Deputy President William Ruto’s inner circle, comprising the six operatives recently referred to by Bomet Governor Isaac Rutto as “Sky Team”, because of their fondness for using choppers to travel up and down the country, is being blamed for misleading the second in command.
The sky team are members of the DP’s United Republican Party; government’s majority leader Aden Duale (parliament) and Kindiki Kithure (senate); Kericho senator Charles Keter and Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo Marakwet), MP Mithika Linturi and speaker of National Assembly Justin Muturi. Word has it that even the TNA side in Jubilee handles the team with a lot of care since it is composed of Ruto kitchen cabinet and what they tell the deputy president is taken as political gospel truth.
They have forced president Uhuru Kenyatta to make appointments in their favour using Ruto and were instrumental in having URP join TNA to form Jubilee. It is the same group that had Uhuru back from supporting Musalia Mudavadi presidential bid in 2013. To them, Mudavadi presidency would have relegated Ruto from the centre of power hence make him unable to cut and influence deals.
Linturi has since gone underground ever since he fooled MPs to impeach Devolution secretary Anne Waiguru only to be compromised leaving MPs baying for his blood.
The sky team which is accused of not being in touch with the common voter due to hopping from one public rally to another in hired choppers are also being linked to brokering multi-billion government tenders to Chinese firms at a fee. Insiders say the team even threatens investors to pay millions to win political protection.
The team does not spare parastatal bosses, cabinet secretaries and principal secretaries who also are manipulated to award tenders to favoured local and foreign firms in the name of raising money for 2017 polls.
Governor Rutto has set himself up as DP Ruto’s nemesis inside URP and inside Rift Valley politics. Consequently, he has become the frequent target of sky team salvoes. Duale and Keter are particularly severe on Rutto and take potshots on him at every opportunity they get in both houses, at political rallies and in news conferences.
It is no secret that Rutto fancies himself as a replacement at the top of the Rift Valley political totem pole for the DP, particularly should something adverse happen to the latter that removes him from the scene even temporarily.
Recently, as the DP had to return to The Hague and be in court, Rutto came out with all guns blazing and dared Ruto and the sky team to expel him from the Jubilee coalition because of his campaign for a referendum to increase money to the counties.
Rutto said he was operating independently and the threats to expel him were baseless. He is the chairman of the Council of Governors, a position he is extremely proud of and which gives him accumulated national clout.
Rutto plays the kind of role the late fiery Jean Marie Seroney used to play against the then long-serving Vice President Daniel arap Moi. Seroney used to aim sharp barbs against the then helpless Moi as Kikuyus settled in large numbers in Rift Valley as Moi kept quiet.
“I will continue fighting for the rights of Kenyans without fear or favour. I resolved to push for a referendum after Jubilee declined to heed our plea for more funds,” he said.
Rutto pointed out that the ruling coalition of TNA and URP had never met since they came to power, yet Duale repeatedly says a decision to increase county allocations would have to come from a national delegates’ conference.
Rutto was speaking during the home-coming party of Nakuru deputy speaker Joseph Tanui.
He accused Jubilee of spreading falsehoods that he is supporting Cord: “I am not Cord, or in Cord, and neither do I support Okoa Kenya. But I can welcome ideas from any quarters, Cord included, if they are good.”
The same week, Murkomen tore into Rutto, saying that the governor is a difficult man to work with.
This was a face-to-face confrontation in a Nairobi hotel during a forum on Devolution. First, the Council of Governors chairman accused Murkomen of leading the campaign to kill devolution by not mobilising senators to pass laws that enable the counties to get funds, though he chairs the Senate Devolution Committee.
“My friend, Murkomen, you are intelligent and well-educated. The problem is that you lack ground,” Rutto said. But Murkomen promptly shot back, accusing Rutto of leading governors to move away from accountability.
“I have specific questions to ask you concerning tenders in your county and corruption in your office,” Murkomen said. “If there is any difficult person to deal with, it is Isaac Rutto. In 2010, I tried to convince him together with others who opposed the constitution to support it, but he refused to listen. Today, he and Deputy President William Ruto are the greatest beneficiaries,” he added.
The members of sky team are very well facilitated as they go about their strategy of getting the DP’s back and protecting him at any and all times. Helicopter hire is a very expensive undertaking in Kenya, costing in the hundreds of thousands per trip. But sky team is very well taken care of in financial terms, with their bills being picked up by the DP’s power and privilege networks.
They fly to Rift Valley attending DP’s functions at times three in number per day. They also make trips to Mt Kenya region mainly Meruland where URP presence is felt.
However, political analysts are watching the team carefully for signs of stress as the DP enters the most sensitive phase of his ICC case.
There are also personal issues. Senator Kindiki was exposed as having received money from oil thief Yagnesh Devani, who stole more than Sh7 billion from Kenya Pipeline Company, to support him in a UK court against an extradition attempt by the Kenya government for him to come home and face the music.
Kindiki was allegedly quoted badmouthing his homeland’s penal system and Judiciary, saying both are corrupt and unfit for human beings of Devani’s billionaire and Asian status. His political and professional standing could fall drastically in coming days and months and Jubilee might well have to look for another leader of majority in the Senate.
Meanwhile, the biggest test for sky team will come when President Uhuru and his deputy announce the names of CEOs of the reformed and reorganised state corporation’s sector. There are various positions to fill in the new fangled parastatal sector. As the DP’s inner circle and go-betweens, it will be interesting to see whether sky team has persuaded him to allow a truly representative face of Kenya sample of parastatal appointees.
Already, members of the team boast of having recently influenced the appointment of newly appointed envoys and will lobby to have their choices land parastatal jobs more so, the strategic ones.
President Uhuru is said to be aware of the operations of the sky team in relation to the referendum headache and that is why he has changed tact and is approaching URP allied governors in person.
It is said due to what is perceived to be disrespecting governors in Rift Valley by the sky team, majority of them have decided to back the referendum. Kalenjin Rift Valley has six counties. Those whose governors support the plebiscite are Rutto of Bomet, Julius Chepkwony (Kericho), Cleophas Langat (Nandi) and Baringo’s Benjamin Cheboi. Those against are Uasin Gishu’s Jackson Mandago and Elgeyo Marakwet’s Alex Tolgos.