President Ruto fights many fires five months into job

President William Ruto.

President William Ruto.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Just five months in office, President William Ruto has opened multiple political battle fronts with his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga in the face of numerous economic and security challenges bedevilling the country.

President Ruto has rolled out aggressive political onslaughts – among them instigating internal rebellion and fanning defections from the opposition Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition.

The scheme is interpreted by some as ensuring Mr Odinga and Mr Kenyatta are deserted by their allies and traditional political bastions.

The political battles have, however, ended up crowding out the many immediate needs of the majority poor who voted for the Kenya Kwanza alliance that rode to power on the platform of reviving the country’s economy.

Most Kenyans are struggling with the high cost of living and rising taxes as the administration sets higher targets for revenue collection at Sh3 trillion a year.

Apart from the high cost of living, some six million Kenyans have nothing to eat as a result of prolonged drought in several parts of the country.

Those in formal employment have not been spared following reviews of some of the statutory deductions like the National Social Security Fund (NSSF).

The monthly subscription has been increased ten-fold, from Sh200 to Sh2,068.

To make matters worse, many businesses supplying the government with goods and services face the auctioneer’s hammer as a result of pending bills.

Then there is the country’s debt that stands at close to Sh9 trillion.

The national debt, coupled with the weakening shillings are likely to scuttle any meaningful development for the government that would have turned around the economic fortunes of Kenyans.

Public schools

The country also faces a crisis in the education system(s) after transition to junior secondary school was marred with confusion.

Pupils in hundreds of public schools are yet to settle for learning due to lack of facilities and teachers.

Parents have complained of the high cost of transitioning their children to Grade Seven in the new competency based curriculum (CBC).

On the political front, Dr Ruto has succeeded in wooing the few elected Jubilee leaders, exposing Mr Kenyatta to a possible removal as chief of the former ruling party.

Dr Ruto has largely grabbed Mt Kenya from the former president, with Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua now calling the shots.

Mr Kenyatta, who has done his two terms as president, has indicated that he will play an active role in the country’s politics.

However, the onslaught by his successor threatens to make him irrelevant.

Dr Ruto has been linked to the attempted coup at the former ruling outfit instigated by the Jubilee lawmakers who have declared intention to formally leave Azimio La Umoja One Kenya Coalition and join the ruling Kenya Kwanza alliance.

Mr Kenyatta’s allies – Jubilee Vice-Chairman David Murathe and Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni – are targeted for removal from the helm of the party.

The former president and some of his allies are also being targeted for reportedly using their positions while in power to shield their vast businesses from taxes.

The ruling alliance is seeking to blackmail Mr Kenyatta with the threat of withholding his retirement benefits should he continue with opposition politics.

In Mr Odinga’s traditional backyard of Nyanza, the President has resorted to dolling out government positions to the critics of the opposition leader.

Dr Ruto has also managed to cause rebellion within the ODM by wooing some of Mr Odinga’s lawmakers to the government.

At least eight MPs from Nyanza have openly defied Mr Odinga and vowed to work with President Ruto.

Dr Ruto and Mr Gachagua have since held meetings with the ODM “rebels” to discuss multimillion-shilling projects in what appears to be an attempt to paint Mr Odinga as anti-development.

The escalation of the war of words between Dr Ruto and the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya alliance boss has led to a charged political environment akin to what was witnessed before the General Election on August 9, 2022.

“There is an all-out push by the Kenya Kwanza regime to kill opposition parties, buy and co-opt MPs into its ranks and intimidate and bully those that resist the administration’s illegal, unconstitutional and anti-democratic manoeuvres,” Mr Odinga said when he accompanied Jubilee officials to the party headquarters after obtaining court orders against the Registrar of Political Parties Office’s nod to the takeover by the rebels.

Mr Kioni later said Dr Ruto is involved in many battles “because he lacks legitimacy, having rigged the presidential election”.

“With no legitimacy, you fight every perceived enemy. He has been holding prayer rallies all over the country to try to counter our barazas. He is also involved in attempting to kill the opposition by buying our members. But he and his lieutenants need to know that revolution hates irritants. The rebels will soon be consumed,” Mr Kioni said.

Former Nyeri Town MP, Ngunjiri Wambugu, told the Sunday Nation that President Ruto is trying to manage many things at one time, “and that may end up backfiring”.

“He is attempting to establish his administration, manage current politics and prepare for the 2027 elections, all at the same time,” Mr Wambugu said.

“He has full control on the first, but the other two issues are competitive. By starting this early on the elections, President Ruto has made his competitors to resist current politics as well as start preparing the ground for 2027. These are making his work difficult.”

Governance expert, Javas Bigambo, argues that if the rivalry between President Ruto and his predecessor is not handled “intelligently”, it may spiral to deplorable levels.

“It also demonstrates that there are heavy political undercurrents of bad blood between the handlers of the President and Mr Kenyatta, based on the ill-will that the former President had with his deputy,” Mr Bigambo says.

“Decorum inevitably invites the two leaders to the table of statesmanship. The issue of payment of taxes should be enforced without the insinuation to financing of Azimio rallies by the former President. The two matters should be handled separately. Interlinking them will impute improper motives in the form of witch hunt.”

However, political risk analyst, Dismas Mokua, is of the view that President Ruto has not opened war fronts.

He says Dr Ruto has taken the step to deal with state capture and that he will enjoy the support of all if it benefits citizens.

“Dr Ruto is not at war with Mr Kenyatta. The President has, however, openly declared war on state capture architects and benefits. President Ruto has indicated that it is not business as usual in Kenya. Policy development and decision-making infrastructure will pay premium attention to the interests of Kenyans,” Mr Mokua added.

As Dr Ruto moves to destabilise Azimio la Umoja One Kenya alliance team by wooing some of its lawmakers, Mr Odinga and his group have put up a spirited effort by convening consultative forums, which they say offer them a platform to ask their supporters not to recognise the Kenya Kwanza administration under the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party.

Gem MP and one of the ODM rebels, Elisha Odhiambo, says the decision to work with Dr Ruto is purely for development.

He says their opponents are using that to label them traitors.

“It should be clear that our political loyalty is to Raila and the ODM but our desire is to have the current administration meet its constitutional obligation of bringing services and development to our people,” the lawmaker told the Sunday Nation.

But Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi questions the rationale of Dr Ruto being only interested in meeting rebel opposition lawmakers.

He says he has not witnessed or heard the President meet his UDA lawmakers from Mt Kenya and Rift Valley to discuss development.

Single party state

“It is purely an attempt to make this country a single party state,” Senator Osotsi said.

Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua, an ally of Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, accuses the Kenya Kwanza government of engaging in sideshows instead of finding ways of bringing down the cost of living.

“The truth of the matter is that the ordinary Kenyan, irrespective of how he or she voted, is suffering more than before the elections. We shall hold the feet of those responsible for feeding Kenyans on fire until something gives; until the suffering of our people is minimised to acceptable levels,” he said.

“The cost of food and fuel must come down. Corruption must be fought with clarity of mind.”

At the same time, the President has put in motion recruitment of top Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) officials despite protests by the opposition.

The ruling alliance deployed its numbers in Parliament to bulldoze changes to the IEBC Act, altering the composition of the selection team.

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya says it will exploit every avenue to stall the hiring of the electoral commissioners.

In a Tuesday gazette notice, President Ruto declared the positions of IEBC chairperson and five commissioners vacant, paving the way for the recruitment.

The recently assented the IEBC (Amendment) Bill, 2022, alters the first schedule of the parent Act to change the composition of the selection panel that oversees the filling of vacant positions at the electoral agency.

The new-look selection panel will include two nominees – a man and a woman – from the Parliamentary Service Commission, down from four.

The team will also have one person nominated each by the Public Service Commission, the Political Parties Liaison Committee, the Law Society of Kenya and two people – a man and a woman – representing the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya.

Political stakeholders

The opposition has demanded a process to involve all political stakeholders. 

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya terms the rush to amend the act as an early attempt to influence the 2027 elections outcome.

“We have clearly said that we don’t recognise the recently enacted law on picking the IEBC selection panel. What is the hurry to change the law immediately after the General Election?. It is clear that the 2027 election is already being rigged,” ODM Deputy Party Leader and the immediate former Kakamega governor Wycliffe Oparanya told the Sunday Nation.

President Ruto also wants to consolidate different regions for the sake of his re-election as well as taming his ambitious deputy and Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi.

Already the President has moved to ban regional regroupings.

That is seen as a strategy to counter moves that could make Mr Gachagua and Mr Mudavadi solidify their bases.

Mt Kenya voted to a man for the Ruto-Gachagua ticket and gave Kenya Kwanza a virtual clean sweep of electoral seats in the region, a development the Deputy President is keen to exploit and consolidate his position as the region’s political supremo.

Moi University lecturer, Masibo Lumala, says politics is about positioning oneself.

“Ruto started early and won the presidency. It would not be surprising to find other people realising that you can actually go against your boss, campaign and make an impact,” he said.