What you need to know:
- In the wide-ranging interview, Mr Kenyatta also fielded questions on the affairs of Jubilee party, which he indicated is going through a “leadership coup” orchestrated by politicians affiliated to the President.
- But, noting that he advocates for expansion of the democratic space and has no grudges with those who have shifted their allegiance to Dr Ruto’s camp, he said that the basic tenets of democracy allow people to associate with their parties or leaders of choice.
- He said he receives his retirement benefits but the contracts of the staff attached to the office of the fourth president have not been renewed, and the government has refused to pay rent for his office on claims that his office is also his private home.
Former president Uhuru Kenyatta has lifted the lid on the genesis of his falling-out with Dr William Ruto, the deputy who succeeded him after a hostile campaign last year. The reason for their dramatic parting-of-ways has been the subject of speculation for years now, with many wondering what could have come between this ‘dynamic duo’ from the golden years of the Jubilee party who rocked matching white shirts and red ties when they first rocked into office in 2013.
“It all started after the 2017 General Election,” said Mr Kenyatta in an interview in his Nairobi office on Monday. “Dr Ruto wanted us to go after Mr Odinga and his opposition clique ruthlessly, but I refused. I told him my priority at the time was the unity of Kenyans, and that going after the political class would fracture the nation.”
But, said Mr Kenyatta, Dr Ruto was adamant that the Jubilee administration needed to tame the opposition. The two had ridden to power on a strong ‘kumira kumira’ wave that had given Mr Odinga a resounding defeat at the polls. Mr Odinga had rejected the announcement of Mr Kenyatta as president and filed a case against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission at the Supreme Court. After days of submissions, the court had nullified Mr Kenyatta’s and Dr Ruto’s victory and called for a re-run, from which Mr Odinga had withdrawn, arguing at the time that he did not believe the polls would be free and fair.
It was under this cloud of suspicion that Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto had settled in for the second and last term in office. And Dr Ruto, then angling to succeed Mr Kenyatta, had viewed Mr Odinga as a political threat that needed to be stopped early on. Mr Kenyatta said he categorically disagreed with that position, and that he had indeed told his then deputy that the risk of fragmenting the country by far outweighed the benefit of barricading the Odinga onslaught.
“I told him I had been to The Hague as a suspect and I didn’t want to go there for another four years again,” said Mr Kenyatta.
“I was clear that I wasn’t going to be arraigned at the International Criminal Court again for whatever reason. On hearing this, Dr Ruto went out and started his propaganda of abandonment.”
He was referring to his case at the ICC after violent protests erupted to near-civil war following the disputed presidential election of 2007, during which Mr Odinga faced it off with Mr Mwai Kibaki of Party of National Unity.
By the time the drums of war fell silent, more than 1,100 people had been killed, according to various estimates. The International Criminal Court investigated the matter and charged Mr Kenyatta alongside Dr Ruto with several charges, including crimes against humanity. Others charged at the court were radio presenter Joshua Sang, former Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura, former police commissioner Hussein Ali, and former Cabinet minister Henry Kosgey.
In 2013, Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto ran on a joint ticket under the Jubilee coalition of the now-defunct The National Alliance (TNA) and United Republican Alliance (URP). Their political messaging included charges against the ICC, which they said was targeting them and several other African leaders unfairly. They won the race, and soon afterwards the court dropped the cases against them.
Yesterday, the former president said he was not ready to be hauled before any judge again, and that he had stood his ground when Dr Ruto suggested a crackdown against opposition elements. Despite Dr Ruto’s disapproval of his plans, Mr Kenyatta had gone ahead to strike a truce with Mr Odinga that, days later, birthed the symbolic ‘Handshake’ on the steps on Harambee House in Nairobi.
Dr Ruto has not spoken about the genesis of his rift with Mr Kenyatta and has only hinted about it on the campaign trail, citing the ‘Handshake’ truce between the former president and the opposition leader as a possible cause.
Should that be the case, the assertion by the former president yesterday would appear to lend credence to allegations of a power struggle between him and his deputy, and a divergence of ideals around the Kenyatta succession matrix. By bringing Mr Odinga closer to the inner sanctums of State House, Mr Kenyatta was inadvertently nipping Dr Ruto’s ambitions in the bud, and the latter had reacted with a walkout and the rally messaging that Mr Kenyatta now calls ‘abandonment propaganda’.
“Raila was a godsend,” he said yesterday, defending his ties with the man who had caused the nullification of his victory. “I don’t think I would have survived the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic had I been leading the country alone, as my deputy was working against me.”
Their relationship hit rock bottom in 2018, when Mr Odinga orchestrated his mock swearing-in as the people’s president at Uhuru Park in Nairobi. Now, said Mr Kenyatta, President Ruto appears to be living by his revisit mantra by going for the opposition, as he had planned then.
President Ruto has been accused by the Azimio coalition of targeting its leadership and support base in a brutal police crackdown, but the President has reiterated that he has no intentions of subduing the opposition, and that the police will only go for criminal elements of whatever political affiliation.
Those who have interviewed Mr Kenyatta before have said that he is a hard nut to crack. Close to 40 years in the national limelight, a good part of which has been in the political domain, have given him a very good grasp of media relations and communications. And he has learnt when to talk and when not to.
That, perhaps, explains the timing of the interview on Monday. Attacked, ridiculed and castigated by an army of Kenya Kwanza stalwarts for months on end, the former president has been eerily quiet, only coming out last Friday to rush to his son Jomo’s rescue after detectives attempted to raid his home in search of what the Cabinet Secretary for Interior, Prof Kithure Kindiki, later said were illegal guns.
Mr Kenyatta said he liked his peace, and that he is not interested in any public confrontations with anyone. Still, this interview served to tell off the Kenya Kwanza dogs of war, and to paint the picture of a man who wants to live a simple, quiet life.
“Sina ubaya na mtu mimi,” he said in Kiswahili, lifting his hands in the air to strike that common posture of a man who does not want trouble.
He had burst into the room a few minutes past 11am with his characteristic charm and wide grin. He appeared to be a man who is enjoying life in retirement, every now and then throwing a joke and accompanying it with a heavy, loud chuckle.
But, even with that talismanic display of charm and bliss, the former president was clearly not at ease. He kept fidgeting in his seat and throwing his arms up in the air as if in desperation.
His words were assuring and affirming, but his body language said something else; something was troubling him, gnawing away at the depths of his emotions and leaving him to struggle with an eclectic mixture of rage, disappointment and dishonour.
His eyes were afire; his gaze strong and sharp. He wasn’t reflective in his answers and neither did he appear to be fishing for the truth from somewhere in the depths of his chest. He was quick with his answers, and slightly impatient when the questions appeared too long and winded.
“I have nothing to hide. Ask me anything you want. I have been silent long enough,” he had said as he settled in for the interview, sinking into a big leather chair with his back to the door and a long desk that extended the entire length of the room before him. Those three lines had set the tempo for the questions, and even though he spoke freely, there were moments when he appeared to want to let go but somehow held himself back.
He said he felt like a man under attack, especially after the police raided his son’s home and withdrew the security of his mother and former first lady, Mama Ngina. To him, this affront was an attack on his person, and, just as he had promised last Friday, he vowed to do everything at his disposal to protect his family.
“Wouldn’t you do the same if it were your family under attack,” he thundered back when probed further on his agitated posture on television last Friday as he defended his son against the police. “I didn’t want to go there and had actually let my security team handle the matter, but when I noticed the people claiming to be police officers were adamant that they wanted to drive into my son’s compound, I rushed to his rescue.”
Television cameras at the scene captured the image of the former president appearing rather enraged as he questioned the motive and legality of the police raid. On Monday (July 24, 2023), he said he believed the band of men at his son’s gate were planning to plant incriminating evidence against him had they been let inside the gate. He said the fact that they were driving a car with South Sudanese number plates points to the possibility of an ulterior motive.
Despite the public fallout between him and President Ruto, Mr Kenyatta said he respects the President and would not hesitate to consult with him should Dr Ruto reach out.
“If he calls me, I will go. He is my President,” he said. “When transition happens the one who takes over is responsible for the direction the country takes. I might not have supported you, but I will let you take over the reins of the nation.” He, however, indicated that he would not reach out to Dr Ruto for any talks or consultations as “it is the one in power who should reach out”.
In the wide-ranging interview, Mr Kenyatta also fielded questions on the affairs of Jubilee party, which he indicated is going through a “leadership coup” orchestrated by politicians affiliated to the President.
But, noting that he advocates for expansion of the democratic space and has no grudges with those who have shifted their allegiance to Dr Ruto’s camp, he said that the basic tenets of democracy allow people to associate with their parties or leaders of choice.
“That’s the nature of politics. I have seen it happen to others and I am no exception. They would always praise you and declare loyalty to you but when opportunities arise and situations change, you will be abandoned very fast,” he said, adding: “The beauty of democracy is not to harbour grudges. Everybody will be judged individually in heaven. This is something that doesn’t give me sleepless nights.”
Still, he added, he has learnt to live outside the circles of power, even though, he said, he feels he is held in contempt by the current regime. He decried the fact that his security detail was changed without his input soon after he handed over power, and noted that he did not have a hand in choosing who would guard him.
He said he receives his retirement benefits but the contracts of the staff attached to the office of the fourth president have not been renewed, and the government has refused to pay rent for his office on claims that his office is also his private home.
On the withdrawal of the detail guarding his mother, he said the Kenya Kwanza administration appears not to realise that she is entitled by law to have, among other benefits, a fraction of founding president Jomo Kenyatta’s pension as well as round-the-clock security. Now, he said, Mama Ngina is being guarded by a private security firm but refused to answer the question whether he would consider legal action against the Ruto administration for denying his mother her legal rights.
“Power is fleeting,” he cautioned President Ruto. “Do the best for the country and not those around you.”