An uncharacteristically subdued Deputy President William Ruto told an audience at Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland, that his opponents were using blackmail and intimidation and planning to rig the upcoming elections to prevent him from winning the presidency.
Ruto’s trip, however, comes under a cloud of suspicion after Kenyan media reports said it was not an official trip.
“The trip is cleared to take place. Although it is not on official government business. It is permission to travel,” said Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau, according to Kenya’s Daily Nation.
David Ochwangi, a leader in the Kenyan Diaspora movement in the US, wrote a letter to the White House protesting Ruto’s visit.
The letter copied to the US State Department, Congresswoman Karen Bass, the Pentagon, National Security Council, and the Carnegie Africa Program cited multiple reasons objecting to the visit.
Ochwangi accused Ruto’s campaign press release of spreading misinformation regarding the trip.
“Ruto’s campaign claims that he (Ruto) “is honoring invites by senior government officials and top policy institutes in Washington, DC, and London,” Ochwangi said. “It further states, “in Washington, DC the Deputy President is scheduled to meet, among others, officials of the State Department and the Pentagon as well as the US Government National Security Council (NSC) Advisor.”
“And all these claims by Ruto’s team might as well be true, but according to the Kenyan government, Ruto is visiting the US in a private capacity, not for official government business. DP Ruto plans trips to US and UK on personal business | Nation and therein lies the controversy.”
Ochwangi warned the White House and US government agencies to be careful not to be tricked into boosting Ruto’s Presidential campaign.
It’s unclear whether Ruto had an official invitation. But during his US visit, he met with Molly Phee, US Assistant Secretary of State, African Affairs, prompting some Kenyans on Twitter to mock him for being snubbed by top-ranking US officials.
“Deputy president of a sovereign state flying all the way to pay a courtesy call to an assistant Secretary of State? Who bewitched AFRICA!” Kennedy Juma posted on Twitter while responding to Ruto meeting Phee.
Ochwangi described Ruto’s character as the antithesis of US values and ideals.
“Before you roll out the proverbial red carpet for Mr. Ruto, I urge you to please consider his background, which is ridden with massive corruption [and] human rights abuses,” Ochwangi said.
“Before you roll out the proverbial red carpet for Mr. Ruto, I urge you to please consider his background, which is ridden with massive corruption [and] human rights abuses,” — David Ochwangi.
Ochwangi listed 7 reasons that made Ruto an unwelcome guest in the US, including the following:
Crimes against humanity and displacement of populations, citing the Kiambaa Church Massacre.
Ethnic cleansing, citing the recent MADOA DOA controversy.
Corruption, citing his unexplained vast wealth amounting to billions.
Forcible seizure of private and public lands, citing a court ruling where Ruto was ordered to surrender a 100-acre farm and compensate Adrian Muteshi Kshs 5 million for seizing his land during the 2007-2008 post-election violence.
A public menace, citing his premature presidential campaign, that has strained his relationship with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
RUTO’S SPEECH AT LOYOLA UNIVERSITY
Ruto has constantly denied any wrongdoing.
At Loyola University, Ruto received a warm welcome from friendly officials of mostly African American clergy.
Leading a delegation of United Democratic Alliance (UDA) members, including former Vice President Musalia Mudavadi, Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika, and former Majority Party leader Aden Duale among others, Ruto portrayed himself as a victim of state machinery.
“There is a lot of blackmail, intimidation, use of the criminal justice system, to intimidate leaders, to blackmail leaders, to ask people to vote a certain way,” Ruto said. “But Kenya being a very progressive [nation] and having practiced democracy for a long while; they have stood up to this blackmail, and threats and intimidation.”
Ruto, however, did not name the forces tormenting him or provide any evidence supporting his claims. Still, he told the audience he is fighting against efforts to “strait-jacket Kenyans into predetermined electoral outcomes.”
Ruto, a great orator, and public speaker, appeared uncharacteristically uncomfortable during an interview session hosted by Loyola University Founding Director of the Karson Institute, Karsona Wise Whitehead.
“In America, we understand that true democracy is linked to having both a free press and the freedom to speak,” Whitehead said in setting up her first question to Ruto. “What does democracy look like there (Kenya), and what is your role as the deputy president to make sure it happens?”
Ruto described Kenya as a robust democratic country with a very progressive constitution and bill of rights that guaranteed freedom.
Appearing to criticize President Uhuru Kenyatta’s support for his rival former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Ruto alluded some government agencies were seeking to interfere in the upcoming elections.
“The only major concern that Kenyans have is the intrusion by some agencies to try and manipulate decisions of people at different levels,” Ruto said. “The good thing is the people of Kenya have stood very firm against any attempts to make decisions on their behalf.”
He said Kenyans were rising against efforts to manipulate the elections.
“There is a big pushback by Kenyan citizens against any attempts to choreograph the next dispensation in Kenya,” Ruto told Whitehead.
Ruto revisited his claims of blackmail and alluded to a plot to rig the August 9 elections multiple times throughout the interview, strangely making it a central theme of his appearance in the US leg of his trip abroad.
His claims promoted reactions from his opponents.
“Just this year alone, on several occasions, he’s always insisted elections cannot be rigged in Kenya. Why cry in America?” Junet Mohammed, Azimio la Umoja leader, responded on Twitter.
According to The Standard newspaper on Twitter, Ruto’s statements have also prompted a reaction from Wafula Chebukati, chairperson of the Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission (IEBC), who said he’ll investigate the basis for the claims.
“Just this year alone, on several occasions, he’s always insisted elections cannot be rigged in Kenya. Why cry in America?”
Junet Mohammed, Azimio la Umoja leader, questioned Ruto’s speech on Twitter
Ruto told the audience this year’s elections would center on three issues during his speech, but he only mentioned two.
- Preserving democracy in Kenya
- Democratization of the Kenyan economy
“The biggest issue that’s on the ballot the democracy of our nation and whether we truly have the opportunity to make free choices devoid of blackmail threats and intimidation,” Ruto said. “We’re also going to be making choices about our economy and the democratization of our economy.”
He said there is a feeling the Kenyan economy has given some exclusive advantage, and it’s time to democratize it and allow every Kenyan the opportunity to participate.
He said the democratization of the economy came in various forms, such as job creation, expanding opportunity for business, value addition agro-processing, and other interventions he did not specify.
Appearing to speak off-the-cuff without prepared notes, Ruto hedged often, used filler statements, and frequently struggled to gather his thoughts and make a compelling case for why he wanted to be Kenya’s president.
Channeling Martin Luther King’s famous quote “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Ruto echoed Kenyan UN ambassador Martin Kimani’s criticism of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Ruto’s trip to the US comes just a week after President Uhuru Kenyatta endorsed Odinga and attacked his deputy, alluding Ruto was corrupt and unfit to lead Kenya.
“What an old man can see sitting, a small boy will not see standing on top of a tree,” Kenyatta said, amid robust applause from the audience, signifying support for Odinga and his Azimio la Umoja Movement. “Let’s hold the old man’s hand, and if the other young man also reforms at some point in the future, I have not stopped anyone from supporting him.”
In the speech to Mt. Kenya leaders dubbed Sagana III, Kenyatta alleged Ruto’s regular church donations were proceeds from stolen public funds. He also said Ruto lied to the public that he was unaware of Kenyatta and Odinga’s plans to bury the hatchet and work together in a historical event that shaped Kenyan politics, known as the Handshake Moment.
Speaking in a mixture of Swahili, English, and mostly Gikuyu, Kenyatta also mocked Ruto’s effort to appear as a leader fighting for the little guy.
“Those who destroyed your livelihoods in tea and coffee are the ones who are telling you that you are hustlers,” Kenyatta said, trashing Ruto’s hustler movement.
Explaining his Bottom-Up economic model, Ruto took credit for the development projects completed during Kenyatta’s tenure. He said building infrastructure such as roads, railways, and electrification were foundational efforts that would connect Kenyans to jobs in the future.
“I think the Bottom-up economy is informed by the situation we have in Kenya,” Ruto said.
He enumerated several problems facing Kenya, such as high unemployment rates for youth and women and the collapse of Kenya’s financial sector precipitated by predatory lending. He fingered predatory lending as the reason why 14 million Kenyans, half of the nation’s workforce, find themselves unworthy of credit.
“The real challenge now is how to leverage the foundation we have built to bring social justice,” Ruto said. “We have close to 4 million young people who have no jobs. Jobs creation has to be deliberate.”
He did not explain how he’d achieve the goals, and the UDA website or social media did not provide details of his plan.
“The real challenge now is how to leverage the foundation we have built to bring social justice. We have close to 4 million young people who have no jobs. Jobs creation has to be deliberate.”
–Deputy President William Ruto
Bottom-up is not a new concept to Kenyans in the diaspora. US President Joe Biden campaigned on the same philosophy to counter the Republican trickle-down economic model that gave massive tax cuts to the rich. Biden model empowers lower and middle-class Americans through tax cuts and cash stimulus to lift people from poverty and prevent the economy from collapsing under the weight of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under Biden’s Bottom-up, middle-out economic model, the government pumped trillions of dollars, juicing up the US economy while other Western economies struggled.
It’s unclear whether Ruto seeks to follow the same model or his own. But if he chooses to follow Biden’s model, he’ll have to explain how he’ll fund it.
In another veiled attack on the president, Ruto blamed the breakup of the Jubilee Party on mismanagement and incompetence.
“We had the largest party– the ruling party that had everybody, a majority of the ethnicity were on board. Unfortunately, we lost the opportunity for that party because of mismanagement and because of incompetence,” Ruto said.
During the question and answer session, an audience member asked Ruto about his ICC trial noting he was not acquitted because he was not guilty. Rather, the court could not find sufficient evidence to convict him due to bribery and witness intimidation.
Ruto responded saying the post-election crisis was an unfortunate incident in Kenya’s history and said accusations of bribery were leveled against both the prosecution and the defense.
There are no reports accusing the prosecution of bribery and intimidation. But ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda blamed the failure of the prosecution on political interference in Kenya.
Associated Press reported the ICC case fell apart after 17 witnesses withdrew their cooperation with the court as a result of intimidation.