The bitter divorce and the creation and destruction of Jubilee

Jubilee Headquarters

The Jubilee Party headquarters in Pangani, Nairobi. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

September 10, 2016.

This is the day President Uhuru Kenyatta launched Jubilee Party, a monolith outfit formed out of the dissolution of his party, The National Alliance (TNA) and his deputy William Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP) and 10 other outfits.

But the story of Jubilee Party is a confirmation of the contrasts of the two men at the centre of its formation in 2016, the laid-back Head of State and his ambitious, hard-working deputy.

It was the coming together of two different men: Uhuru, a son of a former president; a reluctant politician who rose to the helm of Kenya’s politics and Dr Ruto, a political operative who honed his skills at the feet of Kenya’s longest serving president, the late Daniel arap Moi.

The dissolution of 12 parties to form Jubilee Party in September 2016 was, therefore, an experiment not only on whether Kenya was ready for a monolith party like Kanu, a political colossus bestrode our politics for four decades, but also whether or not President Kenyatta and Dr Ruto could stick in one such house.

Dr Ruto, burning with raw ambition and political vigour, had seen his path paved. The Jubilee Party, which had representation in 41 of Kenya’s 47 counties, and was just 60 MPs shy of an absolute majority in the National Assembly, was his shoo-in to the job his boss promised when they teamed up in 2012: The presidency.

The formation of Jubilee, birthed from the Jubilee Alliance that catapulted the duo to the presidency in the 2013 elections, was a culmination of months of the two leaders—but especially Dr Ruto—convincing their bases why dissolving their parties to form one large house was a good idea.

Dr Ruto had gone into the UhuRuto marriage with his URP party, a predominantly Rift Valley outfit, with pockets of MPs in North Eastern, while President Kenyatta had TNA, predominantly from the wider Mt Kenya region.

To Dr Ruto, therefore, having one national party where he was the deputy party leader and calling the shots in most decisions, made absolute sense.

And President Kenyatta just seemed to confirm it to a 60,000-seater Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani Stadium on a sunny September 10, 2016 afternoon.

“The party we launch here today is an expression of our unity, our oneness, and our togetherness. In launching it, we renew, and we strengthen, the ties that bind Kenyans together. We rise from the ashes of conflict to express the beauty of reconciliation and collective purpose,” President Kenyatta declared then.

He then turned to his deputy, and showered him with praise of a man proud of his would-be successor.

“In this quest for unity and prosperity, I am blessed to have a compatriot who shares my vision and is my fellow traveler. I refer, of course, to my friend, William Ruto, who is with us today,” the Head of State said.

But, it appears, President Kenyatta had other plans.

On March 9, 2018, President Kenyatta, just four months after he took the oath of office for a second term, shook hands with his political opponent, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) boss Raila Odinga.

The Handshake—as it come to be known—catapulted a bitter rival and long-standing opposition leader to the inner sanctum, and relegated the deputy president to an outsider and de facto opposition leader.

For the Jubilee leader, he saw it as good politics: a Handshake with a man he had ran against and beat thrice but in whom he saw his own future beyond his presidency.

The changing, nay, dwindling, fortunes of Jubilee can be argued to be a true reflection of Kenya’s relationship with ruling political parties, which save for Kanu, have been used as special purpose vehicles to be dumped soon after the elections.

“We are victims of the challenges we have in the journey as a country. We took two bold steps in the last few years: folding 12 parties to form Jubilee Party and the March 2018 Handshake between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga. What we need to do is ask how we can take advantage of those gigantic steps because, in the end, Kenya is a project in the making,” says Raphael Tuju, who steered the merger, and is now Azimio Executive Director.

But the making and unmaking of Jubilee and the rise and rise of Dr Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) pretty much sums up the UhuRuto marriage; one of convenience that did not work, and with the estranged spouse coming to collect.

In the August General Election, UDA amassed an impressive 140 MPs, 116 in the 290 constituencies and 21 of the 41 woman representatives.

Jubilee had 172 MPs in the 2017 poll, including its six nominated ones.

Now a pale shadow of its former self, Jubilee only managed a total of 27 MPs, with Mr Odinga’s ODM improving its tally from a total of 73 to 86.

Having joined politics at a young age of 30, Dr Ruto went on to win the Eldoret North MP seat, beating Kanu bigwig Reuben Chesire.

In the same year, Uhuru’s first attempt to be Gatundu South MP was unsuccessful, losing to Moses Mwihia, after which he vowed to quit politics.

But President Moi had other plans for the young Kenyatta scion.

In 2001, Mark Too gave up his nominated MP seat, allowing President Moi to nominate Uhuru to Parliament and quickly rose the ranks to be named minister of Local Government.

President Moi then named the young Uhuru his preferred successor, to the chagrin of key Kanu stalwarts led by then vice president George Saitoti, as well as opposition multi-party campaign hero Raila, who after his unsuccessful 1997 presidential bid had crossed the floor to hitch his wagons to the Kanu train.

It was Odinga who engineered the mass walkout from Kanu to join hands with Mwai Kibaki and deliver a resounding defeat for the Uhuru presidential bid and end Kanu’s four decades monopoly of power.

Uhuru took over his role as Opposition leader with Ruto by his side.

In 2005, Ruto joined hands with Mr Odinga and other Cabinet ministers in the Kibaki government to oppose a proposed new Constitution, and are briefly joined by Uhuru.

The 2005 anti-Constitution movement morphed into the Orange Democratic Movement—based on the orange symbol for the No side in the referendum--with Mr Odinga as its leader.

Having run a successful No campaign, the Raila capitalised on the momentum to to run what was one of his closest shot at the presidency.

He won in 98 of Kenya's 210 constituencies, compared to just over 40 for President Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU) and his supporters as well as his closest allies were of the view that he was their duly elected president, a dispute that led to bloodshed that saw the deaths of 1,133 Kenyans and the displacement of over 600,000.

Dr Ruto, then a fiercely loyal Odinga supporter, as well as ODM chairman Henry Kosgey were alongside President Kenyatta, Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura and Police Commissioner Hussein Ali were hauled to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for what Luis Moreno Ocampo, the prosecutor, said they bore the greatest criminal responsibility.

This was in 2011, and the movement, like many a political tribulations in Kenya, kicked off a moment of panic and subsequent political protection—expressed through votes—for the duo, Dr Ruto from the Kalenjin community and Mr Kenyatta from the Agikuyu community, two tribes seen at the centre of the 2007 chaos.

They held prayer rallies all across Kenya, swore to bring the two communities together, and marketed their union as that which will herald unity for their peoples.

The strategy—as well as a strong message painting Mr Odinga as a pro-West puppet—worked.

On April 9, 2013, they were sworn in for a first term, with the digital duo promising a grand success.

And so when the idea of a grand national party to summarise this bromance came about, it was seen as the logical conclusion to an equally grand experiment.

But as Dr Ruto takes oath today, with President Kenyatta looking on, it will not be lost on political observers how the duo's relationship became irreparably damaged as the once ‘dynamic duo’ do not see eye to eye. What was supposed to be a grand coalition of the bright and the brave with heavenly credentials ended up feeling like the flames of hell.

President Kenyatta, having refused to congratulate his ambitious deputy, insists that Mr Odinga will remain his leader, even as he vowed to "hand over power smiling."

A smiling end to a defective relationship that promised so much, but in the end, was full of chaos, mistrust, with Dr Ruto having managed the last laugh.