The real cost of Kenya’s political love triangle


Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) waves to the welcoming crowd flanked by Vice President William Ruto on October 9, 2014 in Nairobi, a day after becoming the first sitting president to appear before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity

In our series of letters from African journalists, media and communications trainer Joseph Warungu looks at the broken political marriage between the Kenyan president and his deputy, as well as the third person in their troubled relationship.

Short gray line of presentation

Short gray line of presentation

Like any other couple on their wedding day, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto sported broad smiles as they took the stage.

Against all expectations, their Jubilee coalition was declared the winner of the presidential election on March 9, 2013.

Ruto called their victory a miracle, claiming that God had turned insurmountable obstacles into bridges for their coalition.

The marriage was a convenient political decision after the International Criminal Court (ICC) tried, in what turned out to be an unsuccessful attempt, to bring them to justice for the devastating political violence seen in Kenya in 2007.

Digital couple

Love was in the air in those early days.

The couple walked together, sometimes hand in hand; and worked in sync, sometimes dressing the same.

They prayed together in public and they laughed a lot. An excited audience also laughed along with them.

Life was good, the marriage was solid and the future looked bright.

Kenya's President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta (left) and his running mate William Ruto wait to receive their election certificates on October 30, 2017, after being announced the winners of a new presidential ballot by the chairman of the Independent Elections Commission and boundaries

Mr. Ruto (R) was the running mate of Mr. Kenyatta (L) in the last two elections

Kenyatta was 51 when they first took office, while Ruto was 47.

The man they defeated, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, was 68 years old at the time.

He was called the old and the analog generation that defined Kenya’s dark and forgettable past, while the new “young” presidential couple were defined in modern terms – a digital couple.

Eight years and two presidential elections later, the marriage is broken and we, their children, the ordinary citizens of Kenya, are lost.

The handshake that changed politics

The first sign of the split came in March 2018, when the president introduced his former rival, Mr Odinga, as the union’s third partner.

After the 2017 elections, Mr. Odinga, who was also part of a polygamous union within the National Super Alliance (Nasa) with three other partners, launched a wave of protests complaining that the ballot was not free and fair.

Fearing that the protests could jeopardize the fulfillment of election promises during his last term, President Kenyatta reached out to Mr. Odinga and the two shook hands in public as a declaration of peace.

Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga

Mr Odinga and Mr Kenyatta shake hands to end political stalemate following contested elections

Slowly, Mr. Ruto began to move away from his partner for the past five years, complaining that the marriage was too crowded.

Today, the tension between the presidential couple is openly displayed.

They avoid each other. Their body language speaks of a cold marriage and a frozen bed.

Ruto refuses to go out

Mr. Odinga has since moved into the matrimonial home and like young brides he seems to attract the love and passion of Mr. Kenyatta who never hesitates to congratulate him in public.

During the Independence Day celebrations on June 1, the president said he made greater developmental progress during his time with Mr. Odinga than with Mr. Ruto.

However, a sulky, Mr Ruto, refused to resign – or leave the matrimonial home. He spends his time in the spare bedroom, complaining to anyone who will listen that he was abandoned while helping the boss build the empire.

""In Kenya, political marriages are hardly based on ideological convergence - they simply bring together different ethnic linchpins"", Source: Joseph Warungu, Source description: Media and communication trainer, Image: Joseph Warungu in front of Nairobi" the famous fig tree

“” In Kenya, political marriages are hardly based on ideological convergence – they only bring together different ethnic linchpins “”, Source: Joseph Warungu, Description of source: Media and communication trainer, Image: Joseph Warungu in front the famous Nairobi fig tree

Mr Ruto feels betrayed by President Kenyatta, who has not kicked him out as it could make matters even more complicated.

When the two joined forces, they had an unwritten 20-year prenuptial agreement, in which Mr. Ruto would support Mr. Kenyatta to be president for two five-year terms.

After that, Mr Kenyatta would reciprocate by supporting his deputy to win the presidency in the 2022 election and he too would serve two terms, totaling 10 years.

But in January 2021, the president made the clearest statement to date that the deal was dead.

“The presidency does not belong only to two tribes,” the president told a town hall, adding that it may be time for another of Kenya’s 42 ethnic groups to take over.

The president noted that only members of two communities held the highest seat in Kenya – the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin.

Kenya Vice President William Ruto (C) and Marsabit County Governor Mohammed Muhamud Ali (R) walk with artists from the Turkana tribe during the 11th Marsabit Lake Turkana Culture Festival in Loiyangalani near Lake Turkana , in northern Kenya on June 28, 2018

William Ruto (C) has ambition to become president

Mr. Kenyatta is Kikuyu, Mr. Ruto is Kalenjin while Mr. Odinga is from the Luo community, which has long complained of being excluded from power.

In Kenya, political marriages are hardly based on ideological convergence – they simply bring together different ethnic linchpins whose main interest is state power and unlimited access to national largesse.

Kenya is broke

Mr. Ruto does not accept the argument that the Kalenjin cannot rule again or that he cannot unite, once again, with the elusive Kikuyu.

He is now on the path to political warfare, with frequent trips to central Kenya to court the Kikuyu.

He fights hard for the marital booty and wants custody of the children.

And we children are torn apart in our love for men.

Do we stay with dad who is supposed to step down from the presidency next year?

President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta (C) reacts with opposition leader and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga (R) on November 27, 2019

Mr. Ruto (l) watches as Mr. Kenyatta turns his attention to Mr. Odinga (r)

Do we embrace his new partner, Mr. Odinga, who offers a future of peace and a more equal society, mixed with the exhilarating reggae that he occasionally sings on stage when he campaigns for changes to the constitution?

Or do we follow Mr. Ruto – the ex, who is bold, energetic and promises hope for the masses struggling for a living?

The breakdown of Kenya’s presidential marriage has come at a cost. The house is broken down.

Children in pain

International financial institutions, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have had to step in with loans to help cover the national budget deficit.

The refunds are going to hurt. These organizations are demanding restructuring of costly publicly funded institutions, including some universities and Kenya Airways. This will lead to layoffs.

Residents of Kibera slum return home before curfew begins on March 27, 2021 in Nairobi, Kenya.

Life becomes increasingly difficult for many Kenyans as political leaders engage in scheming

The prices of essentials like fuel, mobile data and cooking gas have skyrocketed.

Divorce is never cheap. It is painful, stressful and emotionally draining.

While separating parents are already eyeing other political partners, the children have no home but Kenya.

There are indications that the general election scheduled for next year could be postponed to take into account possible constitutional amendments, including increasing the size of the cabinet and creating more parliamentary constituencies.

Poor children fear their pain will spread even further.

More letters from Africa:

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A composite image showing the BBC Africa logo and a man reading on his smartphone.


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