Ruto-Uhuru duel threatens fresh round of mass action

Saturday May 27 2023
jubilee party

Jubilee Party Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni (L), former president Uhuru Kenyatta (C) and Vice Chair David Murathe (L) during Jubilee Party National Delegates Conference held at Ngong Racecourse in Nairobi, Kenya on May 22, 2023. PHOTO | LUCY WANIRU | NMG


Political tensions are rising again in Kenya as President William Ruto and his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta flex muscles over the control of the former ruling party Jubilee, in a development that threatens political chaos that is likely to disrupt trade in the region and drive more Northern Corridor importers to Tanzania.

Kenya’s opposition coalition Azimio la Umoja One Kenya has accused President Ruto of sponsoring a coup against Kenyatta, the Jubilee Party leader, through proxies.

Azimio has threatened to resume anti-government street protests should the ouster bid against Mr Kenyatta by politicians allied to the president continue.

The camp fighting Mr Kenyatta has installed nominated MP Sabina Chege and East Africa Legislative Assembly MP Kanini Kega as acting party leader and secretary-general respectively.

Read: Ex-president Uhuru stares at loss of his party

Retired president


The faction has cited Section 6(1) of the Presidential Benefits Act, 2003, which bars a retired president from holding any office in a political party for more than six months after leaving office. Mr Kenyatta handed over power to President William Ruto on September 13, 2022.

On May 22, President Ruto gave credence to allegations about his role in the fomenting internal rebellion in Mr Kenyatta’s party when he recognised Ms Chege as the bona fide party leader.

“Let me recognise and welcome Sabina Chege, my fellow party leader, to this meeting,” the President said during Kenya Kwanza MPs meeting at State House.

Jubilee Party MPs backing his administration also attended the Parliamentary Group meeting, further signalling that he could be pulling strings behind the scenes in the takeover of the party.

Some of his Cabinet Secretaries, among them Aden Duale of Defence, have also openly come out to attack Mr Kenyatta while backing the rival camp led by Ms Chege.

Read: Kenya’s political showdown likely to shift Eastern

Jubilee Party, formed by President Ruto and Mr Kenyatta in the run-up to the 2017 polls – when they served as Deputy President and President respectively – has 29 members in the National Assembly and five senators. Of the elected leaders, only four have remained loyal to Mr Kenyatta.

Dr Ruto’s public recognition of the rival camp came barely a day after Mr Kenyatta held the party’s Special National Delegates Convention and kicked out the rebel MPs while warning President Ruto that he would not be a pushover.

Mr Kenyatta told the delegates that he had wanted to retire from active politics but has been forced to return to the political scene due to persecution by President Ruto’s government.

"Today, I want to tell them to look for someone else to intimidate, not Uhuru Kenyatta. Act like leaders and you will be respected. Behave like thugs and you will be treated like thugs," he said to cheers from the crowd. On Thursday, Mr Odinga threatened to call a fresh round of mass action over what he called an attempt by the government to kill multiparty democracy.

“The destabilisation of the Jubilee Party is a do-or-die agenda, sponsored by the highest level of Kenya Kwanza leadership, whose aim is to ensure Kenya Kwanza obtains a super majority in parliament and amend the constitution remove presidential term limits, abolish devolution and remove the independence of constitutional commissions and place them as part of the presidency,” Mr Odinga charged.

This latest threat of mass action is likely to exacerbate uncertainty among exporters using the Northern Corridor.

Read: Hardline positions threaten Kenya political ‘ceasefire’

During the last protests by the opposition, which were called off to give chance to bi-partisan talks between the government and opposition, a truck destined for Uganda was set ablaze by protesters in Nairobi, sending panic among the business community in the region.

Kenya exports $800 million worth of goods to Uganda annually, with other countries such as Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and South Sudan also depending on the Mombasa port for essential goods, including petroleum products.
With the increasing political uncertainty, Mombasa port will continue to see cargo volumes decline as traders opt to use Dar es Salaam port.

Political analyst and history professor Macharia Munene told The EastAfrican that resumption of the street protests would result in a political instability that has a potential of weakening Kenya’s economy.

He said it would also make investors look for alternative investment destinations in the region, noting that Tanzania is slowly becoming more attractive and could soon overtake Kenya in GDP because of the political confrontation.

“Political instability means economic instability. Whoever is in charge has to manage both politics and economics for a country to be attractive for investments,” said Prof Munene.

“Tanzania is overtaking Kenya in terms of regional performance. It would be a blow to Kenya if our neighbours find alternatives in doing business without relying on it.”

Read: Kenya opposition calls rally ahead of talks

Jubilee deputy secretary-general Joshua Kutuny – who is allied to the camp opposed to Mr Kenyatta – told The EastAfrican that they would not be blackmailed into backing off from taking over the outfit by the threats by the opposition of going back to the streets.

Mr Kutuny said the opposition leaders are free to hold their street protests in defending Mr Kenyatta even as he dismissed claims that they were being sponsored by State House.

“We appreciate the president for recognising our party leader Sabina Chege. We also want to ask Mr Kenyatta to recognise the changes we have made and accept that he is no longer Jubilee Party leader,” said Mr Kutuny.

“It is a lie that we are being assisted. We are fighting our own battle and we are following what the law requires of us. The opposition can go to the streets if they want because we are not here to please anybody. If Raila wants to go the streets for the interests of Uhuru he can go on. We have made up our mind that we want our own path going forward,” he added.

He said that his camp will do everything it takes to take charge of the party and hinted that they would soon pull out of the Azimio coalition and subsequently join the ruling alliance.

But the opposition insisted that the changes adopted by the NDC held Mr Kenyatta’s faction to be recognised by the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties (ORPP).

Registrar of Political Parties Anne Nderitu has since found herself in the eye of the raging storm with swelling allegations that she was taking instructions from State House to assist the rebels to kick out Mr Kenyatta from the party.

Read: Dar gains from Kenya riots as region on edge

Just a day after Mr Kenyatta held his delegates’ meeting, the registrar confirmed the expulsion of secretary-general Jeremiah Kioni and vice-chairman David Murathe, as well as the suspension of treasurer Kagwe Gichohi—the three remaining top officials loyal to Mr Kenyatta.

The trio was however reinstated in a ruling by the Political Parties Disputes Tribunal in a move that added to the confusion in the party leadership row.

The registrar also threw into doubt the validity of Jubilee’s NDC held on May 22, maintaining the meeting was not properly convened. She said that the national executive council (NEC) meeting was held on April 28 and that the NDC was not properly constituted, as it lacked a quorum.

Ms Nderitu explained that Article 23 of the party’s constitution provides that a quorum for all meetings for all party organs is one-third of the membership. However, the NEC meeting comprised only nine individuals, with two attendees—Maison Leshomo and Polycarp Hinga —being people who had not assumed office.