No longer so dynamic: How Uhuru, Ruto 'marriage' collapsed

Bitter differences between President Uhuru and DP Ruto will likely spill over into 2021

In Summary

• During the first months of 2020, it seemed only a matter of time before the two went their separate ways. It got worse and worse.

• Several unsuccessful attempts have been made to reconcile the two leaders, though neither side sees anything in it for them. 

Deputy President William Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta
Deputy President William Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta
Image: FILE

As 2020 began, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto were pulling in different directions.

There was Ruto's early campaigning for the presidency, which Uhuru told him to stop. He didn't.

Later came the wheelbarrow initiative and so-called hustler nation pitting the struggling go-getters against the dynasties controlling politics.

The DP has showered wananchi with money to start businesses as well as wheelbarrows, sewing machines, carpentry tools, hairdressing equipment and many other things that have endeared him to many poor people.

The compelling hustler narrative has made the government nervous. It said young people should depend on state development projects, savings plans and other inducements - not divisive slogans and trivial handouts. 

And as the year comes to an end, there's a chasm between the two leaders. They are reading from different hymn sheets, particularly on proposed amendments to the Constitution through the Building Bridges Initiative.

The differences will no doubt spill over into 2021, the year Kenyans expect to go to a referendum to approve the BBI's proposed changes. The proposals are generating fierce debate but Uhuru is expected to prevail. 

Uhuru and Ruto – once UhuRuto, the 'dynamic duo' – have been at loggerheads in many instances in 2020. 

During the first months of 2020, it seemed only a matter of time before the two went their separate ways. Pundits say it's a question of when, not if.

The relationship between the two started to crumble after Uhuru shook hands with long-time rival, ODM leader Raila Odinga on March 9, 2018.

Ruto had been allegedly excluded from negotiations in the run-up to the peace pact that has made the ODM leader virtually a member of government, not the Opposition. But Uhuru said during the launch of the BBI report on October 26 that Ruto was involved all through, including in the selection of the task force members. 

The two pledged to work together to promote unity after the bitterly contested 2017 General Election.

Political analyst Daniel Orogo said the Uhuru-Ruto open falling out in 2020 had been orchestrated by personal and political factors.

“The war on corruption has been seen to target Ruto, the drastic changes [purge of Ruto allies] in the leadership in both Senate and the National Assembly and the reshuffling of parastatal heads are amongst political issues that have soured the relationship between the President and his deputy,” he said.

Ruto's allies were purged from parliamentary committees while others faced disciplinary action in a Jubilee Party pruning of perceived rebels.

In 2021, this sour, non-relationship between Uhuru and Ruto might escalate to open political rivalry and could become more vicious, he said.

Orogo cited the referendum, the fight for heart and soul of the divided Jubilee Party and 2022 politics as factors that plunged the relationship to an all-time low.

“Ruto will remove his gloves and might openly defy the President as he traverses the country and popularises the hustlers versus the dynasties political narrative," he said.

Political commentator Joseph Mutua said the schism between Uhuru and Ruto is real and irredeemable.

“I am seeing Uhuru and Raila coming up with a line up that will counter any move that Ruto makes. They will be keen not to give Ruto a chance,” he said.

Ruto once was Uhuru's acknowledged heir-apparent.

The differences will deepen as the 2022 General Election approaches, he said.

Orogo said barring the DP from his political activities in the Jubilee Party headquarters is likely to be another source of conflict in 2021.

He has hinted at leaving Jubilee.

“The DP will probably mount a war with the party secretariat. The strategy will be to retain the party position and eject his rivals through the party PG or dismantle the Jubilee party functions and lead a walkout with a sizeable number of MPs, governors and insiders. This will definitely attract the President's reaction,” he added.

Raila has been cited as the biggest reason for the strained relationship between Uhuru and Ruto.

When Uhuru reorganised his Cabinet in January, the effects of the handshake were obvious.

Ruto has also moved into Uhuru's Mt Kenya turf without the President's blessings. He has won the hearts of many in the President's backyard.

Pundits say by invading Mt Kenya, Ruto was trying to inherit President Kenyatta’s seat long before his term comes to an end. The ugly face of political defiance is being manifested, he said.

“In other terms, he will be communicating to Kenyans that he is no longer willing to share in the President's Big 4 agenda failure and the tainted image of the failed Jubilee government,” Orogo said.

Several of Ruto’s allies have also been implicated in corruption scandals and supporters said they were being targeted. The Director of Public Prosecutions denies this and says he follows the facts and the money.

As the year progressed, the Team Tangatanga- associated with the DP -became emboldened in their opposition to Uhuru.

Ruto has also sharply criticised the BBI initiative dear to the President. He set out five 'irreducible minimums' for his support.

Privately, he conceded, he cannot publicly confront his boss for fear of losing his support.

Speaking at a funeral in October, Ruto, termed the Nyanza BBI forum in Kisii a waste of public funds. He warned civil servants who facilitated the event their days were numbered - when he eventually ascends to power.

The Kenya National Elders Council said it would not relent in its drive to reconcile Uhuru and Ruto. Efforts so far have failed as neither side sees much gain in making nice.

Lengthy separate talks came to naught.

Foreign donors and potential investors have been put off by rising political tension and violence, which has since subsided a bit.

The council under the leadership of Captain (Rtd) Kung’u Muigai said their mission is not political and aims to unite the country's  leadership, not just Uhuru and Ruto.

“The move to preach unity and peace was an initiative of the elders and not Uhuru's or any other leader,” Muigai said.

Ruto has also repeatedly accused Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti of being used by the state to undermine his office.

The DP also has a strained relationship with Interior CS Fred Matiang'i - now the 'super minister' - and his PS Karanja Kibicho.

At Jubilee headquarters, Ruto has been engaged in a battle with secretary-general Raphael Tuju and party vice chairman David Murathe.

Ruto has openly called Tuju and Murathe busybodies, conmen and brokers who have hijacked the party.

Tuju announced they had kick-started the process of removing Ruto as the Jubilee second in command.

“The NMC has recommended to the NEC that the DP ceases to be Deputy Party leader after he opened the so-called Jubilee Asili offices that is reserved for him and his allies until such a time that this development of Jubilee Asili is discussed at the NEC,” Tuju said.

In September, legislators allied to Ruto accused Uhuru of failing to offer leadership in Jubilee Party.

Jubilee Party deputy secretary-general Caleb Kositany termed the ongoing differences “a failure by the leadership”.


(Edited by V. Graham)