The drama surrounding the blocking of Deputy President William Ruto’s visit to Uganda on Monday has put a spotlight on his relationship with President Yoweri Museveni.
The visit to Uganda would have gone quiet, written off as one of his other engagements, were it not for Immigration officials kicking up a storm by preventing the DP from leaving the country.
With the clocking ticking to the next General Election, it is now emerging that Ruto’s frequent trips to the neighbouring country formed the bedrock of the concerns that resulted in Monday’s incident.
The DP has made three private visits to Kampala this year and his Monday’s planned three-day trip to the neighbouring country would have been the second in a month. According to sources, while Ruto’s last visit to Uganda was to commission a vaccine laboratory, it is the private meetings thereafter that had senior government officials on high alert.
Sources said President Uhuru Kenyatta had been caught unawares by the DP’s earlier visits to Uganda, especially the meeting with the Ugandan president that he only saw in the media.
“The President is the Commander in Chief and the DP reports to him. When he meets another Head of State, he (Uhuru) should be in the picture. The State’s denial of clearance for the DP is just a way of the president putting his foot down. Ruto is under someone. It is common courtesy that if you work under someone, you inform them that you will be out of the country,” the source said.
But Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri claimed Interior ministry officials who blocked the DP acted on the President’s instructions.
“Let’s not blame Interior CS Fred Matiangi and Immigration officials. They were under instructions from the President,” said Mr Nagunjiri, adding that keeping the DP at Wilson airport for five hours without clearance was wrong.
The DP is reported to have arrived at the airport at 1pm and left shortly past 5pm after frantic calls to Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua bore no fruit.
The Monday incident elicited debate in the National Assembly, with the DP’s allies alleging a scheme to frustrate and intimidate him politically.
MPs Oscar Sudi (Kapseret), Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu) and Benjamin Tayari (Kinango) as well as three of their aides in the entourage were, however, cleared and reportedly proceeded to Uganda without the DP. Among those on the flight manifest is a Turkish man, whose identity has been subject of speculation. Sudi said yesterday that the Turkish national they were supposed to travel with was a trader with interest in modern fruit farming.
Yesterday, the subject of Ruto’s woes was raised on the floor of the National Assembly when MPs resumed sittings after a short recess. Ruaraka MP TJ Kajwang’ suggested that Ruto’s protocol team had made a mistake by skipping procedure and exposing him to ridicule.
Mr Kajwang’ also said the matter had been politicised when it was simply a misunderstanding of protocol.
“I would want to know the role the protocol staff at the DP’s office played because it is a constitutional office and when the DP visits a neighbouring country, the protocol officers need to know that there must be consultations between the office of the Deputy President and that of the President,” he said.
“This has exposed our DP to ridicule, a manner that has been seen to be political rather than what it is,” the MP added.
Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, who had just returned from Uganda and joined the sitting around 5pm, was seething with anger. “As you know, I have just come back from Uganda. We were met by (at Wilson) very unprofessional Immigration officials who humiliated the DP and purported to deny us some clearance,” he said.
“I don’t think as a country we should just watch as overzealous government officials humiliate a person of the stature of the Deputy President of this country,” Mr Nyoro said before Deputy Speaker Patrick Mariru called him to order.
But the police yesterday attempted to spin a different tale to what had been made public by the DP’s office. Police sources at the Wilson Airport yesterday downplayed the incident terming it a slight technical hitch.
A senior official at the airport claimed there was a delay by the pilot who was to fly the aircraft and the incident had nothing to do with Ruto.
“As a matter of procedure, the pilot had to get clearance from KCAA which includes submitting the manifest. This took longer than expected and by the time the pilot was cleared to fly, the DP had left,” said an officer in charge of operations at the airport. On July 7, the DP was the chief guest at the laying of a foundation stone for the multi-billion dollar Biological Drugs and mRNA vaccines facility at Matuga-Wakiso District at the invitation of Museveni.
He later visited the Ugandan President at State House in Entebbe and the following day, he travelled to Museveni’s home district to inspect a project.
State operatives who sought anonymity told The Standard that Ruto’s trips, mostly couched as private, have raised suspicions about the intentions and that they are keen to thwart them.
They believe that the DP could be using Uganda as his fundraising and international networking base, away from the prying eyes of Nairobi. But insiders within Ruto’s team who sought anonymity given the sensitivity of the matter yesterday said that the visit to Uganda was for political and business engagements.
On the political front, a highly placed source in the Ruto political circles said the second in command, keen to shower up his regional and international stature, has been working closely with Museveni to widen his network.
Through the Ugandan President’s networks, Ruto is said to have built a good rapport with the East African presidents, and a number of world leaders in Europe, the Middle East, the far East and the United States. Ruto is reportedly a frequent visitor to State House in Nakasero, Uganda, where they allegedly hold meetings that go up to late at night.
The Ugandan leader has been using these meetings to connect the DP with the regional and global leaders. “Museveni seems to have a liking for Ruto and connect well with him,” said the source who has attended one of the meetings.
Through the links, the DP has spoken and had conversations with a number of world leaders away from the ‘prying eyes’ of the Kenya state operatives, said the source.
Museveni is said to have met Ruto in 2000 when the latter was an influential figure in the late former President Moi’s government. The Ugandan leader is reportedly keen on rekindling the old ties.
President Kenyatta has publicly indicated that he was not keen to hand over to his deputy and is working to bring together the opposition ahead of the elections.
Uhuru has on a number of occasions hosted ODM leader Raila Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi (ANC), Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper) and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetangula (Ford Kenya) and Kanu chairman and Baringo Senator Gideion Moi in a bid to bring them together ahead of the 2022 presidential contest.