What started off as an assassination claim against Deputy President William Ruto has morphed into a security and political mess that could damage his standing.
Was it a ploy within the DP’s circles to achieve a selfish end or a case of a loyalist who didn’t think through the repercussions of his actions, or, as the DP’s allies claim, are the threats real?
Either way, that the mess has stopped at the DP’s door will do more damage than good.
Mr Dennis Itumbi, an ally of Mr Ruto, was arrested Wednesday while having lunch in Nairobi and is expected to be charged over the fake letter that claimed there was a plot to assassinate the DP.
Tellingly, officers at the DP’s office were quick to clarify that Mr Itumbi is not an official in their office but that he’s the State House digital director and has an office there.
Mr Itumbi will be charged with publishing alarming information. But some sources at the DCI said it is likely that detectives will ask to detain Mr Itumbi for two weeks in order to complete investigations.
Preliminary investigations on the letter, which purported that four Cabinet secretaries had met to plan about assassinating the DP, found that not only was it false, but was also written by people close to Mr Ruto.
The letter, dated May 30, 2019, claimed that a meeting had been convened by Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho at Hotel La Mada to discuss how to “shore up support for the President in Mt Kenya and its diaspora”.
Interestingly, Mr Ruto, who the DCI said had complained to him about the assassination plot, has refused to record a statement. Instead, he has left it to his political wingmen to do the talking for him on social media and in public spaces.
Moments after Mr Itumbi’s arrest, details on the circumstances under which the “assassination letter” may have been crafted and released to the public began to emerge.
It turns out, as claimed by those close to the DP, the letter was to be circulated just like any other piece of fakery on social media, to be pushed to go viral for political fodder in the hope that it would draw the attention of neither the sleuths nor the Presidency. This was a gross miscalculation.
The letter had claimed that three Cabinet secretaries — Sicily Kariuki (Health), Peter Munya (Industry) and Joe Mucheru (ICT) — had met at Hotel La Mada on Thika Road to plot on how to eliminate the DP.
Sources at Harambee House Annex say that, while the DP eventually took up the matter because it was his own life “at stake”, he did not commission it.
“In fact, the boss was shaken when he got wind of it. It is at this point that he took it up with the President,” the source said.
Coming at a time when politicians opposed to Mr Ruto’s presidential bid from Central Kenya have grown bolder by the day, some insiders suggest, the letter’s intention was to make the DP appear as a victim of the region’s betrayal while at the same time giving him some sympathy in the region.
When the letter was brought to the DP’s attention, he is said to have driven to State House to formally complain to his boss, President Uhuru Kenyatta, that some State operatives were after his life.
Equally, he is also reported to have asked Mr Kenyatta if he was aware of the scheme.
Surprised at the turn of events, the President quickly summoned security chiefs and instructed Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) boss George Kinoti to get to the bottom of the matter and brief him within hours. Things happened quickly.
The authorities, aware that the letter has the potential to bring the government to its knees, is treating it with grave seriousness, with high-ranking officials like National Intelligence Service boss Philip Kameru said to be involved. Mr Itumbi, if found guilty, will get a jail term of two years.
“Any person who publishes any false statement, rumour or report which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public or to disturb the public peace is guilty of a misdemeanour,” states Chapter 66 of the Penal Code.
“Where in this code no punishment is specifically provided for any misdemeanour, it shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or with a fine or to both,” it says.
With full knowledge of the mistrust between his office and that of the DP, the DCI opted to invite the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to help unravel the mystery behind the letter.
As of last week, a document expert from the FBI had furnished the DCI with the findings. We understand it is on the basis of the report that Mr Itumbi was arrested for questioning. The DP, being a top contender for the 2022 State House race, has a war council in place comprising politicians, strategists and sometimes the propaganda wing, all charged with hoisting his presidential bid.
Already briefed that the letter might have originated from among his staff, the DP is said to have been livid early in the week and asked to be fully briefed on what happened and what someone was trying to achieve. It remains to be seen if he will go on record to clear the air.
At the same time, leaders allied to the DP Wednesday claimed that the arrest of Mr Itumbi over links to Mr Ruto’s “murder” letter is a strategy to divert attention from the “La Mada meeting and plan”.
Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo-Marakwet) wondered why the alleged meeting had not been investigated to its full conclusion.
“Was there a meeting? Who complained about assassination? And to who? The authenticity of the allegations is more important than a letter,” Mr Murkomen said on his Twitter page.
Soy MP Caleb Kositany said Rift Valley leaders will convene a meeting today where they will issue a comprehensive statement on the issue. “We will talk more on this tomorrow (today). For now, let me not comment on this,” Mr Kositany, a close ally of the DP, told the Nation by phone.
Mr Kositany said the assassination claims should not be taken lightly especially with Kenya’s history of many unresolved deaths of prominent individuals, among them former Vice-President George Saitoti and former Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery.
“This is a very serious issue which should not be taken lightly. Let’s be patient as the investigative agencies get to the bottom of the matter,” he said.
North Rift leaders yesterday, for the umpteenth time, called on President Kenyatta to convene an urgent Jubilee crisis meeting to address pertinent issues affecting the party just a day after State House spokesperson Kanze Dena said that was not a priority for the Head of State.