The Kenya Forum | The Dilemma of a Deputy - Even a Deputy President - The Kenya Forum

August 12, 2021


In life however, as the adage goes, there are no merits for second place. In politics, this is truer still. Even in a position as high as the Deputy President.

More by Barrack Ombogo

The Dilemma of a Deputy – Even a Deputy President

The Dilemma of a Deputy – Even a Deputy President

No Silver Medal In Life

The Olympics Games have just concluded. For every event, three medals are awarded, gold, silver and bronze. During the Victory Ceremony all athletes are winners, declared masters of their discipline. Deservedly so. In life however, as the adage goes, there are no merits for second place. In politics, this is truer still. Even in a position as high as the Deputy President.

The problem of Deputy President, Hon.William Samoei Arap Ruto, is not the first of its kind in Kenya.

In 1963, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga helped President Jomo Kenyatta to be elected the first President of Kenya. Jaramogi accepted the position of Vice President, now equivalent to Deputy President, thinking that the President would hand over the reins to him when he retired. By 1966, they fell out and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga resigned in a huff to form the Opposition party, Kenya People’s Union.

The same year, the second Vice President of Kenya, Joseph Murumbi Zuzarte also resigned, and President Daniel Arap Moi, then the Minister of Home Affairs, was appointed as Vice President. His term was turbulent, sometimes suffering indignities like being sent abroad only to be strip searched upon his return.

The Moi Era

In 1976 a group of Mt. Kenya Politicians led by Njoroge Mungai, Kihika Kimani and Police Inspector Mwangi, mishandled Moi insisting that the Vice President should not take over from the ailing Jomo Kenyatta in event of his death, as was inscribed in the Kenya Constitution of the day. They fought hard to change the Constitution. President Moi survived to succeed Jomo Kenyatta in 1978. He was aided by Attorney General Charles Njonjo and Ahmed Nasir from Mombasa.

Moi’s first Vice President was Hon. Mwai Kibaki. Like Moi in the same position, he constantly faced frustration, even being demoted to become the Minister of Health.

Vice President Munyua Waiyaki, appointed after Kibaki did not last very long after he was suspected of working to oust President Moi.

Vice President George Saitoti, his successor, resigned to join opposition party Narc when, after his own share of strife, he was told that, ‘in politics there is no friendship’.

Hon. Musalia Mudavadi was appointed Vice President for only three months.

The 2010 Constitution

Then came the 2010 Kenya Constitution which provided for the Deputy President position. Unlike the Vice President role, the constitution made it difficult for a Deputy to be removed from office by the President. This solidified the Uhuru/Ruto partnership, coupled with which, having faced the International Criminal Court together, they formed a camaraderie.

During the first term 2013 to 2017 they worked together, but the ‘Handshake’ in 2018 between Hon. Raila Amolo Odinga, ‘the People’s President’, and President Uhuru Kenyatta, the Republic of Kenya’s legitimate President, appeared to frighten Deputy President William Ruto. He decided to be a lone ranger for the 2022 General Elections. William Ruto started early campaigns for General Elections of 2022 which went against the advice of President Uhuru Kenyatta, causing their serious differences and resulting in William Ruto being a stranger to the Government of Jubilee in which he is a participant.

He has, like his predecessors, bitten the bitter pill of what it means to be second-in-charge of anything.

The Curse of the Deputy

I too faced this dilemma in my professional life; the ‘curse’ of the deputy.

When I was appointed Deputy Managing Director at Chemelil Sugar Company Limited, the Managing Director welcomed me on the day I reported on duty but he told me that he had no work for me. My term there was rigged with the challenges of attempting to craft a job description for a position that hadn’t existed before I got there. Later, at Sony Sugar Company Limited, my position was quickly changed from Deputy General Manager to Head of Department, because I was more qualified than the foreign Managing Director and that did not sit well with him.

I am not sure how much responsibility I should take for my own turbulent passage through the ‘Deputy’ curse. I came out intact on the other side with the firm belief that those in second place of anything, need to exercise more caution than those with no position at all.

Second place is too close to first place for anyone to ignore. Those who cannot be ignored easily acquire targets on their backs. It is wisdom to acknowledge this and forearm oneself with the right tools to navigate these often, shark infested waters. It is also wisdom to decide whether the position is worth the tribulations that inevitably come with it.


I believe that the main issues facing the Deputy President William Ruto are caused by the assumption that without him, Uhuru would never have been President. Uhuru, playing into this standpoint made the potential for conflict worse by promising Ruto, that after his two terms, he would hand over the Presidency to him. As if Kenya belongs to them and the Kenyan people have no say in the matter of who governs them and when.

The Pitfalls of Being a Deputy

There are many layers to being a deputy and why it’s a road mired by potential pitfalls. The very nature of being a deputy is prescribed by the fear that when one is effective, you become a threat to the Incumbent and if you are ineffective then you are a hindrance to the incumbent. The true role of a deputy is to assist. Yet few are ever graciously given that opportunity, unless they are also willing to be invisible while doing it.

Ultimately it is difficult to be a deputy of anybody. Personally, I’d caution any professional from aspiring to this position. Aim for the top. There are no merits for second place.


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