Ruto scales down Uhuru Kenyatta, Matiang'i's security

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta's motorcade

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta's motorcade on Uhuru Highway on February 11, 2020.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Retired President Uhuru Kenyatta’s security has significantly been scaled down in what government operatives say is a rationalisation of personnel. 

The Daily Nation also established a senior police officer who was leading the security team has been recalled and replaced with one of a lower rank.  

“From 96 elite officers attached to him, he has been left with 25, while the former First Lady has five,” a source told the Nation yesterday, adding security personnel attached to Mr Kenyatta’s other family members were all withdrawn.

An officer in the rank of assistant inspector general was recalled because the retired president’s security team is legally supposed to be headed by a chief inspector. However, the lean team is currently led by a superintendent of police.

It also emerged that the rationalisation had also affected former Interior minister Fred Matiang’i and former Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho. However, it was not clear if their entire security detail had been withdrawn as some reports indicated the number of personnel had been scaled down from 18 to two each.

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta speaking after condoling with Dr Barbara Odudu Magoha, widow of former Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha on January 31, 2023, at Lavington, Nairobi County.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

The security detail of a number of individuals, who enjoyed the benefit on account of their relationship with former Cabinet Secretaries, had also been withdrawn. “The exercise was not targeting only the three,” a government official said. 

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Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki yesterday declined to respond to Nation’s inquiries as to whether the security of the retired president and those of the former Interior chiefs had been scaled down. 

On Thursday, Inspector General of Police Japheth Koome confirmed the scaling down of the officers guarding former President Kenyatta and part of his cabinet saying this was a normal police moderation process. 

Speaking at the Moi International Airport in Mombasa, Mr Koome said there was nothing political about this scale down. 

"The person in charge of Presidential Escort Unit that serves the Retired and Serving Presidents is led by an Assistant Inspector General. Once a President is retired, he is supposed according to the law, to be guarded by a Superintendent Police Officer. I recalled the officer and assigned the officer a commanding responsibility according to their rank," jhe said.

When asked on the phone about the recall of the senior police officer from the retired president’s detail, as well as reports of the withdrawal of some officers from the elite GSU Recce unit, and the withdrawal of guards assigned to Dr Matiang’i and Mr Kibicho, police spokesman Dr Resila Onyango promised to get back after two hours. She did not. She also did not answer a subsequent call. 

Yesterday, Dr Kibicho told Nation: “First, in my entire time in service, I never had 18 security officers. Not even half of that number. Secondly, when I handed over office on December 5, I surrendered all government assets, including security officers and vehicles. Sasa mimi ni raia mwema without any need for personalised security.”

Sources said the changes were done by Deputy Inspector General of Police, Kenya Police Service Edward Mbugua. 

The guards are deployed as personal escort detail or stationed at the residences of the VIPs — in Nairobi or upcountry — or at any other installation the beneficiary has an interest in.

The change in the retired president’s team was explained as necessary in keeping with the strict rank order of the disciplined force.

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta shares a word with former interior Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiangi

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta shares a word with former interior Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiangi and other former Cabinet Secretaries when they condoled with Dr Barbara Odudu Magoha, widow of former Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha on January 31, 2023, in Lavington, Nairobi County.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

However, the latest developments come in the wake of an escalation of tension between President William Ruto’s administration and his predecessor, following tax scrutiny calls.

Uhuru response

After days of sustained pressure from Dr Ruto’s allies, Mr Kenyatta on Tuesday fired back, telling the leadership of the new administration to stop “too much talk” and focus on working for Kenyans.

“There are two types of people. There are people who talk a lot about what they will do and do nothing and those are many. But there are people who will talk a little and their deeds are seen,” Mr Kenyatta said at the home of his former Education minister George Magoha, where he had led his former Cabinet members to mourn their colleague.

He spoke after Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka accused the new administration of victimising the retired president, something that past presidents, he said, had not subjected their predecessors.

Speaking at the same event, Dr Matiang’i also regretted the “noise” coming from the new administration.

According to the Presidential Retirement Benefits Act, a retired president is entitled to guards for personal and escort unit, as well as “adequate security” at the rural and urban residences.

Previously, the law capped the number at 12 guards, but it was amended in 2013 to remove the upper limit.

It was not clear how many security personnel the retired president has been allocated now, with some on social media claiming that the entire security detail had been withdrawn.

But the law also provides that the deployment is as may from time to time be certified by the minister responsible for national security in consultation with the retired president.

Deputy President William Ruto new security team

President William Ruto walks with his new security team at his Karen residence on August 30, 2021. 

Photo credit: Courtesy | DPPS

President Ruto’s allies have also vowed to block the retired president’s enjoyment of State perks if he continues holding the post of chairman of a top decision-making organ of the opposition Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party.

The law stipulates: “A retired President shall not hold office in any political party for more than six months after ceasing to hold office as President.”

Protest rallies

The opposition coalition has begun protest rallies led by its leader, Raila Odinga, who has branded the Kenya Kwanza government illegitimate, alleging the electoral commission rigged the presidential vote in favour of Dr Ruto.

President Ruto claims the opposition protests are being sponsored by individuals who don’t want to pay taxes.

The latest withdrawal of VIP security, however, rekindles similar action by President Kenyatta’s government in 2021 when the security of then-Deputy President Ruto was downgraded.

Dr Matiang’i was the Interior minister at the time all General Service Unit (GSU) officers guarding the DP were replaced with Administration Police officers.

The action caused a storm that saw even a parliamentary committee demand answers from the government, but Dr Ruto downplayed the matter at the time.

“Parliamentary time should not be wasted on non-issues. The Administration Police is a professional security service and those who think it’s a downgrade are wrong,” Dr Ruto tweeted on August 30, 2021. He later posed taking tea with the AP officers at his official residence in Karen.

Additional reporting by Farhiya Hussein