By Makau Mutua
One of the most impotent – and ironically important – positions in the structure of Kenya’s 2010 constitution is the Office of Deputy President. The number two office in terms of state hierarchy sounds powerful but is in actual fact just highfalutin. The President can render the Deputy President nugatory – utterly ceremonial – at his own pleasure.
In my view, that’s what Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta has done to DP William Ruto, his most important subordinate. Any oxygen Mr Ruto breathes isn’t donated by Mr Kenyatta. The man from Eldoret is barely politically alive, but only by dint of his own cunning. Otherwise in political lexicon, Mr Ruto is a dead man walking. Don’t take it from me – read Mr Kenyatta’s lips.
Under previous constitutions, the Vice President – as the principal deputy to the President was then called – served at the mercy of the President. The President could decapitate his deputy without notice. For that reason, many a vice president were the president’s roadkill. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, the Burning Spear himself, fired a couple of deputies in his day. But it was President Daniel Arap Moi who perfected the art of swinging the axe to guillotine his vice presidents. Mr Moi was so ruthless that without the courtesy of forewarning, he once fired a deputy through the one o’clock news on Voice of Kenya radio. Mr Moi was such a practiced serial sacker that he changed his deputies like dirty shirts.
Kenyans were so fed up with Mr Moi’s imperial powers that they decided to protect the Office of Vice President from presidential whimsical fancies. That’s why the 2010 Constitution doesn’t give the President any leeway to fire the Deputy President. In Article 150 of the constitution, the DP’s job security and tenure are fully insulated from the President. Although the DP is picked as a running mate by the President – and they run as a ticket – that’s the extent of the latter’s powers with respect to the security of tenure of the former. The DP can be removed for physical or incapacity and by impeachment but not by the President. Bottom line – Mr Kenyatta simply cannot fire Mr Ruto.
Why am I spelling this out? Unless you live in a cave by now you know Mr Kenyatta has had it with Mr Ruto. If it was a marriage, Mr Kenyatta would’ve divorced his deputy with a snap of the fingers. Mr Kenyatta has all but told his deputy to go jump into a lake. That’s because Mr Ruto has defiantly refused to shelf his burning ambition to replace his boss. If it were up to Mr Ruto, he would leave Mr Kenyatta no room to build his own legacy. Mr Kenyatta has openly told his deputy and his sycophants off but to no avail. Instead, they’ve told Mr Kenyatta to resign if he won’t guarantee Mr Ruto an endorsement.
Finally, the dam broke. Mr Kenyatta can’t contain his anger any longer. Last week, he told Mr Ruto to his face at the annual commemoration of Mzee Kenyatta’s death that the narrative pitting “dynasties” against “hustlers” won’t make him president. Mr Ruto and his allies have attempted to curry favour with the hoi polloi by arguing that in 2022, the son of a pauper should ascend to power instead of any of the scions of political founding fathers. Soon thereafter, Mr Kenyatta gave Interior CS Fred Matiang’i even more powers. Mr Matiang’i now oversees not only the Big Four Agenda but effectively coordinates the daily running of government. Mr Matiang’i is a de facto Prime Minister in all but name.
What Mr Kenyatta has done is very clever. He’s neutered his DP since he can’t sack him. Mr Kenyatta knows the Office of DP is an empty vessel. The Constitution doesn’t give the DP enumerated powers, except that he is the President’s “principal assistant.” That’s an innocuous title devoid of any powers except those delegated to by the President. Only upon a vacancy, temporary absence, or incapacity in the Office of the President does the DP become important. In those cases, the DP can either act as President or assume the Office of President. Otherwise, the President can turn the DP into a flower girl, or expensive china that gathers dust in the proverbial cabinet.
I’ve written before that black letter law is different from the spirit of the law. What Mr Kenyatta has done is to respect the black letter law regarding the DP but cannibalised its spirit by making Mr Matiang’i in effect his “principal assistant.” This single stone kills several birds. It cuts Mr Ruto to size and denies him the ability to market his candidacy.
His duties have been assumed by Mr Matiang’i. Secondly, it allows Mr Kenyatta to retake control of government and his legacy. They say the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Mr Ruto has fallen hard from his days as “Co-President.” The chickens have come home to roost.
Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua.
Article Courtesy of “The Sunday Standard ” Newspape