Isaac Ruto

Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) party leader and former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto.

| Cheboite Kigen | Nation Media Group

Isaac Ruto: Day Moi left me stranded at airport runway in South Africa

Chama Cha Mashinani party leader Isaac Ruto spent three months in police custody after the 1982 coup after being arrested as a university student leader together with Musalia Mudavadi, David Murathe, Francis Nyenze and Kipchir Murgor, among others.

In an interview with Nation, Mr. Ruto, a former Bomet Governor and Council of Governors chairman, speaks on his relation with former President Moi, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto. He also revealed how he was left stranded at a military airport in Pretoria, South Africa by President Moi, while he served as a Cabinet minister.

You say you have the peoples’ support, why can’t you disband CCM like you are being asked and join UDA?

CCM as an institution agreed to back the DP for the presidency without folding the party in favour of UDA.

You will remember that during the rally at Ndanai in January last year, they tried to give me an UDA cap, but I went for the “hustler” one. I made it clear that I am a party leader and cannot don merchandise of another party.

We have not discussed the election issue and would not like any endorsement for leaders contesting for positions. We do not want zoning for parties. It is an issue I am in agreement with the deputy president. That would be retrogressive and equivalent to balkanising the country.

Don’t you think supporting William Ruto while in CCM complicates his equation; since on one hand he has to support you as a partner and on the other, he has to support his own party’s candidates?

We cannot ask him to come and endorse us for any seat. There is CCM and there is UDA. In any democracy and it happens in Kenya, even parties in coalitions are contesting against each other in elections, but there is a convergence point at the top (presidency). Even while in Nasa we contested against ODM, Wiper, Ford Kenya and ANC but we had a candidate at the presidential level that we supported.

What do you make of the deputy president’s position on tribal parties and the need to fold and join major ones?

CCM is not a tribal party as the top officials are drawn from different communities across the country. As a fact, we secured more elective seats in Maasai land in the last election than we have in Bomet.

Small parties should be allowed to freely operate as they will grow to be major outfits in the future.

If Mr Mwangi Kiunjuri has issues to articulate under TPS, why not give him the space? If Moses Kuria has ideas that may not be accommodated or prosecuted under a particular outfit, other than Chama Cha Kazi party, set him free to do so. We do not want to turn UDA into a tribal party by joining it because Dr Ruto is in it.

I am supporting Dr Ruto because of the bottom-up economic model he has embraced and the bid to unite the country.

How do you relate with William Ruto and why are you not as vocal in these elections as you were when campaigning for Raila in 2017?

I have a cordial relationship with the deputy president. We are friends who differ once in a while. We were in the (defunct) YK’ 92 together, where I was at the provincial level (as I was employed in a government institution), while he was in the national arena. We served in parliament and in the Moi Cabinet together.

We formed United Republican Party (URP) together and we are basically Nyayo (Moi) political students. We are not in an election period yet, to warrant national campaigns and basically, the deputy president is moving around the country introducing himself to the voters as a presidential candidate. To judge if I am going to be as vocal for him as I was with Nasa, let us wait for the election campaigns period. I will definitely join the campaigns, but let us respect the IEBC schedule and calendar.

Some of the DP’s handlers still view you with suspicion having hobnobbed with his political opponents in Nasa in the last elections, do you fear this may work against you?

His handlers, who are very young in politics, are just trying to take care of their space, but they are not a hindrance in elections in Bomet County. I do not occupy their space; neither do they occupy mine. Simply, I do not do what they do.

As a university student, you were briefly arrested and detained in the aftermath of the 1982 coup. What was your role and could the brief brush with the law have informed the radical nature of the brand of politics you are known for? And what was your relationship with student leader Titus Adungosi?

I was elected as a member of the students’ representative council in 1981 under the faculty of arts Students Organisations of the University of Nairobi (Sonu) along with Mwandawiro Mghanga.

We had two camps – one had David Murathe, and Onyango C.A and a number of others – then we had the moderate voice of Titus Adungosi, Paddy Onyango, myself and others.

While Adungosi, the chairman, was a third-year student, he picked me as his deputy though I was a first year. We were taking from the radical Rumba Kinuthia. We thought we needed to bring in a moderate voice in leadership.

At the time students had issues with the proposed change of the law to have the boom we enjoyed being converted into loans (Higher Educational Loans Board) by the Ministry of Education under Mr Joseph Kamotho. Students used to earn Sh5,000 every semester and we had a four course meal and at times a glass of wine – all paid for by the state.

In our naivety, we thought that the new rules would require students to provide securities, and so we gave an ultimatum to the government to withdraw it or face a strike from August 1, 1982.

At the time, there was a lot of radical literature coming in from South Africa with Nelson Mandela in prison, Tanzania under President Mwalimu Julius Nyere and from Libya led by Muhamud Gaddafi.

It was a must at the university that one reads the Caribbean literature with serious issues and debates on the haves and the have nots. The university was highly radicalised and was the centre of dissent with many lecturers being leftist. Taifa Hall was a beehive of activity by radical lecturers.

We were pro-Moi and there were suspicions that we were planted at the university by the government. In fact, Adungosi being the strong Christian that he was, had Moi’s portrait in his room.

Did you participate in the coup’s planning or execution?

No. And I can vouch for Adungosi that he was not one of the masterminds.

We had no idea what was happening behind the scenes until the coup happened. We did not know someone had been listening to our agitation.

Adungosi came into my room at 5am when it emerged the coup had happened and told me to go with him to Kabete to pick the cooks to prepare meals for the students in a bid to curb a riot. I refused to go as I thought that would be dangerous. He insisted on proceeding to do it and he was hijacked on the way by the coup plotters.

I made breakfast for the students that morning, before hell broke loose, as the cooks could not make it.

We found our way to our respective rural homes after order was restored, but we were picked by the security intelligence officers a few days later, placed in the cells and driven to Nairobi’s Central Police Station before being taken to the General Service Unit (GSU) headquarters. We were held there for three months before being released. Every day, we were asked to record statements at gun point. It was on suspicion that we knew something about the coup.

Strange enough, one of my best friends at the university, a Mr Mutua was among the officers who took us to the GSU headquarters. All along while with him in college, I did not know he was a special branch officer.

I was arrested alongside Mr Kipchirchir Murgor, Mr Musalia Mudavadi, Mr David Murathe and the late Joseph Kyenze among others. We were released after the realisation that our narrative did not have gaps and that indeed; we had no role in the coup.

As a youthful MP for Chepalungu, President Daniel Moi thrust you into the political limelight with an appointment to the Cabinet. He then dramatically abandoned you at the airport while on an official trip to South Africa. What exactly caused the fall out?

The highlight at South Africa was that as a minister for Vocational Training, I wanted to resign in 2002, but Mzee Moi reshuffled the Cabinet and re-assigned me duties as Environment minister.

As a result, I led a delegation to World Summit on Sustainable Millennium Goals attended by Heads of States.

When Moi joined us in South Africa, I briefed him on the meeting and after the civil servants left us, I asked him about the political situation in Kenya and why he had sacked Prof George Saitoti and Kalonzo Musyoka. He told me there was no problem and that he had even elevated Mr William Ruto to the Cabinet.

He told me that Kanu delegates would be meeting to endorse Uhuru Kenyatta as his successor. He went ahead and told me that my political rival, Mr John Koech, – who was an ambassador at UNEP – would bring half of the delegates to Kasarani and I bring the rest.

A bit agitated by the statement, I asked the President whether in my three weeks in South Africa, Kanu elections had been conducted in Chepalungu to make Mr Koech a Kanu leader.

But before the President could answer, the phone rang and I left the room as a matter of courtesy and standard protocol.

Back in my room, which was next to the presidential suite, I made a telephone call back home, only to be told that in my absence, Mr Koech had actively been conducting Kanu party affairs.

Shortly after, the then Keiyo South MP Nicholas Biwott (then a powerful Cabinet minister), walked in and asked me why I was pressuring Moi on Kanu issues. I told him off and asked him to leave my room. I told Mr Biwott that I would not be attending the Kanu meeting in Kasarani but instead would attend the Narc one convened by Mwai Kibaki’s team.

What happened next?

The following morning, we went to the military airport in Pretoria where presidential jets had landed, and to my surprise, the President bade me goodbye and left me on the runway. I was petrified and had to go back to my hotel room.

I asked the PS in the ministry Francis Muthaura to have the room reserved and he was surprised I had not left with the President. I could not tell him that I had been left stranded in the airport.

With no return ticket, my then personal assistant (a Mr Kihara) surrendered his to me. I did not have any money as I had spent what I had on a purchasing spree in the belief I would return to Kenya with the presidential jet.

I had earlier asked Mzee’s Aide de Camp to have my luggage taken to the jet, but I was later told that there was no indication I would be on the plane.

Back home, Moi welcomed me like nothing had happened. He actually praised me for a job well done in South Africa.

Two weeks to the election, I could not access the President, no calls were going through to him and my opponent (Koech) was given more money than I had. I lost the Kanu nomination and joined Narc (but also lost the general election to Mr Koech).

You were one of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) proponents, but appear to have back-tracked on the push following its defeat in parliament...

I have not changed my position on BBI. In fact, majority of our contribution as CCM was accepted and incorporated… It is a package and there are issues around the process that could be wrong, but I made a lot of writing on it.

The politics that accompanied the process was wrong. People did not look at the nitty-gritty of the document. There is nothing wrong with having 35 per cent of the resources going to counties.

I have been involved in the constitutional review process from 1998 and even represented Kanu in the Inter-parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG). I have not changed my position on increased resource allocation to counties. If you check, Members of County Assembly of Bomet voted in support of BBI, so as CCM MPs in parliament.

Just how practical is your proposal to employ everyone in Bomet, with no regard to educational qualification in the famous “taret, taret” mantra?

We need to think of the group that has not gone through the entire education system, those who dropped out for various reasons.

Then why do we even insist on a driver having a Form Four certificate or a minimum of C- qualification in KCPE for one to be employed in the civil service?

It is not meant to demean the education system, but to employ the 70 per cent who are not accounted for in education and employment. Appreciate all Kenyans and look for a solution to it as a government. Employ people according to their skills.


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