Crisis talks to save Uhuru, Ruto union
The talks are expected to bring down rising tensions within the Jubilee Party
Behind the scenes efforts to restore unity in the ruling Jubilee party and reduce tension between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto have kicked off in earnest. There is fear that the grandstanding could bring the government to its knees less than two years after the last election. Efforts by moderate party members, a section of church leaders and businessmen with proximity to power are borne out of fear that the ongoing war of words could cripple the economy and ignite ethnic tensions, three years to the next elections.
Asilent three-pronged push to ease tension between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto has kicked off in earnest, amid fears that the current standoff could cripple government operations.
Interestingly, the forces pushing for reconciliation including moderate party members, some church leaders and businessmen with proximity to power are motivated by distinct agendas. While the elders and church leaders are concerned about national harmony, the other camp comprising of businessmen and those dealing in government tenders feel that the rising temperatures are undermining their interests.
On Friday, Bishop Maurice Crowley of the Kitale Catholic Diocese, also the Apostolic Administrator of Eldoret, led other religious leaders in a closed-door meeting with Mr Ruto at his Sugoi home in Uasin Gishu as part of the mediation efforts.
“The future of this country depends so much on what our leaders do. We will work with the government to improve governance and foster development,” the Bishop said in a dispatch released by Mr Ruto's press team.
The Sunday Nation has learnt that other than bringing more religious leaders on board, the team is keen on getting audience with President Kenyatta to urge him to rein his foot soldiers. They would also share with him concerns expressed by the DP'S camp.
The religious leaders said they would continue supporting the unity between President Kenyatta and Mr Ruto for it had resulted in more development and unity among various communities in the country.
But even as the church leaders push for renewed ties between the two and a thaw in political temperatures, a close ally of the DP confided in the Sunday Nation that he is not keen on any ‘peace talks' in the “foreseeable” future.
“The DP strongly believes that it is too early to engage in such talks. He feels it is good to let those within Jubilee opposed to his ticket unleash all their arsenals and when they exhaust them, we can then sit on the table and forge a united front together. He believes that in the end, water will find its level,” the confidante said.
It is turning out that the battle of egos between the presidential duo may well be the death of the once vibrant and united party.
While Mr Kenyatta seems preoccupied with his legacy, his principal assistant is concerned about putting in place mechanisms to help him ascend to power in 2022.
Mr Simon Mbugua, the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) member, urged the President to rise to the occasion and stop the ongoing divisions in the party from degenerating into a full-blown crisis.
“These things are happening because the President is silent. He should speak out. This noises are not good for his legacy and Big Four Agenda,” he said, pointing out that Mr Ruto must be endorsed as President Kenyatta's heir for all to go well.
Moderate party members who are of the view that actions by the two extreme camps may run the ship aground have already reached out to the President and his deputy. They would not speak on record for fear of being seen to be seeking political mileage.
“Talking to you on record would make them (President and his deputy) think that we are just out to gain mileage,” one of them cautioned.
As part of the larger efforts to reach out to President Kenyatta, the moderates are seeking audience with his cousin and confidante, Ngengi Muigai.
“People are unnecessarily whipping emotions. There is no justification for the heightened political emotions in the country. People should just be calm. Succession fever should not disrupt our plans, programmes and projects,” Senate Majority leader and a Ruto ally Kipchumba Murkomen holds.
Away from the public utterances to the contrary, Mr Ruto is said to be unhappy with the manner in which the war on corruption has been conducted. He believes it has largely targeted his allies in government.
The handshake between President Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga is another point of departure. There is no denying that the relationship between the DP and the President started changing, at least in the eyes of the public, the moment Mr Odinga came into the picture.
The latest in DP'S basket of worries is the fierce crackdown on his perceived allies from Central Kenya. The hasty retreat by the likes of Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria at the weight of the deep state have served to infuriate him further.
Mr Ruto had reportedly gagged his loyal MPS from the Rift Valley, directing them not to retaliate to a flurry of political missiles that have been thrown in his direction since former Jubilee vice-chairman David Murathe declared that he (DP) should retire together with the President in 2022. His lieutenants from Central had been charged with returning fire but the approach seems to have collapsed, at least for now.
Getting those from the President's own backyard firing on his behalf was also a ploy to demonstrate that his support was fast taking root in Mount Kenya.
Yesterday, a Cabinet Secretary in-charge of an influential docket expressed fears that the economy was beginning to take a beating as a result of the heightened politics.
“There is no money. The economy was just beginning to get over effects of the protracted campaigns ahead of the last General Election before we reversed the gears. This is not sustainable,” the minister said.
It also emerged that captains of industry had on Tuesday sent a dispatch to the President registering their concerns over growing tensions. They were waiting to meet him once he returns in Nairobi from his working holiday in Mombasa.
The past few weeks have not been easy for Jubilee MPS. While they have always treated the presidency as a homogenous entity, the emerging cracks have created two camps, one of those oscillating around the President and those rooting for the DP.
So emotive has the situation become that last week, only 12 MPS from a Whatsapp group of 92 turned up for a press briefing in support of Mr Kenyatta. The rest had earlier demanded to know the content of the briefing before deciding to attend. The other group chose to play safe, not wanting to be associated with either side.
The raging war has put most Jubilee lawmakers in an awkward position. Aligning oneself with DP was automatically interpreted as an affront on the President and vice versa. The push and pull has also gave a new lease of life to former MPS in Central Kenya like Martha Karua and Peter Kenneth brought on board to checkmate their rivals in 2017, who have been seen as casting their lot with the DP.
A few days after Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru came out demanding for party elections to replace interim officials including Mr Murathe, Ms Karua, her opponent in the last elections, came out of the woodwork to declare that respect for the president was not negotiable. The governor soon beat a hasty retreat, pledging her total support to the president.
At the same time, a group of legislators from the Rift Valley led by MPS Oscar Sudi (Kapseret) and Nelson Koech (Belgut) are planning a brainstorming session in Amboseli National Park to review the political environment against the situation Mr Ruto finds himself in today. The meeting will review the latest political events, the deteriorating relationships between the antagonists and also explore an appropriate response in how the two sides will relate going forward, especially in Parliament.
“You haven't seen anything yet. The next wave of attacks will be tough until we achieve our aims,” Nominated MP Maina Kamanda who is allied to the president's side said on Friday.
All MPS elected in the Rift Valley and others who are loyal to the DP have been asked to attend the meeting.
Back in the party, the anti-ruto onslaught is expected to go a notch higher this week. As part of the Stop Ruto Movement, former MPS from central have been mobilised to provide competition to sitting MPS who have allied themselves to the DP and those who remain ambivalent and refuse to take position on the issue.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto during the launch of Jubilee Party at Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi on September 10, 2016.
Deputy President William Ruto (second right) and Kitale Catholic Diocese Bishop Antony Crowley (second left) with other religious leaders during a meeting at the DP’S Sugoi home in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu last week.