Unease among Kenya’s top security chiefs after William Ruto’s win

As the clock ticks towards the start of the William Ruto presidency in Kenya, a number of security chiefs are finding themselves in an awkward situation because they have to answer to a man they openly showed contempt for in the past few years.

The President-elect is currently receiving intelligence briefs every morning from the National Security Council (NSC), an organ that makes all key decisions on matters of public interest. Dr Ruto claimed he was kicked out of the briefings three years ago.

The briefs, which the nation understands had been briefly stopped from reaching Dr Ruto immediately a case challenging his win was filed, resumed immediately the Supreme Court declared him validly elected.

By law, the Deputy President is a member of the NSC whose chairperson is the President. Other members are the Attorney-General, Chief of Defense Forces, Inspector-General of Police, Director-General of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) and the Cabinet secretaries for Defence, Interior and Foreign Affairs.

However, Dr Ruto, on more than one occasion during the campaigns, claimed that despite being the DP, he had been locked out of the council, and that the NIS director stopped picking his calls three years ago.

He has also been at loggerheads with Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, Defense CS Eugene Wamalwa and the IG of Police Hillary Mutyambai, whom the President-elect labeled as the “most incompetent Inspector-General in the world” in the run up to the elections.

“We doubt the command. We have a serious problem with the command of the police. We have the most incompetent Inspector General of the Police,” Dr Ruto told a delegation of the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), who visited him at his Karen official residence a month before the election.

“The current command of the police is done by others. The IG is supposed to be an independent office. But if he cannot discharge that responsibility, it means he is being discharged by people who don’t run independent office (sic),” he said.

One of Dr Ruto’s concerns before the elections was that the state’s security apparatus, especially the Interior Ministry, was being used to undermine his campaign for the presidency by humiliating him and targeting his political allies through a “skewed” war on corruption.

Dr Matiang’i, who in 2019 was promoted to chair the National Development Implementation and Communication Cabinet Committee by outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta, effectively knocking off the DP from one of his key roles, had before the election traded countless punches with Dr Ruto.

“As a senior member of the same government, the Deputy President ought to know and manifest an understanding of how decisions are arrived at and executed,” said Dr Matiang’i on the eve of elections when the DP’s camp claimed chiefs were being used to rig the elections.

The CS, who before the August 9 elections was presumed to be the second most powerful person in the country, answerable only to the Head of State, now has to brief Dr Ruto on security matters every morning in the dying days of the Uhuru presidency.

The Assumption of Office of the President Act 2012 mandates public officers to provide required information to the President-elect, “who may, in carrying out preparations, request in writing such information from a public officer as he may consider necessary.”

“A public officer who fails to comply with the provisions of this section commits an offense and is liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding one million shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to both,” the law states.

However, despite the open hostility between some members of the NSC and Dr Ruto before the elections, highly-placed sources have informed the nation that the President-elect is being briefed as required by the law.

Apart from security updates, Dr Ruto is also receiving reports from Treasury each morning on the state of the economy as he prepares to take full control of the country on Tuesday.

The rubber will, however, hit the road once he is sworn in on Tuesday as President and Commander in Chief.

The people in his circle have never hidden their disdain for the security sector and had long declared that they would deal with it if Dr Ruto ever took power.

The President-elect has, however, declared that he will not take revenge on the people who used their offices to antagonize him after he fell out with President Kenyatta following the truce he had with opposition veteran Raila Odinga.

“I know many are wondering, especially those who have done many things against us, I want to tell them that they have nothing to fear, that there is no room for vengeance, there is no room for looking back, we are looking into the future,” said the President-elect immediately after being declared winner.

But as President, Dr Ruto will have the authority to shape his government, including the security sector, as he wishes, by selecting key personnel in his first weeks in power.

Those heading constitutional commissions are protected by security of tenure.

State officers whose positions are not protected by security of tenure – including the Interior and Defense CSs, just like all Cabinet secretaries, principal secretaries and Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) bos George Kinoti – who serve at the pleasure of the President, could find their jobs on the line.

Dr Ruto has accused Mr Kinoti of only targeting his allies when the war on corruption was at its peak in 2018. He termed unfair the arrests of Kenya Kwanza politicians.

Just before the elections, Dr Ruto called out the DCI boss after three Venezuelans were arrested at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport with election stickers.

“We want to tell this guy who is fond of theatrics going by the name Kinoti to stop the nonsense. He is a complete failure who dramatizes cases through media reports only for him to fail in court,” said the DP at a rally in Kericho.

Despite the zeal by power brokers close to Dr Ruto to have him immediately send home those perceived as his enemies, the incoming President will find himself constrained by the law and certain long running traditions in key security organs as he takes over.

The IG, for example, has a four-year term that ends in April. The tenures of the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji and the director of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission are protected by the Constitution.

NIS Director-General Philip Kameru is serving his second term after his time at the helm of the country’s spy agency was renewed in September 2019 when his first five-year term ended.

Likewise, the Chief of Defense Forces (CDF), General Robert Kibochi, whose retirement was put on hold due to the elections and handover of power can only be replaced by two people.

Under the rules introduced by retired Chief of General Staff Gen Daudi Tonje – adopted and known as the Tonje Rules – the position of the CDF has to be rotated among the Army, Navy and Air Force.

General Kibochi (Army) took over from General Samson Mwathethe who was from the Navy. This means that when General Kibochi retires, the position has to go to the Air Force.

Last year President Kenyatta placed Lt-Gen Francis Ogolla and director-general of Nairobi Metropolitan Services Lt-Gen Mohammed Badi in pole position to be the next CDF after he promoted them to the rank of lieutenant-general.

The CDF is a member of the Assumption of the Office of the President Committee.

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