Ruto calls out judges for unending stay orders in fresh assault on graft cartels

Saturday September 02 2023

Kenya’s President William Ruto. PHOTO | ISAAC WALE | NMG


The honeymoon is over after Kenya’s President William Ruto sustained attacks on the country’s judiciary, accusing some judges of being part of a corruption enterprise he has vowed to crush.

President Ruto said Thursday that the unnamed judges were aiding the activities of corruption cartels by handling graft cases or issuing stay orders to frustrate expeditious prosecution of suspects.

“The corruption enterprise must come to an end. We’ll deal with them firmly,” President Ruto said while speaking to a delegation of local leaders in the western Kenya town of Kakamega.

It is the second time in two months that the president is publicly criticising the judiciary after a similar tirade in July against the courts for temporarily suspending the collection of new taxes introduced through the Finance Act, 2023.

Read: Kenya court lifts suspension of Finance Act 2023

A three-judge bench of the Court of Appeal later lifted the freeze while the High Court judge who issued the suspension order was among 13 who were last month moved to new stations in what the judiciary said were routine transfers.


President Ruto’s outbursts against the judiciary mirror the sense of frustration expressed by his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta, who also regularly disparaged judges for allegedly giving generous bail terms to corruption suspects and receiving bribes.

The highlight of Kenyatta’s frosty relations with the judicial arm of government came in 2020 when he refused to appoint 41 judges recommended to him by the Judicial Service Commission, setting off a controversy that remained unsettled by the time he retired last year, having omitted six names from the list of eventual appointees in June 2021.

President Ruto appointed the six judges moments after being sworn into office on September 13, 2022, emphasising his commitment to the independence of the judiciary and promising much better relations between the executive and the courts.

The opposition last year claimed there was an attempt by the new president to capture the judiciary after controversial withdrawals of court cases involving his political allies, including Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.

Read: NGUGI: Incompetence, graft should not be incentivised

But with the president increasingly getting agitated over court decisions, the honeymoon appears to be over.

President Ruto has also confounded his critics with his tough talking on corruption having been widely thought to be soft on the vice during his election campaign last year.

Although the manifesto of the ruling ruling Kenya Kwanza coalition pledged to initiate a South African-type inquiry into alleged state capture, few believed the president would actually fight corruption after he appointed several people with integrity issues, including court cases, to senior government positions.

Read: List of acquitted prominent Kenyans grows

But anti-corruption rhetoric dominated the president’s speeches during his six-day tour of western Kenya, with his most acerbic attack reserved for billionaire businessmen involved in a protracted legal battle over the assets of Mumias Sugar Company, a troubled state-owned sugar miller that first collapsed in 2008.

The protagonists include rival members of the influential Rai family, who are fighting over a management lease awarded to one of them as part of a government effort to revive the sugar miller, banks and other creditors seeking to recover loans running into billions of shillings.

Threats to individuals

President Ruto’s public threats to individuals and entities that have filed a barrage of court cases related to Mumias to withdraw them or face consequences seemed to work when Vartox Resources, one of the creditors, applied to back out.

But the president’s public lashing out has got him into trouble with human rights organisations after video footage of him appearing to issue Rodrigo Duterte-type death threats to the sugar cartels.

Read: Rai family increases dominance in sugar industry

Rights groups, including the Law Society of Kenya and Amnesty International, said that President Ruto’s utterances offering the sugar cartels ‘a ticket to heaven’ amounted to suspending the rule of law and constitutionally guaranteed rights.

The groups also raised questions about the kidnapping in Nairobi days earlier of Jaswant Singh Rai, a business tycoon who has challenged the management lease awarded to Uganda-based Sarrai Group associated with his cousin Sarbjit Singh Rai.