William Ruto

President William Ruto (centre) and CSs from left: Kithure Kindiki (Interior), Ababu Namwamba (Sports), Eliud Owalo (ICT), Florence Bore (Labour) Susan Nakhumucha (Health) and Alfred Mutua (Foreign Affairs). On the right are National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung'wah, Uasin Gishu Woman MP Gladys Shollei and Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei.

| File | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto's second year journey and tough battles ahead

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As President William Ruto prepares for a second year in office, he can look back to lessons from a mixed first year where effective consolidation of power and realisation of the Kenya Kwanza agenda was held back by realities of a harsh economic climate and perpetual challenges from opposition leader Raila Odinga.

He will also be assessing the successes and failures on his ambitious campaign manifesto and the performance of Cabinet Secretaries and other senior officials charged with delivery of the Kenya Kwanza promise.

If there is growing discontent over perceptions of broken promises on economic recovery, employment creation, the exchange rate and cost of living, the first anniversary should be the perfect occasion for some serious stocktaking; and a reset that might include removing non-performers and bringing in fresh faces and new ideas.

Public demonstrations pushed by Raila’s Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition managed to effectively exploit growing public discontent over the rising cost of living, and the situation was not helped by growing internal rifts that presented the picture of a ruling party at war with itself.

The latest manifestation was seen with the onslaught launched on Youth Affairs, Arts and Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba by some of the most vocal Kenya Kwanza supporters fronted by National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah, Deputy Speaker Gladys Boss Shollei and Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei.

And while Ruto has been willing to talk with Odinga in search of a respite from the violent street protests that have diverted his attentions, he also has to reckon with a powerful grouping in Kenya Kwanza led by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua that is openly dismissive of dialogue. Whether that represents a rebellion or a matter of the president and his deputy playing the good cop-bad cop routine is yet to be seen, but the prospect of serious internal schisms cannot be taken lightly.

The fierce assault on Namwamba in Parliament, social media and political platforms was reminiscent of the era of President Daniel arap Moi when regime mouthpieces would be sponsored to go on the attack against any politician being softened up for the inevitable kill.

Ababu says he welcomes more grilling by MPs

The flashy CS was accused of a host of misdeeds, including ignoring the Kenya team to the Berlin Special Olympics in June, flying First Class to sporting events while athletes flew in economy class, taking friends on sporting delegations, providing counterfeit Adidas kit for national teams and failing to deliver on the Talanta Hela App — a platform to help artistes showcase and monetise their skills — despite it being officially launched by the president three months ago.

While there is general dissatisfaction with sporting management in Kenya, particularly football, it was at once apparent that some of the allegations levelled against Namwamba were simply not true. However, he had big miscalculation on responding to summons from the National Assembly by writing to Speaker Moses Wetang’ula, dismissing the allegations against him as ‘hearsay’, which landed him in the soup when he finally appeared in the House. He was forced to eat humble pie and apologise, but faced a barrage of criticism from some members who were demanding his resignation and extending the issue to grouses on his perceived arrogance and love for publicity.

While there was no evidence that Namwamba was being set up for eventual sacking, the drama came at a time when a good number of Cabinet Secretaries have faced the wrath of Parliament either for wanting performance, or ignoring summonses to appear. They include Florence Bore (Labour), Alfred Mutua (Foreign Affairs), Susan Nakhumicha (Health), Eliud Owalo (ICT) and Kithure Kindiki (Interior).

Ichung’wah and Senate Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot have been particularly scathing of CSs who take Parliament lightly. Signs of pressure on the Executive are being seen not too long after Ruto read the riot act to CSs who were not performing to expectations.

On August 1, CSs, Principal Secretaries, heads of State Corporation and other senior officials were invited to State House for signing of their performance contracts, but what made the news was that a large number were locked out for arriving late, and directed to offer written explanations for their tardiness.

Two CSs, Kindiki and Moses Kuria of Trade and Investment, were reported amongst those who found the gate into State House shut. Ruto used the occasion to issue a stern warning not just on timekeeping, but that officials who seem to have scant knowledge of their dockets and responsibilities or allow the leakage of public funds were essentially on their way out.

Ruto orders govt officials late for State House event to submit written explanation

This served to raise speculation that a major reshuffle would be on the offing, but the timing also seemed to militate against an immediate clear out. The performance contracts were signed almost one year into the Kenya Kwanza administration, so it might be expected that the CSs and others be afforded at least another year in which to deliver. However, there is nothing to prevent Ruto acting as and when he sees fit, and he has had that one year or so to assess the effectiveness of those he appointed to high office and determine whether they are performing to expectations.

One thing he would know is that the time for excuses is running out. He can no longer keep blaming the previous administration of President Uhuru Kenyatta, which he served as Deputy President for 10 years, for bequeathing him empty coffers.

CS Namwamba says there's no evidence to oust him

On the political side, President Ruto can look at positives such as swift consolidation of power, where he secured unassailable majorities in both Houses of Parliament by wooing to his side a sizeable number of MPs elected on the opposition Azimio tickets.

He has also managed expected infighting within Kenya Kwanza, particularly around UDA groupings loyal to Gachagua up against allies of Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi and Wetang’ula, who both came into the coalition through their own western Kenya political parties, Amani National Congress and Ford-Kenya, respectively. However, there are still simmering issues that could erupt at any time, especially if the campaign for the 2027 elections, which is already under way, also sees jostling over the running mate, and by extension the presidential succession.

There is a high possibility that Gachagua’s strident opposition to dialogue with Raila is not so much about rejecting the alleged quested for a ‘handshake’ or power-sharing agreement; but uneasiness over the proposal tabled by Ruto for Mudavadi’s docket of Prime Cabinet Secretary to be entrenched in the Constitution.

Although, like Gachagua, he has been given broad supervisory functions over various government functions, Mudavadi at present is just like any other CS performing only the duties assigned by the President. Entrenching the Office of Prime Cabinet Secretary would bestow on the holder specific powers and functions, and probably elevate the office above that of Deputy President, which also has no specific roles outlined other than being principal assistant the President and first in line of succession.

It is clear that Gachagua and Mudavadi are angling to succeed Ruto at the expiry of his second term, assuming he is re-elected, and both will be doing whatever it takes to place themselves ahead of the pack.

Musalia Mudavadi and Rigathi Gachagua

Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi (left) and Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.

Photo credit: Nation Media Group

Ruto will also start his second year trying to contain Raila so that he can have the space to deliver without street protests and other distractions. But he will be keenly aware that delivery ultimately depends on the economic recovery strategy, and the signs at conclusion of the first year are not too good.

The prices of food, fuel and other basics continue to rise as the shilling continues to slide. The much-vaunted government-to-government oil import deals from Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates have failed to ease pressure on the shilling or reduce pump prices as promised by Energy CS Davis Chirchir and economic advisor David Ndii.

Corruption, waste and plunder continues to divert scarce public resources to private pockets, as evidence by a host of controversial deals under the guise of shutting out alleged cartels and lowering consumer prices by giving politically-connected merchants leeway for duty free imports of edible oil, maize, rice and other essentials. Some housecleaning is clearly called to kick out non-performers and assure a skeptical and restless public that the government is aware of various shortcomings and moving to address them.