What are DP’s chances of succeeding his boss when the two are working at cross-purpose?

Now that there is a crack in their relationship, it will be difficult for the DP to marshal government machinery in his quest to ascend to power


The Kenyan political situation calls for a delicate balance among leaders in their quest to secure their interests and those of the populace. The forthcoming elections have jolted leaders into an early campaign mode even as President Uhuru Kenyatta strives to successfully steer his big four agenda, the plank of his legacy given that he is serving his final term.

The key political players in this matrix are the President himself, his deputy Dr. William Ruto and the Opposition chief Raila Odinga. Matters have been complicated by the fact that a truce between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga has created a wedge between the President and his deputy. It therefore means that going forward, the two are not reading from the same script thereby occasioning political realignments ahead of the 2022 General Election.

Be that as it may, it appears the Deputy President is already going ahead with his preparations for a stab at the presidency with whirlwind tour across the country wooing various regional leaders. He has also intensified hosting of delegations at his Sugoi home. It is apparent that his campaign has kicked off in earnest thus ignoring the President’s directive that leaders should shun early campaigns and concentrate on development. It may not be far off the mark therefore to conclude that the President and his deputy may be in opposite political camps impending General Election.

But what is the realistic chance of the Deputy President succeeding his boss when they are in opposite camps? Granted, the Deputy President is a master political strategist. His energy and commitment to leadership is there for all to see. However, a serious political situation such as the succession may need much more than just the skills to mobilize and persuade the masses to a particular direction. Historical factors that shaped the political trajectory of the country hugely come into play. The leaders who presided over the country in previous regimes also play a pivotal role because it is against the record of their leadership that the current administration has developed its template.

Political succession in Kenya has assumed various dimensions depending on the circumstances of the time. When President Jomo Kenyatta died suddenly in 1978, he was succeeded by his vice, Daniel Arap Moi. However, it was not quite-smooth sailing for Moi because a cabal of political leaders from the Mount Kenya region had hatched a plan for his replacement. This move was however ruthlessly thwarted by the then Attorney General Charles Njonjo who almost singlehandedly ensured that Moi was successfully installed as Kenya’s second President upon Kenyatta’s death.

The second succession when President Moi left the stage was occasioned by global political shift which largely ushered in democratic leadership in most Third World countries; dictatorship in Africa suffered a serious blow when pro-democracy forces upped their game thereby putting pressure on autocratic regimes to allow for multi party democracy and hold credible elections. At that time, Kenya was ripe for this kind of transformation. The Opposition, the civil society and religious leaders put pressure on the Government and eventually section 2A of the Constitution was repealed and elections were peacefully held. The Opposition floored the ruling party ushering in President Mwai Kibaki’s rule. It must be noted however that prior to the General Election in 2002, Moi had shuffled his deputies at will, throwing his long serving assistant, Prof. George Saitoti by the side and bringing Musalia Mudavadi on board merely two months to the elections.

When President Kibaki’s reign came to an end, Uhuru Kenyatta, not Kalonzo Musyoka who was his deputy succeeded him. Though he did not endorse or campaign for Uhuru, Kibaki seemed not to have a problem with him and ensured that the transition was as smooth as possible. 

In the said transfers of leadership since independence, it is only once that the deputy took over from the boss, when Moi succeeded Kenyatta in 1978.

Therefore, it is reasonable enough to conclude that Ruto’s quest for presidency cannot be a walk in the park going by precedent. He is not guaranteed the seat just because he deputizes the President. His leadership skills notwithstanding, the opinion of his boss will most likely determine who becomes President. Now that there is a crack in their relationship, it will be difficult for the DP to marshal government machinery in his quest to inherit the president’s seat. How he maneuvers to regain his boss’s support remains to be seen.

It is worth reiterating that in the history of Kenya’s politics, it is only Moi as the second in command who eventually became President. Even though Mwai Kibaki was Moi’s Vice President for close to ten years, he never inherited the seat as Vice President. He had to hone his skills further for ten years as Opposition Leader before eventually being elected President. The post of deputy to the President has had many occupants and the fact that only one of them managed to get to State House is a pointer to the reality that it is not necessarily a gateway to the house on the hill. Other previous occupants who did not succeed their bosses were Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Joseph Murumbi, Dr.Josephat Karanja, Prof. George Saitoti, Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, Kijana Wamalwa, Moody Awori and Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi.

If there was a guy who was closest to the presidency as second in command, it is the late Prof. George Saitoti. He is on record as the longest serving Vice President in Kenya’s history. He served as VP for 13 years yet President Moi didn’t see it fit to groom him to take over from him. That clearly shows that it is not the longevity in service as a deputy that determines whether you succeed your boss or not. 

Ruto shall have served in that position for ten years come 2022, assuming that there won’t be major fallout before then. This decade of service should arm him well with the tools to engage the strategies of succeeding his boss.   

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