COVID-19 Millionaires In Kenya: It Wasn’t William Ruto


By Washington Osiro,

During the past two and a half years beginning 2018, Kenyans were told that William Samoei Ruto’s sticky hands were responsible for hindering Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta from fulfilling his legacy Big Four Agenda Initiative. Incredulously, the Deputy President became the poster child for grand corruption even though the scourge dated back to the dawn of the republic in 1963.

After the 2017 General Elections, the country’s social media was flooded with sycophants, paid bloggers, and self-proclaimed pundits parroting the narrative that the Deputy President was corrupt and lacking the moral turpitude necessary to become Kenya’s president. Setting aside the oxymoron that is “incorruptible” and “Kenyan president” in the same sentence, the drip-drip-drip of stories about William Ruto’s ill-gotten billions became a deluge as the country was inundated with stories about Ruto’s unworthiness to inherit the sword (that symbolizes the authority of the Kenyan Presidency). This was a switch from the “Tano Tena/Kumi Fresh” tagline Jubilee peddled during the duo’s bid for re-election against the “angel” Kenyans had “never seen/known” and was purportedly “mweupe kama pamba”. The latter characterizations were some of the labels Jubilee’s 36 Bloggers derisively saddled Raila Odinga with during the 2017 race for State House. Instead of voting for Raila, the so-called “angel Kenyans did not know” and his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka, a plurality of Kenyans re-elected for the two “devils they (already) knew.”

How things have changed!

Even before the novel coronavirus was declared a global pandemic early this year, the erstwhile chummy relations between the former “digital duo” of Kenyatta and Ruto was on the fritz. As presaged by the country’s presidential history and variously written including by yours truly, the idea of William Ruto succeeding Uhuru Kenyatta was set to follow the same script that Raila Odinga’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Mwai Kibaki followed circa 2007.

Put another way, there was no way Uhuru Kenyatta and his Mt. Kenya/Central base were going to reciprocate the favor and rally around William Ruto and his Rift Valley/Kalenjin base for the 2022 race for the State House: The specter of the post-election violence of 2007 (and Ruto’s alleged complicity in it) was still too raw and Uthamakism, as abstract and nebulous a construction as it is, too powerful a force against the ascension to Kenya’s presidency of anyone other than someone from the Mt. Kenya/Central region OR malleable enough to do the bidding for the region’s mandarins.

With Raila now fully co-opted alongside his “brother” Uhuru in selling BBI (Building Bridges Initiative) – the dynasties’ self-preservation tool – and the remaining contestants for the presidency in disarray and lacking any appreciable national following, only William Ruto remains a viable political and economic force against the dynastic axis of the Odinga-Kenyatta-Moi triad.

As the COVID pandemic brought life as the world knew it to a screeching halt and put a premium on competence governance while exposing any pre-existing gaps in society’s social welfare safety net, Kenya was no exception.

Initially, CS of Health Mutahi Kagwe, Jubilee’s point person on the pandemic, garnered global plaudits from the Wall Street Journal for his feel-good and adroitly choreographed sing-songy COVID updates and as Kenyans are wont to do, the global shout-out was indication that “mbele ili kua sawa,” i.e., all was well regarding Jubilee’s management of the pandemic. Unfortunately, Kagwe’s syrupy self-congratulatory spin were soon overwhelmed by the harsh realities of governing a polity that has rarely embraced systems of governance independent of persons or personalities nor a culture of compliance – with the strict protocols necessary to contain a public health crisis.

As it became apparent that Kagwe, like his boss Uhuru, was over-matched in crisis management fundamentals, Ruto maintained the silent stoicism that had served him well shortly after his bonhomie with Uhuru begun to disintegrate in early 2018. For his part, unable to explain his teenage son’s failure to comply with his own ministry’s edicts, Kagwe abdicated his parental responsibilities and barked at the reporter to go ask the son why he was captured on video footage posing with three other persons – nursing drinks – at a party – in violation the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 guidelines. According to the CS, he did not “have a son under 18 in his house…..

Still to come was a series of events that were as common an occurrence in Kenya as was the country’s penchant for voting along tribal lines – even when they knew that those they were re-electing had public records antithetical to everything they claimed to want in their leaders.

About three weeks ago, Daily Nation published an article exposing yet another scandal under the incumbent Jubilee Party. Listed among those who got a share of the COVID billions under curious circumstances were not William Ruto or his wife Rachel. Neither the man’ sons nor his daughters were adversely mentioned in this latest scandal engulfing the country’s healthcare ministry.

Conversely, on the list was a name Kenyans have seen previously mentioned in similar self-serving machinations. The paper wrote that “Ziwala Limited, which is owned by Ms Samantha Ngina Muthama and June Nduta Kinyua, equally got a Sh84 million contract to supply 120,000 pieces of KN95 face masks, also at the inflated price of Sh700 a piece.” According to the online publication Procurement Nation, “Samantha is the daughter of the President’s younger sister Nyokabi Muthama.”

Conspicuously (but understandably) silent about the misappropriated COVID billions were the two men who shook hands in early 2018 while promulgating an initiative that listed fighting corruption as one of the “nine core challenges” facing Kenya – still.

Equally reticent this time around were the social media carnival barkers of either men Uhuru or Raila who are known for their vociferous yapping whenever individuals linked to Ruto are identified as complicit in a scandal.

Could their silence be the Achebe-esque quip about the old woman and bones being mentioned in the same sentence?