Kenyatta "messed up" with time-keeping.
President Moi, he recalls, always kept time even for public rallies and did not keep his guests waiting.
“He would say that I will be in this place at this time, and will be there on time. There were no instances of diplomats waiting for long hours before meetings could start. It is good to keep time. It is a sign of discipline,” says Mr Bett.
He says that private secretary, State House Comptroller, Head of Public Service and individuals in charge of security tend to become powerful in every regime because they are the eyes and ears of the president.
During the Moi regime, the private secretary doubled up as the State House Comptroller. President Kenyatta, however, appointed two people to hold the split position.
“State House Comptroller is like the hatchet boy. He is the president’s gatekeeper. Head of Public Service is the link between the President and the entire government,” explains Mr Bett.
“Those positions need someone with experience and knowledge. You require a person who is decisive. Moi had a way of reaching out personally. He could call local politicians and provincial administration officials whenever he was to visit parts of the country,” he says.
Prayers at State House
First Lady Rachel Ruto is also charting a new chapter at State House, by opening doors to pastors for prayers. She spent her first days in office hosting church leaders such as Prophet Victor Kusi Boateng of Power Chapel Worldwide Ghana.
“The President himself has said that this is a God-fearing nation and that he will be hosting prayer sessions. He has never missed a church service. At Karen, he had a tabernacle,” says Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei.
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“You cannot separate President Ruto and his family with the church. He will definitely seclude a place for worship in the compound. We must pray as we used to pray in Karen. We must worship as usual,” said Githunguri MP Gathoni Wamuchomba.
Ms Ruto appears to have fully relocated to State House, and will be running most of her operations, including hosting guests, there. It is not different to when she resided at the official Karen residence. Most of their guests dined there.
During the campaigns, there was a permanent tent at the Karen residence where breakfast and lunch would be served to guests. Little public activities are known to take place at President Ruto’s private Karen home.
During President Kibaki’s time, then First Lady Lucy Kibaki partly operated from their Muthaiga home. She is said to have closed the State House kitchen and opted for outside catering.
President Moi would also operate from the State House but retreat to his Kabarnet Gardens residence to spend the night.
Former head of the Presidential Press Service, Lee Njiru, in his book “President’s Press Man” revealed details of how some State House staff would wait for Moi to leave for his Kabarnet Gardens home before opening a secret bar without his knowledge. President Moi was a teetotaler.
“One of Ng’eny’s (Andrew Limo arap Ng’eny, who served as State House Comptroller) first undertaking was to set up a secret bar on one side of the upper floor of State House, Nairobi. Moi knew nothing about this establishment,” says Njiru in the book.
“As soon as Moi left the office in the evenings for his Kabarnet Gardens residence, Ng’eny would call the Nairobi PC (provincial commissioner) Paul Boit, and the managing director of the Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation, Kipng’eno arap Ng’eny. The three would drink until 10pm,” Njiru’s book states.
President Ruto’s election on August 9 and subsequent swearing in has birthed a coterie of close allies and technical people, some of whom were behind his campaigns.
Apart from his deputy Rigathi Gachagua, some of the individuals who are likely to wield raw power in the new administration include Prof Kithure Kindiki, the President’s personal assistant Farouk Kibet and his chief of staff Davis Chirchir.
Also Read: Sudi, President Ruto’s power broker
Mr Kibet’s dalliance with Ruto can be traced way back in 1997 as the succession of President Moi began, and after the collapse of the infamous YK92 movement.
Others are MPs Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo Marakwet), Oscar Sudi (Kapsaret), Aden Duale (Garissa Township), Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi and his Foreign policy adviser Ababu Namwamba.
A majority of members of this team are also tipped to form the bulk of the next Cabinet.
Mr Namwamba, Mr Murkomen and Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro are part of the delegation that accompanied the President on his inaugural international trip.
In Kibaki’s regime, members of the wealthy Central Kenya elite, long-time friends from the Muthaiga Golf Club and professionals formed the inner cycle of his administration.
Most of them operated largely outside the public domain, but their influence during Kibaki’s decade-long reign is said to have been immense.
Some of Kibaki’s allies who wielded power during his tenure included head of public service, Mr Francis Muthaura, David Mwiraria, Kiraitu Murungi, Martha Karua, and Amos Kimunya among others.
Mukhisa Kituyi, Raphael Tuju, Kivutha Kibwana and Peter Kagwanja called the shots when it came to shaping public policy.
In Kenyatta’s tenure, Interior CS Fred Matiang’i and PS Karanja Kibicho were considered to be closest to power.