Fighting VPs started when Uhuru was still a toddler

Deputy President William Ruto [Photo: Boniface Okendo]

It is difficult being a Deputy President in Kenya - it’s like a football coach job - where everyone demands your sacking just because you lost a match.

In Kenya, the position is so hot that Kenya’s four Presidents have shared 11 veeps between them since independence.

The holder of the office is number two in the executive arm of government and the president’s principal assistant and a breath away from the presidency. Constitutionally, when a vacancy occurs, he or she assumes office for the remainder of the President’s term.

Deputy President William Ruto is getting pummelled like a pickpocket in an all too familiar script. Given the forces arraigned against him, whether he will break the historical jinx come 2022 remains to be seen.

Indeed, few Vice Presidents save for Moody Awori left in amiable circumstances. The rest had acrimonious exits: One was sacked and demoted, another exited via a smear campaign, and another left out of Cabinet, reappointed then dropped like a bad habit. One died in office.

Of all holders of the position, only retired President Daniel arap Moi succeeded his boss after the death of Jomo Kenyatta in 1978 despite a clique of powerful political forces out to change the Constitution and stop his automatic ascent if a vacancy arose.

Ruto’s ascent to the number two post came out of a Gentleman’s Agreement between him and Uhuru Kenyatta ahead of the 2013 general elections in which both had been indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court following the post-election violence in 2007/8. Their deal was that Ruto would succeed Uhuru when his 10-year tenure comes to a close in 2022.

Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto [Photo: Courtesy]

However, the ‘Handshake’ between Uhuru and Raila and the sustained war on graft, which the DP claims is targeted at him, have jolted his best laid plans.

The latest blow to the DP was the government move to withdraw bodyguards attached to his allies coalescing under Team Tanga Tanga which is rooting for Ruto as president in 2022 but ODM National Treasurer Timothy Bosire says the circumstances are of Ruto’s own making.

“One can best describe him as a cheeky DP. He is a rebel. Ruto knows his mandate, his relations departmentally and he knows the centre of power. But what he is doing is operating outside the circles of a structured system. It is unacceptable,” he told The Nairobian.

But Bosire explains that it would be wrong to compare Moi’s ascension to power with other deputies since he assumed office in unique circumstances.

“Moi did not ascend to office competitively. It is the circumstances of the time that saw him become President. The Constitution stipulated that in the event the President dies in office, the Deputy President assumed office for three months pending elections. He was then able to manipulate the situation and was elected President. No Vice President has even assumed office after a competitive election,” he added.

Before Moi, other Vice Presidents had fallen by the wayside for different reasons:  Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Kenya’s first Vice President was hounded out of office in April 1966 after a bitter fallout with Mzee Jomo Kenyatta over ideological differences. Never mind  Odinga had rejected a plot by the British to give him the presidency when Kenyatta was rotting in Kapenguria where he was serving seven years hard labour at the Lokitaung Prison.  

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga [File]

Joseph Murumbi, then Foreign Affairs minister, replaced him on May 5, 1966 but quit seven months later over what he perceived as Kenyatta’s increasing authoritarianism, rising official corruption and the assassination of his friend, Pio Gama Pinto. 

Moi succeeded Murumbi on January 5, 1967 and persevered humiliation executed by even junior administrators like then Rift Valley police commandant James Mungai.

When Moi took over, he named Finance Minister Mwai Kibaki as his Vice President. But alas! he was sacked and demoted to the Health docket in March 1988. Kibaki, a famous fence sitter, surprised everyone when he resigned from government on Christmas Day in 1991.   

Kibaki’s replacement was Dr Josephat Njuguna Karanja, a career diplomat and scholar who met his Waterloo in a well-choreographed smear campaign in 1989 after a motion of no confidence was moved in Parliament against him.

Embakasi MP David Mwenje claimed Karanja was plotting to overthrow the Moi government with the help of foreign masters besides assuming he was acting head of state when Moi was out of the country when he forced ministers to kneel before him.

Karanja was replaced by Finance Minister Prof George Saitoti but when  Moi named his Cabinet after the 1997 election, Saitoti was left out.  Kenya was without a Vice President for almost two years but on April 3, 1999, Saitoti was reappointed by the roadside with Moi wondering whether that would increase the number of sufurias in Kenyan homes.

Notably, no Kenyan President has ever endorsed his deputy to succeed him.

Prof Saitoti was heir apparent but alas by the end of his term in 2002, Moi settled on a then political greenhorn Uhuru Kenyatta as his preferred successor who was shortly branded a Moi project.

Prof Saitoti [Photo: Courtesy]

Following the snub, Saitoti joined Raila Odinga to found an opposition alliance that saw Kibaki defeat Uhuru, Moi named Musalia Mudavadi as Vice President on November 4, 2002 and he became Kenya’s shortest Veep following Kanu’s defeat.

Kibaki named Michael Kijana Wamalwa as his VP but the office fell vacant following his death at a London Hospital in August 2003.

He was replaced by Moody Awori even as pundits had tipped Dr Mukisha Kituyi for the position, but Awori was tapped as a safe pair of hands which had no political ambitions. ‘Uncle Moody’ served for the rest of Kibaki’s first term and left active politics after losing his Funyula seat in the 2007 election.

He was succeeded by Kalonzo Musyoka, who teamed up with Kibaki and helped him stear the ship following the disputed outcome of the presidential contest. Nonetheless, But Kibaki did not endorse Kalonzo as his heir and all indications were that his preferred choice was Musalia Mudavadi.

Unlike Kibaki, Saitoti and Kalonzo, what sets Ruto apart is that he came to office under a constitutional order that gave him teeth, meaning he cannot be fired by the roadside. Equally, unlike those three, the man from Sugoi is backed by a fierce and loyal tribal constituency, a trait he shared with Jaramogi Oginga.

Whether that will prop him up come 2022 is a matter of speculation.