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President Uhuru Kenyatta has a word with his deputy Dr William Ruto during the 57th Madaraka Day Celebrations on June 01, 2020 at State House Gardens, Nairobi.

File | PSCU

What you need to know:

  • Mr Ruto has escalated the rhetoric with his boss by hinting – without any subtlety – that the security forces could even be treacherously divided.
  • Although estranged from his boss, Mr Ruto is still the second most powerful official in the state.

Kenya has never witnessed the security – existential – threat posed by the total collapse of the relationship between Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta and DP William Ruto. We’ve entered very dangerous uncharted territory. Not even the rapture between Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and VP Jaramogi Oginga Odinga at the dawn of the republic threatened the cataclysm we see today. Mr Odinga did the honourable thing, and quit of his own volition. 

As the saying goes, two hostile snakes can’t live in the same hole. Mr Ruto has escalated the rhetoric with his boss by hinting – without any subtlety – that the security forces could even be treacherously divided. The situation must be arrested pronto before it becomes volcanic. Let me peel your eyes.

We can’t bury our heads in the sand and pretend that we aren’t staring down the barrel of a gun as a country. Who really is in charge of the Kenyan state? Is it Mr Kenyatta, or Mr Ruto?

Although estranged from his boss, Mr Ruto is still the second most powerful official in the state. He retains both formal and informal links with the centres of power and key officials. Within the three arms of the state, Mr Ruto commands a huge following. He has a tonne of MPs who either privately or unabashedly support him. Many governors are discreetly in his corner. He’s buoyed by several Cabinet members and a chunk of the civil service in the Executive. 

Two centres of power

That’s not all. There’s no doubt Mr Ruto enjoys both overt and covert simpatico relationships with members of the disciplined forces and spy agencies. He knows virtually everything that Mr Kenyatta is cooking. That’s why he’s checkmated almost every move by his boss. Nor do I have any doubt that Mr Ruto enjoys support from the shadows in the Judiciary. The short of it is that Mr Ruto either controls, or commands, damn near one half of the state, if not more.

Mr Kenyatta may control the formal instruments of power that most Kenyans see. But who’s to say Mr Ruto doesn’t command more of the deep state? This is fact – we have a state perilously divided against itself. 

We must ask these questions. Who controls the bigger chunk of the state? Does Mr Ruto, or Mr Kenyatta? Even more importantly, who controls the more lethal chunk of the state? The state is a creature of violence with which it’s maintained. That’s why the person who wields its lethality is the most important matter. A stable state can’t be a multithreaded hydra. There simply can’t be two centres of power. One must give.

History is clear. Go back to the tragedy of the Congo and the debacle that caused PM Patrice Lumumba’s demise. The country has never recovered. Look at the sad South Sudanese saga between President Salva Kiir and nemesis Riek Machar. Is Kenya headed there?

Shape up, or ship out

We overcorrected in the 2010 Constitution by making it virtually impossible for the President, or MPs, to remove the DP. We got the institutional design wrong. The DP is the “principal assistant” to the President, but she, or he, can decide to stink up the Executive and get away with it. It’s exactly what Mr Ruto has done.

American VP Hubert Humphrey once said, “Anyone who thinks that the Vice-President can take a position independent of the President of his administration simply has no knowledge of the politics of government. You are his choice in a political marriage, and he expects absolute loyalty.” It’s not rocket science. You shape up, or ship out. Don’t hold Kenya hostage.

This problem must be corrected sooner than later, or it will continue to paralyse or destroy future governments. The Kenyan taxpayers are the casualties. It doesn’t hold water to argue that it’s Mr Kenyatta who must give way to Mr Ruto. The subordinate must leave if he disagrees with his boss, not the other way round. 

Nor does it make sense to argue that Mr Ruto must continue to fruitlessly squat in office – squandering resources – simply because he was elected on the same ticket with Mr Kenyatta. The two aren’t Siamese twins. That’s why the Constitution provided for the removal of the DP alone through impeachment. But this game of chicken is a high wire act for Kenya. 

In 2013, Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto played on ethnic emotions to gain power and escape the hangman’s noose at the ICC. Mr Ruto is replaying that script by posing as the victim of Mr Kenyatta’s rapprochement with ODM’s Raila Odinga. His outbursts are tear-jerkers meant to earn him sympathy as the champion of “little people” against an evil dynastic cartel.

That dog won’t hunt again. But what do you do with a deadbeat employee who draws a huge salary, enjoys massive state resources from taxpayer coffers, publicly ridicules you, doesn’t do any work related to his official duties, shamelessly promotes himself 24/7 – and refuses to resign in public shame? By Makau Mutua, Sunday Nation

Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School. He’s chair of KHRC. @makaumutua

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