Kenyan President Consolidates Power as Deputy’s Base Ebbs

(Bloomberg) --

Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto’s path to the top job in 2022 has become rockier, with incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta consolidating his control over the ruling Jubilee party and embracing other potential successors.

Ruto’s allies have been removed from key parliamentary posts and Kenyatta has sidestepped their attempts to interrogate him over his 2018 rapprochement with opposition leader Raila Odinga, who retains an ambition to rule Kenya despite four failed attempts. And last month, Jubilee entered into a coalition with a party led by Gideon Moi, another presidential hopeful and the son of ex-leader Daniel Arap Moi -- a political realignment that also sidelines Ruto.

“For the rest of his term, Kenyatta is emerging as very powerful,” said Dismas Mokua, an independent analyst based in Nairobi, the capital. “Whoever doesn’t dance to his tune has to go.”

Ruto allies had planned to air their grievances at a June 2 meeting of Jubilee lawmakers about how he’s been treated. Instead, Kenyatta used the occasion to rally them to deliver on his 2017 election-campaign promises and have changes to Jubilee’s hierarchy rubber-stamped. The president didn’t take questions and directed that other issues be discussed on an unspecified future date, according to the party’s deputy secretary-general, Caleb Kositany.

Differences Aside

Kenyatta and Ruto joined forces under the Jubilee banner in 2013 -- six years after a dispute between them over the outcome of a 2007 election descended into violence. Both men were indicted by the International Criminal Court for their alleged roles in the bloodshed. The cases were eventually thrown out for lack of evidence.

Ruto backed Kenyatta for the presidency in the last election in 2017 on the understanding that he’d be next in line for the job in 2022. But their relationship has soured since Odinga entered the fray.

The changing landscape became evident last month when opposition lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to remove the Senate’s majority leader and deputy speaker, who are both Ruto allies. An overhaul of the leadership of committees in the National Assembly is imminent, according to Mokua.

Ruto previously enjoyed significant influence in parliament because he helped a number of lawmakers win seats in the last election in 2017. But Kenyatta’s new alliances and his detente with Odinga have helped tip the balance of power in the president’s favor.

Kenyatta will need the legislature’s backing later this month to drive through a spending plan for the 2020-21 budget year that includes a stimulus package to help the economy cope with the coronavirus pandemic. He also wants funding for the Big Four Agenda he campaigned on in 2017 -- a plan to transform the economy through investment in manufacturing, farming, health-care and low-cost housing.

Next on the list may be a referendum that Kenyatta for the first time on June 1 indicated may be necessary to amend the constitution. Changes that he and Odinga agreed include a plan to expand the government’s executive to give broader representation to the nation’s multiple ethnic groups.

Given he’s no longer obliged to consult a faction within the party, Kenyatta will now have his way in parliament “from a position of strength,” Mokua said.

Kenyatta’s refusal to engage with Ruto’s allies at this week’s meeting, which lasted just 25 minutes, pointed to a “very bleak” future for Jubilee, said Kositany, who is allied to the deputy president.

“My understanding of a parliamentary group meeting is where you sit and consult and give your views,” he said in an interview with Citizen Television. “But unfortunately that opportunity has never arisen in any PG meeting we have had as members of Jubilee, not even the one we had.”

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