Even in retirement, Uhuru Kenyatta’s shadow looms over Kenya’s politics

Saturday February 04 2023
president Uhuru Kenyatta’s motorcade

Kenya’s former president Uhuru Kenyatta’s motorcade arrives for a past national celebration. Kenya’s police boss has defended the downgrade of the former leader’s security. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Kenya’s police boss has defended the downgrade of former president Uhuru Kenyatta’s security, describing it as a routine reorganisation meant to address a command responsibility issue.

Inspector-General of Police Japhet Koome said Friday he had recalled the top officer on Kenyatta’s security team to comply with the law that requires a retired president is guarded by one of a lower rank.

But the timing of the shake-up of VIP security, which saw the Kenyatta-era Interior minister also lose his guards, has fuelled suspicion that it is part of a plot by President William Ruto to frustrate his predecessor into quitting politics.

It is common for Kenya’s ruling elite at any given time to withdraw or scale down security for anti-Establishment figures or opposition leaders to settle political scores.

Receiving end

As a rebellious deputy president in the Kenyatta administration, Ruto found himself on the receiving end of a similar politically instigated VIP security downgrade in August 2021.


Under the Kenyan Constitution, Kenyatta cannot run for president again, having served two terms or for 10 years between 2013 and 2022.

After handing over power in the country’s awkward transition last September, when he publicly questioned the Supreme Court decision that upheld Ruto’s elected victory and half-heartedly congratulated his successor, the former president has appeared to keep off local politics to concentrate on his peace mediation roles in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia.

Shadow still looms large

But his shadow still looms large over the country’s politics as the chairman of Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Alliance, a coalition of political parties that sponsored veteran politician Raila Odinga’s candidature against Ruto in last year’s presidential election.

He also packs a considerable economic punch, being a member of the wealthy family of Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta whose vast business interests include banking, hospitality, real estate, transport and media.

After four months of political hibernation, the former President has found itself in the eye of a storm after Ruto’s political allies implicated him in an alleged conspiracy to destabilise the current government.

The politicians, echoing claims by Ruto while addressing a seminar for Members of Parliament, alleged that the former president was bankrolling protest rallies called by Odinga to agitate for electoral justice.

Political sparring

The opposition leader, who lost to Ruto by a narrow margin, has announced a new programme of rallies beginning next Sunday in Nairobi to press his claim that his victory was stolen and demand an independent audit of the 2022 presidential election.

However, Ruto has accused unnamed persons unhappy with his push to have the wealthy pay taxes of allegedly sponsoring the rallies to try to force him into a power-sharing deal with Odinga.

Taking cue from his recent utterances, ruling coalition politicians have urged the president to take tougher action against his predecessor, including cancelling controversial tax waivers extended to their family businesses and have him stripped of his regional peace mediation roles.

Past presidents

Such a move would be unprecedented considering the tradition of Kenya’s past presidents going out of their way to make their predecessors feel comfortable in retirement and the former rarely criticising their successors in public.

But the relationship between Ruto and Kenyatta has always broken the norm – beginning with their dramatic falling-out in government in 2018 to the awkward transition last September.

In a rare public criticism of the current administration, Kenyatta on Wednesday dismissed it as engaging in empty talk instead of service delivery.