By Abdullah Obeid-AIlah
The Kenyan President William Ruto is aggressively marketing himself as a
savior of the Sudanese people in the current crisis. Before this conflict erupted, Ruto had been desperately looking for a regional role as peacemaker and democracy crusader, apparently as a way to get more international aid to his government which is facing a severe economic crisis. His focus was on South Sudan and the difficulties the implementation of the Revitalised Peace Agreement had been going through. However, now he is more interested in Sudan’s crisis that has attracted more international attention.
Does he have what it takes to be a credible mediator?
Are his motives to intervene in Sudan purely benign?
And what is the nature of his special relationship with Hemmeti, the leader of Rapid Support Forces which the Sudanese Armed Forces are currently fighting, and how does this relate to his attempts?
Reviewing Ruto’s political career in the past decade reveals indicators that may help answer these questions.
Ruto’s alleged role in 2008 ethnic killinga:
RUTO was charged by the International Criminal (ICC) between 2011-2016 of orchestrating Crimes Against Humanity during the post-election ethnic clashes in Kenya, 2008, which resulted in the death of around 1200 people. Charges were, however, dropped, due to lack of evidence, according to the ICC judges, with the ICC Prosecutor spoke of “wide spread witness tampering”. The ICC judges promised to reopen the case should new evidence come to light. Many in Kenya and beyond know very well what happened to witnesses who were prepared to give evidence against the then Vice President of the Republic . Much more may be expected to suppress the emergence of new evidence after Ruto became President.
Most corrupt politician?
In 2018 Ruto ranked the most corrupt Kenyan politician, ahead of other political leaders since the former President Daniel Arap Moi, in a poll by the research company “Ipsos Synovate” In the survey, one third of Kenyans named Ruto as the most corrupt political leader. Ruto dismissed the poll as doctored. A commentary in ” The Independent”, a UK leading newspaper, following his election victory in 2022 notes that: ” The issue with Ruto was not that he was corrupt. Rather it was said he indulged in it on an unmatched scale and scope.”
When the chairperson of Kenya Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) declared him winner of the 2022 election, with just little more than 50%, four out of the seven members of the Commission disowned the declared outcome. The Supermen Court confirmed his win, however.
Political violence under Ruto:
Under Ruto’s presidency political violence remains commonplace in Kenya ,especially in the light of the dismal performance of the Kenyan economy since the election. Armed Conflicts Location’s and and Events Data Project (ACLED) documented over 80 incidents of political violence that resulted in more than 50 deaths between the period 25 March-21 April 2023.
In addition, it is confirmed this week that the death toll linked to a doomsday cult in Kenya that ordered its followers to starve to death, hit 201 while 600 more people are still missing.
With several question marks on his alleged role in the 2008 ethnic killings still hanging and the continuous politically or religiously motivated killings in his own country, Ruto was expected to focus more on Kenya’s internal affairs. Why does he seem worried more about violence in Sudan than in his own country whose toll is comparable to that of fighting in Sudan within almost the same period? After all, he was elected to safeguard the well-being of his Kenyan fellow citizens first and foremost. As the saying goes “charity begins at home”.
Reinventing Ruto’s image
Nevertheless, Ruto’s quest for a role in the Sudan crisis may be viewed in the light of Kenya’s traditional peacemaking role in the region. It may also be seen as an attempt to rehabilitate his own image given the baggage of the 2008 post-election ethnic violence and the ICC case against him, which theoretically can be reopened.
Business partnership with Hemmeti:
However, there is a more selfish motive behind the Kenyan President’s feverish attempts to intervene in the Sudan conflict.
It is his business relation with Hemmeti.
This relationship came to light in January 2020 when Ruto, the Vice President of Kenya then, paid a bizarre and secret visit to Sudan. Unlike political leaders and state men who usually visit Capital Cities and have meetings with their counterparts of the host countries, Ruto only visited a gold miningز site, in the River Nile State, around 300 Km north of Khartoum, belonging to Al-Junaid Company, which is owned by Hemmeti. He did not see any of the senior officials of Sudan, nor was there any official comment from either capitals on the visit. Media outlets which disclosed news of the visit spoke of shipping a sizable amount of gold on board the private jet that ferried the Vice President. It is largely believed that Ruto has since become business partner to Hemmeti in a form of multi million US Dollar joint venture in the gold industry.
Member of the Sovereignty Council, General Yasir Al-Atta told Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper that Hemmeti has around 72 ton gold kept in Russia and a “sisterly country” . Hemmeti is widely accused of engaging in smuggling and illegally trading in the gold extracted in Sudan. It is reported that Nairobi is an important transit point of the smuggled gold destined to Dubai. Such an illegal activity needs a high ranking protection in Nairobi.
Informed resources claim that Hemmeti has contributed around US Dollar 50 million to Ruto’s election campaign last year. If true, this must have cemented the relationship between the two.
In the light of the above, Ruto’s real motive seems to be to save his business partner, and of course his own share in the joint investment they have, rather than saving Sudanese people .
If that is the case, it will mean that Ruto is giving priority to his narrow personal interest over Kenya ‘s national interest. Sudan is one of the biggest importers of Kenyan tea. Ruto’s diplomacy or rather lack of diplomacy on Sudan, as expressed by the latest insane and irresponsible statements by his Trade Minister and the earlier undiplomatic statements by the Foreign Minister, may push Sudan to seek an alternative to the Kenyan tea. Uganda or Rwanda will be more than happy to provide that alternative.