Reading the charges the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor has drawn up against Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and former Cabinet Minister William Samoei Ruto, the two should be sworn enemies. How is it that this month they have formed an alliance with the goal of winning Kenya’s upcoming elections?
The short answer is they have never been enemies. Kenyatta and Ruto have been political allies for at least a decade, their separate political parties notwithstanding. Both have been members of the same party, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), for more than a decade, the longest they have stayed in one political home.
Yes, the charges against them at the ICC put them on opposite sides. The prosecutor has framed the case against Kenyatta and former Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Kirimi Muthaura as one motivated by retaliation. That is retaliation for the attacks that Ruto and radio journalist Joshua arap Sang were allegedly involved in planning and organizing.
Those attacks and counter-attacks took place in January 2008. The planning, according to the ICC prosecutor, happened months earlier. However, the political relationship between Kenyatta and Ruto dates as far back as the December 2002 general election. In the lead-up to that election, both were senior officials in the then governing Kenya African National Union party. Kenyatta was the party’s presidential candidate, Ruto was his chief campaigner. Kenyatta lost that election. When he was conceding defeat, Ruto was by his side.
Ruto had been a member of KANU since at least 1992, staying a member for 13 years or thereabouts before joining the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) somewhere in 2005 or 2006. Then this year he switched allegiances again to join the United Republican Party. Kenyatta has been a loyal supporter and then member of KANU for longer. In 1990 when the party, which was the country’s only political party, sought ordinary citizens’ views on the country’s political future Kenyatta joined a group of sons of prominent deceased and living leaders to present a memorandum on the issue. This was his first public political act. He later became active in the party in the late 1990s and only left it this year to form The National Alliance party.
Both men made their first attempt at elective politics in 1997, while still members of KANU, which by then had lost significant public support and had governed the country for 34 years. Ruto won on his first attempt to be elected the representative of Eldoret North constituency at the National Assembly. He emerged victorious, despite then President Daniel arap Moi initially backing another candidate who had represented the constituency for several terms before 1997. Ruto has been re-elected since and still represents Eldoret North in the National Assembly.
Kenyatta, for his part, failed in his first attempt at parliamentary politics in 1997. His failure was big news because his father, who was Kenya’s first president, had represented the constituency he sought to represent. Other members of the larger Kenyatta family had represented the constituency up until 1997.
Between 1997 and the lead up of the 2002 election, Kenyatta and Ruto may have collaborated because they ended up in the Cabinet together, but their relationship at that point was not as close as it is today. Once Kenyatta, however, became the KANU presidential candidate, he and Ruto began working more closely. Their alliance became closer in 2003 as Kenyatta took over the chairmanship of KANU from Moi, who had retired from active politics, and Ruto became the party’s secretary-general.
During Kenyatta’s and Ruto’s early years with KANU, key officials of the party were alleged to have been instigators of violence in the lead up to the 1992 and 1997 elections. Both of them did not speak up against this violence, but neither were they linked with it. The violence then targeted presumed opposition party supporters, including the Kikuyu, which is Kenyatta’s ethnic group. The aim was to force them out of the Rift Valley and the Coastal area so that KANU could secure victory in those areas.
Once the ICC prosecutor named them as suspects in December 2010, Kenyatta and Ruto have sought to frame their fate as an international conspiracy to stop them running for president. This stems in part from the fact that in 2007 Kenyatta declared that as KANU leader he was setting aside his presidential ambitions in support of President Mwai Kibaki’s re-election bid. This implied he would run in the next scheduled election. Similarly, Ruto contested and lost the nomination as presidential candidate for the Orange Democratic Movement party, which Prime Minister Raila Odinga secured in 2007. Since that time, Ruto was expected to declare again his intention to run for the presidency when the next election drew close.
In the lead-up to their April 2011 initial appearance at the ICC, the two held what became known as prayer rallies around the country during which different religious leaders prayed for them. However, the rallies were more than just occasions for prayer. Kenyatta and Ruto together with their allies used the rallies to challenge the ICC cases. On return, they toned down their rhetoric but continued to work together.
When the ICC confirmed the charges against them in January this year, they both followed the same strategy. They went to their respective ethnic groups’ elites to seek their endorsement as presidential aspirants and also got them to commit to a signature campaign to pressure the ICC to schedule the trials after the elections. When in July the court scheduled the trial to a month after Kenya’s election, that subject was dropped and Kenyatta and Ruto concentrated on consolidating the support of their ethnic groups and building their new parties, culminating in a political alliance that was formally announced in Nakuru on December 2. That alliance has entered some turbulence since, but it seems Kenyatta and Ruto will be sticking together and presenting a joint ticket come voting day, March 4.