Sunday, April 25, 2010


A discreet morning phone call from President Kibaki asking Prime Minister Raila Odinga whether he wanted them to conclude "this thing" set the stage for the surprise action against Eldoret North MP William Ruto, we can reveal.

Inspired by the need to normalise relations with fellow principal Raila, President Kibaki pulled the rabbit out of the hat on Wednesday morning — and by the afternoon of the same day, it was done.

The President had another matter pending that needed to be dispensed with — the appointment of a new Kenya Airports Authority Managing Director to replace confidante George Muhoho, who had left at the end of his term, hence the vacant Transport ministry portfolio formerly held by Chirau Ali Mwakwere.

The other matter uppermost on the President’s mind was the issue of the Cabinet, which has not met for nearly three months following a boycott threat. This followed the PM’s suspension of two ministers over corruption in their ministries, an action that was promptly rescinded by the President.

For Raila, the Wednesday phone call came as a surprise, but sources close to him said he was excited that he would be able to once-and-for all close the matter.

Ruto’s suspension

It had been festering for months — precisely since President Kibaki overturned his purported suspension of then Agriculture minister Ruto and Education colleague Prof Sam Ongeri. Sources said the PM had, as early as November last year, complained to Mediator Kofi Annan of his frustrations in reshuffling ministers in his coalition wing.

When the decisive phone call came through, therefore, the PM wasted no time and proceeded to prepare paperwork, before proceeding to a meeting with the President at his Harambee House office.

The PM’s think-tank believe it was time Raila sorted out the Rift Valley question — by cutting down to size the Higher Education minister — and then retracing his "original team" of true supporters.

The thinking is that Ruto never quite liked nor "forgave" the PM for their political rivalry, and that he had been using his Agriculture portfolio to "reward" his supporters and not those of the party (read PM).

They say Ruto had falsely believed that the President would shield him, but the reality was that Ruto had enemies within Kibaki’s camp.

Said a source close to the PM: "Kibaki’s people don’t trust Ruto and they always insisted that he needed to be dealt with at the correct moment. (Last) week, they appeared to have agreed it was time". And there began the PM’s journey of retracing his friends in the Rift Valley, with Dr Sally Kosgei — a decidedly Raila supporter from the start — getting the plum Agriculture ministry.

The ejection of Mr Charles Keter, a Ruto ally, was a warning that the PM was willing to go further, and hence the appointment of ally Kipkelion MP Magerer Langat to replace him.

But why did the Prime Minister move the Eldoret North MP to the Higher Education ministry rather than sack him altogether?

Sources last night said that Rift Valley MPs close to the PM warned that a Ruto sacking would make him a martyr and complicate the ground for them.

And it was then that it was decided Ruto should be moved to a peripheral ministry — so as not to antagonise the massive Rift Valley vote bloc that still looks up to him for leadership.

However, the ‘demotion’ of Ruto at a time he is spearheading the ‘No’ campaign on the proposed constitution was not lost to many.

And just to illustrate how high the stakes were for the PNU wing of Government, Kimunya took office at the Transport ministry and within 24 hours, had appointed Mr Stephen Mwangi Gichuki as the Kenya Airports Authority Managing Director.

On Saturday, observers were asking whether the reshuffle was hurriedly executed to guard the Government’s succession interests at KAA.

Clearly then, they argue, the changes were executed following a convergence of PNU and ODM leaders’ interests.

Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka said that he expected Cabinet meetings to resume.

"Now that the two principals have agreed on the mini-reshuffle, I hope we shall finally have Cabinet meetings in order that this Government moves forward in delivery of service to our people," he said.

President’s phone call

Another source close to the PM described the President’s phone call thus: "The PM was surprised but happy. He had all along pushed for the changes and only two weeks earlier, the Kibaki team had sent a message to say they were ready".

The two then met twice over the matter and agreed to keep everything out of knowledge even of close associates. A week earlier, Ruto had openly contradicted President Kibaki in Nakuru over the Proposed Constitution, and the Wednesday action sent shivers among other high profile naysayers.

Contacted, Konoin MP Julius Kones maintained that Ruto’s transfer was purely politics, "in particular party politics aggravated by the ‘No’ campaign".

The legislator said the schemers wanted Ruto sacked altogether.

And a minister from the Rift Valley who spoke on condition of anonymity seemed to bear this out.

"Our parliamentary colleagues from Rift Valley in support of the PM warned that such an action, ahead of the referendum, would on the contrary turn Ruto into a political martyr," said the minister.

But Kinangop MP David Ngugi believes the action taken on Ruto had little to do with ODM’s internal politics, but everything to do with the upcoming constitutional referendum.

"The action by the principals is a warning shot to those in Government who are still offering lukewarm or completely no support to the push for a new constitution. Ideally, more ministers should be moved or kicked out after the referendum," said Ngugi.

With over 20 parastatals, the Ministry of Agriculture is one of the most lucrative ministries and the thinking was that Ruto was using it to strengthen his political clout.

"No doubt, the honey tap had to be turned off at some point. For the last two years, Ruto had used his position to undermine the PM’s leadership," said Polycarp Onyango, an ODM official.

Turkana Central MP Ekwe Ethuro concurs that Raila instigated the reshuffle for political reasons.

"He saw it fit to strike when Ruto defied him and the President on the referendum debate by pushing for a ‘No’ vote in the referendum. What he forgot is that this is not a government project."

But Narok South MP Nkoidila Ole Lankaas maintained that reshuffles were the prerogative of the President in consultation with the PM.

Nominated MP Musa Sirma said the changes had nothing to do with the referendum as they had been planned way back.

"The Cabinet has not taken a position on the referendum and no one can claim to have been punished for taking a stand. In 2005, the Cabinet took a position to support the draft but not this time around," said Sirma.

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