How robust is William Ruto’s plan to succeed Uhuru Kenyatta in 2022?

rutoPresident Uhuru Kenyatta is yet to name his full second term cabinet, 52 days since being sworn in for his second term. According to news reports, the delay might be due to internal wrangles within the Jubilee Party over specific cabinet appointments. While Kenyatta is keen on putting together a cabinet that will help him implement his ambitious legacy projects, Deputy President William Ruto wants a cabinet that keeps the path clear for his stab at the presidency in 2022 when Kenyatta will be term limited.

It seems, at least for now, that the two goals are in conflict.

Formed ahead of the 2017 election, the Jubilee Party was supposed to be a commitment device binding Kenyatta and his supporters to Ruto’s planned bid for the presidency in 2022. The idea was to make the party strong enough at the grassroots to make it impossible for anyone to run and win without pledging loyalty to the party leaders — Kenyatta and Ruto.

Not all of Kenyatta’s elite supporters are on board with this plan.

This raises the question, how robust is Ruto’s plan to succeed Kenyatta? In my view, four factors make the plan almost ironclad:

  1. Kenyatta needs Ruto for the rest of his presidency: Ruto cannot be fired (see the Kenyan constitution). His legislative point man, Aden Duale, is the Majority Leader in the National Assembly. And he has enough votes in the legislature to control the agenda (mainly through veto threats), and to frustrate Kenyatta should the two fall out. That means that even if Ruto loses the fight over specific cabinet appointments, he would likely get a substantial side payment that leaves him financially potent ahead of 2022. Furthermore, while he may not be able to sway every single voter in his core base, there is no reason to believe that Kenyatta would renege on the promise to back Ruto in 2022. No former president wants a successor with an axe to grind.
  2. Ruto has amassed an insurmountable financial lead relative to potential competitors: Besides Raila Odinga, there is no other Kenyan politician with the same level of national appeal and grassroots loyalty to rival Ruto. Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho comes close, but there are structural constraints to his candidacy (he would be a great running mate to Ruto, though). And on top of all this, Ruto has amassed an incredible amount of wealth (or access to it) that will make him the runaway frontrunner in the competition for elite endorsements ahead of 2022. What this means is that Ruto can run in 2022 even without Kenyatta’s support and still win.
  3. Running in 2022 as a victim of Central Kenyan perfidy would likely win Ruto sympathy votes: A constant (and potentially powerful) narrative in Kenyan politics is that voters in Central Kenya (Kenyatta’s backyard) never vote for anyone but their own. If Central Kenyan elites were to spurn Ruto, he could go to the wider Kenyan electorate and make the case that he entered into an agreement in 2013 in good faith but got burned — just like Raila Odinga was burned by Mwai Kibaki, and his father before him by Matiba and Kibaki. With such a strategy, Ruto could engineer a coalition similar to Odinga’s 41 vs 1 coalition of 2007 and easily win the presidency.
  4. If all else fails, Ruto can blackmail Central Kenyan elites by threatening to destabilize the Rift Valley: This is not a far-fetched idea. It is not a surprise that recent pronouncements challenging Ruto’s 2022 candidacy were met with disquiet in Uasin Gishu and Nakuru counties along the same cleavages that defined the post-election violence in 2007-08. It is common knowledge that the alliance between Kenyatta and Ruto in 2013 was one of political expedience, and did not address the economic and social root causes of the violence that erupted in the Rift Valley following the disputed 2007 election. It would only take a few careless statements from people like Gov. Jackson Mandago of Uasin Gishu to cause significant instability in the Rift Valley.

Overall, despite the current impasse over cabinet appointments, Ruto’s political position remains very strong. To weaken him, Kenyatta would have to take overt steps — such as allowing his elite allies to form a different party than Jubilee — which would come with immense political costs (especially in parliament). Kenyatta’s hands are tied on this matter. Furthermore, why would he spend the next five years building a legacy that would be jeopardized by his failure to honor the 2013 deal with Ruto?

People often compare Ruto to former President Daniel arap Moi who remained loyal to Jomo Kenyatta and quietly waited in line until Kenyatta died in 1978. I disagree. On the specific matter of succession politics, I like to think of Ruto as a latter day Tom Mboya, the overtly ambitious KANU Secretary General who was murdered ahead of the 1969 General Election after which he would have been in pole position to succeed Kenyatta. Like Mboya, Ruto has, from the beginning, been very clear about what he wants and what he is willing to do to achieve it. And all indications are that this time will be different.

State of the Presidential Race in Kenya’s 2013 Elections


Since this post went up Musalia Mudavadi joined the UhuRuto coalition. This sets the stage for a real two horse race for the presidency between Raila Odinga and either Mudavadi or Uhuru Kenyatta. It is very likely that Mudavadi will run as a compromise candidate due to the charges Uhuru is facing at the ICC. This development, considering Kenya’s ethnic arithmetic, essentially gives the Uhuru camp a head start ahead of the March 2013 presidential elections. Whatever happens, this promises to be a very interesting and close presidential election.


The presidential race in Kenya’s 2013 elections is beginning to take shape. Yesterday Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto unveiled a political pact that will see them run on a joint ticket, with Mr. Kenyatta at the top of the ticket. Messrs Uhuru and Kenyatta both have pending cases at the ICC on charges that they were behind the post-election violence that rocked Kenya in 2007; leaving 1300 death and more than 300,000 displaced. This has led some to dub their joint platform the “ICC ticket,”  since many see the union of the two as solely driven by their joint desire to earn immunity from prosecution by the ICC once they secure the presidency.


Uhuru Kenyatta

The second big coalition will see former allies turned foes and then allies – Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka – come together. Mr. Musyoka is the sitting Vice President while Mr. Odinga is the Prime Minister. The latter is believed by many to have been the winner of the disputed 2007 presidential election. The electoral commission at the time said it did not know who won the election and declared President Kibaki reelected, sparking two months of violence across the country.

The third potential political grouping might gravitate around Odinga’s former deputy, Mr. Musalia Mudavadi. Mr. Mudavadi has been rumored to be in talks with several smaller parties, including those of Peter Kenneth, Raphael Tuju, among others.

Raila Odinga

Raila Odinga

The latest developments will make for an interesting race moving forward. The ethnic arithmetic involved – Kenyans vote largely along ethnic lines – will make for a very close race (More on this soon). Messrs Odinga and Kenyatta are the clear front-runners, with the former having a slight lead in the most recent opinion polls. The constitution requires the president elect to win 50 percent plus one votes, making it very likely that there will be a runoff between the top two contenders after the first round. The ethnic calculations makes Odinga, a Luo, the likely winner in case of a runoff (Uhuru, a Kikuyu, is the son of Kenya’s first president. The current president, Mwai Kibaki, is also a Kikuyu.) But Mr. Kenyatta might still win in the first round.

The biggest uncertainty moving forward will be the candidature of both Uhuru and Ruto. Following the opening of their cases at the ICC they had to resign as cabinet ministers. Already there is a petition in court seeking to bar them from running in the upcoming elections on grounds that their integrity is questionable. The constitution requires only individuals of the highest integrity to be eligible to run for office (It is hard to see how any Kenyan politician will avoid having at least one strike against their candidature).

The supreme court may eventually bar Uhuru and Kenyatta from running – the talk in the street is that if they are unfit to be mere cabinet ministers then they should also not occupy the two highest offices in the country. Their supporters obviously disagree. In their rallies “UhuRuto” have played the nationalist card, insisting that not foreigners (read the ICC) but Kenyans will decide who will be their next president. It is still unclear what course of action they and their supporters would take were they to be barred from running.

More on this soon.