Will Kikwete, Lowassa story repeat itself in Uhuru, Ruto?

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto arrive at a venue during a past event. President Kenyatta’s tenure comes to end next year. Mr Ruto seriously seeks to inherit the top office in Kenya. Will there be a repeat of Kikwete and Lowassa drama? PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • Much as Lowassa is assumedly retired, there are no bounds to learning lessons. It is indisputable that Lowassa had a dogged determination to ascend to the top much like with Ruto

A political watcher of Kenya enjoys drawing parallels between William Ruto’s unbridled bid for the presidency and Edward Lowassa’s in Tanzania in 2015.

Much as Lowassa is assumedly retired, there are no bounds to learning lessons. It is indisputable that Lowassa had a dogged determination to ascend to the top much like with Ruto. Their commonalities are also seen in how both have stood accused of deploying money to win over various politicians as well as church groups.

Equally both have had fingers pointed at them for not having any position on fighting corruption but rather they just preach development minus the vice.

Ruto and Lowassa both also have found themselves in a similar line of doing the ‘night shift’ for their superiors such that they could lay substantial claim to being part and parcel of their initial electoral success.

More than that, they had boasted of a long history of association with their commanders. Ruto upon the swearing in of Uhuru in 2013, spoke of having since the Kanu era saved the phone number of Uhuru as future president. Lowassa pointedly told of how he had not met Kikwete on the roadside.

It wouldn’t be stretching it too far to use the analogy of marriages made in heaven to describe the Uhuru/Ruto and Lowassa/Kikwete associations. They were joined at the hip effectively. During the Kenyan campaigns you had UhuRuto coined and Boyz11Men in Tanzania as early back as 1995 to signal the projection of youth. Uhuru/Ruto upon assuming office would even be in matching suits and ties. I don’t recall anything similar in Tanzania.

As a caveat, much as Lowassa and Ruto share commonalities, there is also a marked difference between the two. Lowassa is plainly not as politically astute as Ruto in some estimations. To illustrate this, when the writing was on the wall for Lowassa, as early in fact as midway through the first term, he decided to sit tight and endure all manner of humiliation right until the end. He would even proudly proclaim that through his long history in CCM, no one could strike his name off the list of presidential candidates. And that you can’t prevent flood waters by hand.

Former President Jakaya Kikwete and ex-Prime Minister Edward Lowassa shake hands during a past event. Middle is Lowassa’s wife, Regina. PHOTO | FILE

Well, what happened is public knowledge and how in his ‘naked opportunism’, jumped ship to the opposition. Not long after realizing life in the opposition wasn’t a bed of roses, he made his way back to CCM caring less what that meant to others.

This is unlike Ruto who has in good time crafted a plan B rather than await something miraculous from heaven. It is ponderable as well that Ruto once had a political party called URP, that enjoyed a significant number of lawmakers. It was gobbled up in the grand merger that formed the Jubilee Party.

It is of some benefit to touch a little also on our constitutions. Both our countries’ constitutions provide for deputy/vice president who are elected on a joint ticket and therefore can’t be dismissed willy-nilly. This is a good thing in principle otherwise for sure Ruto was to be shown the door.

In the specific case of Tanzania, it is safe to say that the PM is also protected in essence as if he or she is sacked, the replacement will need to be confirmed by not less than two-thirds of the House - meaning that you can’t mess around with the PM. In other words if Lowassa had the mettle he should have flexed his muscles by refusing any notion of resigning as imagining he had the numbers in Parliament, the Head of State was snookered.

One can safely say that the nub of the tribulations for Ruto and Lowassa is engaging in campaigns that have undermined their superiors. Ruto was accused of seeking a co-presidency and Lowassa even of pursuing an agenda of one-term for his boss - hence the need to clip his wings early.

However, much this may be the case, I take a sort of sympathetic view that it could be fueled by the complicated history of political succession in Africa by and large. As things stand in our two neighbouring countries, no VP/PM has made it to the highest office through conventional means. In Kenya, Moi came in following the death of Kenyatta and Kibaki as an opposition leader. In Tanzania it is another story altogether.

Against such a background, Lowassa and Ruto could have embarked on their campaigns knowing how history is stacked against their chances. The sad truth is that in many of our countries the president wants to run the show out and out such that a deputy is merely for fulfilling constitutional requirements. I honestly wonder if Magufuli would have endorsed say Mama Samia as his successor. To begin with, his comments were always demeaning to women of all hue and cry.

All told, I postulate that the presidential system be done away and we revert to the old parliamentary one. In a parliamentary order of equals, the position of deputy is neither here or there or in the shadows, so to speak.

In a hugely illuminating article written in June 2017 for The Conversation UK, two politics lecturers at Cardiff University, Jonathan Kirkup and Stephen Thornton, expressed the following: “At this time of crisis, Theresa May may want to consider something she has so far been reluctant to do: appointing a deputy prime minister. It might save her bacon.

“May has appointed Damian Green as first secretary of state - a title that usually indicates deputy status. Green is a seasoned minister, and long time ally of May, but hardly a heavy hitter. From our research into the role and responsibilities of deputies to the British prime minister we have developed a typology of deputies. Using this we argue there are a number of historical examples which May may draw on if she wanted to make a more advantageous choice.

“The title of ‘deputy’ has no constitutional status in the UK and so our list of deputies includes some known as deputy prime minister and others not. All were, though, regarded as acting as the deputy at some point.”

Someone may rush to point out that under Premier Tony Blair, his chancellor, Gordon Brown, was posing trouble for his boss despite not being his deputy. It was actually John Prescott. The apparent understanding at the formation of New Labour was that Blair would do a single term and hand over to Brown.

Brown got livid it was taking too long but eventually got his piece of the pie after a fractured relationship. The trouble though was that it came as a coronation midway through TB’s third term and he wasn’t elected at the general election. The moral here is be careful what you wish for as they say!