Ruto-Matiang’i power tussle goes into high gear

President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) is received by Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i (centre) and Deputy President William Ruto at the KWS Law Enforcement Academy in Manyani, Taita Taveta County, on October 16, 2020.

Photo credit: PSCU

What you need to know:

  • After the President finished a short tour of what he called “Kenya’s best kept secret, and Kenya’s best kept asset,” he made the short walk to a waiting car, accompanied by the Deputy President.
  • At the high table, Dr Ruto sat on the immediate right of the President, and Dr Matiang’i on the left, separated from Mr Kenyatta by Defence Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma.

The power play between Deputy President William Ruto and the Interior CS Fred Matiang’i was hard to miss yesterday in Manyani, where the Cabinet is holding a retreat.

While other Cabinet secretaries gave President Uhuru Kenyatta some room for manoeuvre, Dr Matiang’i and Dr Ruto seemed to jostle for space near the Head of State, and remained wedged next to him, each projecting the sense of security and belonging that comes with proximity to power, or illusions thereof.

After the President finished a short tour of what he called “Kenya’s best kept secret, and Kenya’s best kept asset,” he made the short walk to a waiting car, accompanied by the Deputy President. Outside, away from the preying ears of journalists but right in the line of camera lenses, the two engaged in animated banter, with the President gesturing excitedly while his deputy maintained a cool and calm mien.

At the high table, Dr Ruto sat on the immediate right of the President, and Dr Matiang’i on the left, separated from Mr Kenyatta by Defence Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma. They engaged in talk, but the lack of chemistry between the DP and the Interior CS was evident, radiating from the high table into the crowd gathered to witness the unveiling of a national security programme on a massive scale.

A few minutes past 5pm, Dr Ruto stood to welcome the President to make his speech, minutes after ICT Cabinet secretary Joe Mucheru addressed the gathering. Dr Matiang’i did not give a speech, even though the multi-agency operation in Manyani is, by and large, part of his docket.

Trademark gusto

Dr Ruto took to the podium with his trademark gusto and eloquence, lauding the President for overseeing the project and the hundreds of young Kenyans who have been domiciled at Camp Manyani for the last few years.

Read: Leaders tell off DP Ruto over attacks on Matiang’i, Kibicho

While on paper the Deputy President is second only to the President, and while government functionaries have endeavoured to maintain the protocol guidelines of the Presidency and the Cabinet, power appears to be shifting slowly in Dr Matiang’i’s direction.

The was evident in a widely shared picture of the Interior CS welcoming the President when he landed in a military helicopter, with the DP standing back waiting for his turn to welcome his boss.

To many, this appeared to confirm the widely held view that the minister is the de facto number two in Mr Kenyatta’s government.

The image immediately kicked up a storm, with supporters of the second in command terming it outright breach of protocol “meant to humiliate and have him boycott the meeting” and in the end blame him for disrespecting the President like it happened at the National Covid-19 Conference three weeks ago.

Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki, a close Ruto ally, accused Dr Matiang’i of overreaching himself, warning that the powers he enjoys will soon be gone. He said it was no longer a secret that the President and his deputy are going through a season of strained relationship.

Scathing attack

“What happened in Manyani is a very small issue of an exuberant public official full of pride so much so that he had the pleasure to humiliate his boss, the Deputy President. He, like young Icarus in Greek mythology, is scaling the temporal heights of limelight as he flies closer and closer to the sun totally disregarding the advice of his father Daedalus. The consequences shall follow sooner than later,” Prof Kindiki said.

But alarmed by utterances by critics that he was out to undermine the DP, Dr Matiang’i has in recent days come out fighting and denied the accusations levelled against him that he was part of ‘a cabal’ in the Office of the President out to stop Dr Ruto’s march to the State House in 2022.

During his Thursday rallies in Nyamira county, Dr Matiang’is backyard, the DP and allies launched a scathing attack on the CS. The Ruto camp accused him of trying to stop the DP’s political agenda in Gusii by halting his functions through the National Security Advisory Committee (NSAC) order.

But, speaking on a local radio station yesterday morning, the CS explained that the decision to streamline public gatherings, especially how political rallies are to be conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic, was reached at a Cabinet sitting where the Deputy President was present and he should not be blamed for it.

The CS told Egesa FM, a Gusii station, yesterday morning that such weighty decisions are well-thought out and analysed by the relevant government agencies before being released to the public.

“I am not even a member of the special security committee that brought up the matter that all organisers of public meetings get permission from the police,” said the CS.

He described Dr Ruto's utterances and those of his allies on Thursday as uncalled for and unfortunate.

"It is only that someone wants to get something to hang on to even when he himself had tweeted to suspend a function on account of that decision," added Dr Matiang’i.

Wield State power

The beef between the DP and Dr Matiang’i can be traced back to when President Kenyatta elevated the minister to be in-charge of the Cabinet committee co-ordinating national development, a position that observers say should have naturally gone to the President’s principal assistant.

President Kenyatta appointed the minister to chair the National Development Implementation and Communication Cabinet Committee. Part of the committee’s mandate is to supervise leadership throughout the delivery cycle of all national government programmes and projects.

Since then, the body language between the two has been that of men competing to wield State power yet those close to the minister say he should not be blamed for what they call a prerogative of the Head of State. For that ‘mistake’ the DP’s Tangatanga brigade has found a punching bag in the minister as a way of getting at the President.

“The minister did not appoint himself to the position. I believe the President in his wisdom had his reasons when he gave him the expanded responsibilities. The DP and his people are just scapegoating,” Dagoreti North MP Simba Arati told the Saturday Nation.

Dr Matiang’i and the Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho are accused of creating an impenetrable wall around the President, effectively locking the DP out of the kitchen Cabinet. The two are also said to enjoy immense support of other senior officials concerned that allowing so much leverage in government to a man who is keen to succeed the President would be a sure way to sabotage Mr Kenyatta’s legacy projects.

That Dr Matiang’i could be a compromise presidential candidate for the Handshake coalition has also brought jitters in the DP’s camp with his men saying that the earlier he is removed out of the equation the better for his own ambitions. Observers say that a Matiang’i ticket with a running mate from Central Kenya backed by Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga would give the DP a run for his money.

Prof Kindiki lauded the DP for taking “public humiliation by the State” in his stride.

“I thank my friend the Deputy President for not making a fuss about such an inconsequential stunt. He must remain dignified and completely loyal and submissive to his boss the President to their last day in office,” he said.

ODM National Treasurer Timothy Bosire, who hails from Nyamira County, says Dr Matiang’i suffers one major disadvantage in the ongoing political schism — he has no clear political forum to launch a fight with equal strength because he is bound by the law that bars CSs from participating in active politics.

Boardroom meetings

“But the DP is in-charge of government together with the President. Dr Matiang’i is a civil servant in this government and so it is totally out of order for Dr Ruto to come out guns blazing to fight the CS in public. They should handle their differences in boardroom meetings because bringing them out there in the public does not help Kenyans,” said Mr Bosire.

Mr Bosire further says the two should be busy handling matters of national importance and given that they serve in the same government and are in the same party, the best they can do for Kenyans is to put aside their individual and personal interest and deliver on the Jubilee administration’s development promises.

 Kisii Deputy Governor Joash Maangi, who is Ruto’s pointman in Gusii, says the DP and Matiang’i serve Kenyans in different capacities which are clearly spelt out in the constitutions and therefore there should be no reason for collision. But though the DP is determined to weaken Dr Matiang’i in his backyard, the CS is no pushover. 

Dr Andrew Maubi, a Kenyatta University lecturer says the DP and his crew know too well that he cannot attack the President directly and hence finds Dr Matiang'i an easy target.  Dr Matiang’i also enjoys the backing of ODM leader Raila Odinga

On at least four occasions in Gusiiland, Mr Odinga has lashed out at those fighting the CS saying they were out to derail his performance.

jwanga@ke.nationmedia.com; rmbula@ke.nationmedia.com