The unexplained absence of Deputy President William Ruto at State House when his boss Uhuru Kenyatta unveiled the first batch of the Cabinet offers a glimpse into the uncharacteristic and behind-the-scenes palace wars that could shape their second term in office.
While Mr Ruto’s handlers have confirmed he was in the country at the time, and even reported to work at his Harambee House Annex offices, his decision not to accompany President Kenyatta as he unveiled the partial Cabinet has triggered panic in government with everyone left guessing at his next course of action.
The crux of the matter, we can reveal, is that Mr Ruto has objected to some of the individuals Mr Kenyatta intends to bring on board when he finally names his full Cabinet and most likely opted to stay away in protest.
A source familiar with the ongoing talks on prospective Cabinet Secretaries said the DP was of the view that some of the current Cabinet Secretaries already left out by the President deserve reappointment.
As such, he has either delayed submitting his proposed lineup or some of the names he intends to nominate have been rejected. The source said Mr Ruto was last at State House on December 23 when he and the President had a meeting which ran late into the night.
But leading Jubilee luminaries are downplaying the DP’s absence, saying the public could be reading too much into it.
“We have one government which is led by the President. All of us, including me and the DP, are behind our leader and we endorse every decision he takes. Those who are speculating on the absence of the DP want to create a controversy where there is none. They are still stuck in the old ways of the coalition government. Our government is one and united,” Majority Leader in the National Assembly and Mr Ruto’s right hand man Aden Duale said.
Mr Ruto’s absence was a departure from 2013 when he and the President paraded their Cabinet nominees in an elaborate ceremony marked by fanfare. That day, they donned similar attire depicting their cordial working relationship.
Mr Ruto is hoping to shape his 2022 bid with Cabinet appointees who will do his bidding and that is where he wants to have a bigger say in the appointments.
Some of the issues said to have incensed the DP is talk that his political nemesis from Rift Valley, Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, the man sharpening his knife to take him on in the 2022 presidential race, could make it to the Cabinet or at least his allies.
Senator Moi is the scion of President Kenyatta’s political godfather, retired president Daniel Moi.
Mr Moi, who is also the Kanu chairman, has indicated a willingness to resign as a lawmaker to serve in government. While Mr Kiprono Kittony, the chairman of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Kanu Secretary-General Nick Salat feature prominently as some of the individuals who may land plum slots courtesy of the Kenyatta-Kanu cooperation, former Bomet County chief Isaac Ruto’s name also keeps on cropping up as part of the deal.
The Deputy President’s spokesman, Mr David Mugonyi, while confirming the DP is in the country, did not want to comment on Friday’s events.
“He (Ruto) is in the country. That’s all I can say. I know what you people are looking for but you won’t get it,” he said.
It would also appear the folding of the political parties, chiefly TNA and URP, to form Jubilee could have returned to haunt Mr Ruto.
His allies argue that the DP had more leverage then on sharing slots in government and they fear this could be the beginning of the end of such a privilege.
In 2013, it was clearly agreed that the two would share Cabinet slots almost equally but with a homogenous party now, such appointments would largely be guided by the goodwill of the two which can be subject to abuse especially given that politicians are some of the best known cunning species.
Curiously, Mr Ruto has not tweeted about the changes announced by Mr Kenyatta. His retweets up until Friday were about reforms in the education sector yet that is the same day his boss announced he was retaining Dr Fred Matiang’i, Henry Rotich, Najib Balala, James Macharia, Charles Keter and Joe Mucheru from his 19-member Cabinet, effectively rendering the rest jobless.
Jubilee vice-chairman and Mr Kenyatta’s confidante David Murathe echoed Mr Duale’s sentiments though he maintained that appointing Cabinet Secretaries was the prerogative of the President.
“You understand in 2013 there was a semi-coalition arrangement where we had two parties. This time it’s only one party, one party leader and one deputy leader. The President is naming a Cabinet as per his vision for his legacy. We know the Deputy President is in line to succeed the President, that time he will have a chance to make his Cabinet without the input of the current President, that’s how you have to look at it,” he said.
Mr Murathe argues that what the President did was “to name nine members of his Cabinet. In the three new appointments, he replaced the late Major-Gen (rtd) Joseph Nkaissery with Mr Tobiko (Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko). He also replaced two other Cabinet Secretaries with Mr John Munyes and Mr Ukur Yattani.”
The former Gatanga MP, however, insists Mr Kenyatta did not sack anyone, that there is nowhere he indicated that all Cabinet Secretaries will go.
“Yesterday’s changes were about the fight against corruption and his four pillars, with the exception of food security,” he said yesterday.
One of Mr Ruto’s men told the Nation that their boss was given a heads up just moments to the announcement. This is also said to have annoyed him.
“Let me find out, I don’t think the occasion is about naming Cabinet members,” one of the DP’s allies told our writer moments after State House Spokesman Manoah Esipisu tweeted that Mr Kenyatta would be addressing the nation shortly. The vocal politician never got back to us.
The event was marked by secrecy so much so that when the crew from the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation arrived at State House, Mr Kenyatta’s handlers almost turned them away insisting there was no such briefing.
The KBC crew did not know the content of the address beforehand. Other media houses were never invited, a departure from 2013.
It would turn out the information was only shared with a clique of trusted lieutenants, not even the State House Comptroller Lawrence Lenayapa was in the loop. In the end, he was among those affected by the changes as he was appointed Kenya’s envoy in the Netherlands.
In getting rid of Mr Lenayapa, some believe, Mr Kenyatta may have been clipping his Deputy’s wings. Some State House insiders have always held that the former State House Comptroller was the DP’s gatekeeper at State House, tipping him on whoever was coming in to see Mr Kenyatta and passing any other strategic information.
Another source said that only the head of National Intelligence Service Philip Kameru and the president’s brother Muhoho Kenyatta knew of the plans.
According to his handlers, Mr Ruto is keen to have people who are loyal to him in Cabinet, individuals who will help hoist his 2022 presidential ambition once Mr Kenyatta reaches the end of his term.
The naming of former Marsabit Governor Yattani, Mr Munyes and former DPP Tobiko has also not gone down well with Mr Ruto who successfully campaigned against Mr Yattani. Mr Ruto supported Governor Mohamud Ali, the former NHIF chairman who ran on a Jubilee ticket.
It is the same case with the DPP in whose place Mr Ruto is said to hold the view that a grounded politician from Maasailand would have sufficed. A politician who would help rally the community to his ticket in the next General Election.
And after rallying governors to hand ODM Turkana Governor Josephat Nanok another term at the helm of the Council of Governors against President Kenyatta’s preferred choice, Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya, a deal analysts say is hinged on a possible 2022 alliance, Mr Ruto could be having misgivings about Mr Munyes who comes from the same region. Mr Nanok is more popular on the ground having beaten the Cabinet nominee at the polls.
While none of their allies is willing to publicly admit that there is friction between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto over Cabinet composition, they all expressed hope that they will overcome “the little challenge”.