By Louw Nel – Political Analyst
On March 11, as many as 70 MPs gathered at the Serena Hotel in Nairobi to call on Deputy President William Ruto to resign.
A joint statement was signed by members of both the National Assembly and Senate, representing a number of parties: the governing Jubilee Party and the main opposition, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), along with alliance partners Wiper, Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Ford), Amani National Congress (ANC), and Kenya African Democratic Union (Kadu).
Their call for Mr Ruto to resign followed the announcement by Senate Minority Leader James Orengo that he would be initiating impeachment proceedings against Mr Ruto “in two weeks”.
According to the statement, Mr Ruto is accused of having “declared war against established state institutions” and is said to be “guilty of public misconduct and grave malpractices and has not lived up to the oath of office”.
Listed in the statement are seven “concerns and controversies”, including his alleged “history of fraud, acquisition of unexplained wealth and unjust enrichment [and] arms deals and association with the underworld”. Central to Mr Orengo’s impeachment drive is a scandal involving a fraudulent deal to purchase KSh40bn in military equipment and the suspicious death of a police officer linked to the matter.
The investigation into a KSh11.5m ‘consultancy fee’ paid by arms dealers has already resulted in the arrest of the former sports minister, Rashid Echesa, and is increasingly being linked to Mr Ruto’s office.
Among those calling for Mr Ruto’s resignation were members of Jubilee’s so-called Kieleweke faction, aligned to President Uhuru Kenyatta.
A growing rift between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto continues to be fuelled by speculation over the incumbent reneging on his commitment to endorse his ambitious deputy as Jubilee’s presidential candidate ahead of the 2022 elections.
Mr Kenyatta’s rapprochement with ODM leader and former adversary Raila Odinga has further antagonised Mr Ruto.
Current battle lines are drawn over the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), which is championed by Messrs Kenyatta and Odinga and is seemingly gaining momentum.
Mr Ruto is openly hostile to the initiative. In particular, he is suspicious about one of its key recommendations – the proposed appointment of a prime minister – which Mr Odinga and others would like to put to a referendum in 2020.
Cleavages within Jubilee are becoming more pronounced with Mr Ruto’s Tangatanga faction vowing a fightback.
The impeachment bid, should it be launched, will face significant challenges. At least one third of all MPs (115) need to endorse the motion before it can be tabled in the National Assembly, with a two-thirds majority (234) required to carry the motion to the Senate. Organisers of yesterday’s event say their statement was supported by 165 MPs.
Moves to undermine Mr Ruto’s 2022 succession bid are gaining momentum and he must now know that he faces an enormous challenge, both within his party and Kenya more generally.
Although it is too early to say if an impeachment drive against him will be successful, a successful launching of proceedings will be a major blow.