STATE OF THE NATION

Uhuru dilemma over Raila, Ruto in graft purge

In Summary

• The President lauds the handshake deal saying there is no turning back on unity.

• Opts to give a lifeline to graft suspects to undergo due process of the law.

President Uhuru Kenyatta when he arrived at Parliament Buildings this afternoon to deliver the State of the Nation address with Deputy President William Ruto on April 4, 2019.
President Uhuru Kenyatta when he arrived at Parliament Buildings this afternoon to deliver the State of the Nation address with Deputy President William Ruto on April 4, 2019.
Image: PSCU

President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday was faced with the difficulty of appeasing his new political soulmate Raila Odinga and his restless deputy William Ruto over the handshake and graft war.

In a carefully worded State of the Nation address, Uhuru reaffirmed his unwavering commitment to the political pact with Raila but failed to crack the whip on his Cabinet, to the thunderous applause from Ruto allies.

The head of state admitted that Kenyans wanted heads to roll in his government but tactfully insisted that graft suspects must be subjected to due process of law in what appeared to be a sweet victory to the Ruto brigade.

 

“Honourable members, I must say that I have been under pressure to say who am I sacking. But I must, however, caution that the pursuit of the corrupt will be undertaken strictly within the remits of the law and not through vigilante justice and pitchfork protest,” Uhuru said.

In a clear warning to top government officials that the noose is tightening on them, he said,

“No turning back on the war against corruption as it is a just war, a war to prevent misuse of public resources for selfish interests by those we have entrusted to manage them.”

The President’s address comes against the backdrop of growing pressure to axe some members of his Cabinet caught up in the intricate graft web as a sign of his commitment to slaying corruption.

At least four ministers and their Principal Secretaries have been interrogated in the Sh21 billion Kamwarer and Arror dams scandal in which investigators have said kickbacks were paid to top government officials by an Italian firm.

Tellingly,  Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji had on Tuesday clarified that investigations into the dams are underway but very complex. He said he had not received the files from DCI George Kinoti.

This appeared to justify Uhuru’s inaction yesterday, despite expectations that he would ask some ministers to step aside.

In his historic 2015 address that received a standing ovation from MPs, Uhuru sent four CSs parking and 170 other top government officers on the List of Shame over graft.

The President’s tact yesterday caught most of his allies and those of his comrade Raila Odinga off guard.

They appeared to frown in dismay as he ducked the subject of firing top government officials accused of graft.

MPs reactions confirmed that the stage had been set for a drastic announcement from the President regarding the future of some beleaguered Cabinet ministers under pressure to resign over corruption allegations.

However, Uhuru who is walking a tightrope in buttressing his ties with Raila while at the same time sustaining a healthy relationship with his deputy kept on his kid gloves, perhaps not to jeopardise his administration.

Though media narratives rally our resolve as they should, our actions will not be based on condemnation before one has been heard. The cornerstone of our democracy is the rule of law, and the principle of due process is a critical anchor.
President Uhuru Kenyatta

“As I have I done before, I undertake to act and remove from the government any individual who will have a case to answer before the court,” Uhuru said to thunderous applause from Ruto-allied MPs in a major political score for them.

The President said he remains confident that the investigating and prosecutorial institutions will diligently deliver justice on the strength of the evidence and in fidelity to the law.

“We must aspire abidingly to this ideal, and ensure that we do not pursue justice in one area through injustice in another,” the President stressed in his address.

The President came to the defence of the Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti and Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji who have been under a string of attacks from Ruto’s lieutenants.

Uhuru warned against any attempt to clip the powers of the two crucial agencies seen as the bedrock of a successful anti-graft fight, key in sealing the President’s legacy.

“Once again, Mr Speaker, I wish to emphasise our place in history and the national endeavour to strengthen rather than weaken our investigating and prosecuting agencies,” he said.

Ruto’s key alley and Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro had drafted a bill to amend the law in what was interrupted to be a crafty way to tame the DPP, but public pressure forced him to delete the controversial sections before the bill was published.

In a deliberate move to reaffirm his cohesion agenda manifested by his political truce with Raila, Uhuru warned those against the handshake,  insisting, "There will be no turning back on the quest for unity.”

“We cannot and will not turn back on efforts to unite the country. We have chosen the hard road of building unity and cohesion against the easy one of division,” Uhuru said.

“There will be no turning back on the Building Bridges Initiative that assures inclusion, cohesion, unity and respect for all Kenyans. We are not turning back because we are determined to gift our children a better Kenya than the one we inherited.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta when he arrived at Parliament Buildings on April 4, 2019 with other leaders to deliver the State of the Nation address.|
President Uhuru Kenyatta when he arrived at Parliament Buildings on April 4, 2019 with other leaders to deliver the State of the Nation address.|
Image: PSCU

The President who was addressing Parliament as a constitutional obligation, cautioned politicians, saying they should acknowledge the damage that political tension has caused to the country in the past.

“It is my agenda to bring harmony, unity and civility to the political discourse. That is what informed the handshake.”

Uhuru praised his ceasefire with his former foe-turned-friend Raila, saying it is the symbol of “goodwill, friendship, trust and reconciliation” as rooted in the African culture.

Uhuru added, “The handshake is synonymous with peace. Ours here has been followed by many others across the length and breadth of the republic.”

The President said it was encouraging that many leaders across the country have opted for the politics of unity and have given Kenyans the hope that they can rise above politics and build a prosperous country.

To this end, Uhuru urged Parliament to approve the government’s proposal for a Sh10 billion fund for setting up facilities to entrench peace and unity among communities that have been affected by political violence.

The President said the funds will help “heal the wounds of historical grievances which have poisoned our politics and strained communal relations.”

Uhuru assured that the handshake, through the Building Bridges Initiative, will be bolstered, adding that the state is eagerly anticipating its findings and recommendations.

“We will be applying the fund to establish symbols of hope across the country through the construction of heritage sites and community information centres reminding Kenyans of the journey taken towards reconciliation,” Uhuru said.

The DP’s allies have been citing the handshake as a threat to the bid by Ruto to succeed Uhuru after the latter leaves office in 2022.

The lot, identified as the Tangatanga team, has been traversing the country with the message that the handshake was meant to end other people’s careers in politics.

The group has been accusing Raila of entering into a unity deal with Uhuru to scuttle Jubilee, citing perceived efforts to block Ruto from ascending to the presidency.

However, Uhuru warned in his State of the Nation address that it would be an uphill task to achieve a better Kenya if leaders operate in disharmony.