A very presidential brush-off

Rejection is the name of the game

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By Kevin Motaroki

Those with an interest in politics – active or passing – understand the hierarchy of interests in a system of government; nine and half times out of ten, the system wins. And they learn to live with that circumstance, gleaning the best out of that half chance while at it. If they are lucky, they earn a place and become pseudo stakeholders.

William Ruto is a master at this game – betraying and grabbing half chances. He properly thrives in it, which is how he has become the billionaire Deputy President he is today. He has lived and changed the system. But there is a shift happening, and it has been apparent to many for some time now.

Since after he was sworn in, Uhuru Kenyatta cannot bring himself to say Ruto’s name with a straight face. He refers to him in the third person with as much detached nonchalance as the President can dole out without seeming vulgar.

Nyeri town ‘loose mouth’ – a term miffed Ruto allies like to use to refer to Kikuyu they feel have sinned against them – Ngunjiri Wambugu last month posted on Facebook to explain why his tribesmen do not feel indebted to Ruto. Part of his post explained that Ruto, when Jubilee was birthed in 2012, made certain specific demands that were or have been fully met, and that a conversation on a further relationship with him should not include perceived debts owed by the Kikuyu. In more subtle conversations, it said one of those demands was a huge cash pay-out.

Support for him from Central Kenya is no longer assured. Realising his quagmire, the Deputy President has turned paranoid, which is the source of some not so smart decisions he has been making. This early in the day, he has clearly hit the campaign trail, and is desperately cobbling together new alliances – if they can be called that. His boss’s unapologetic broadsides – carefully worded as to be savage but not unpresidential – have got the DP panicking. But they cannot shoot back with as much venom because of the kind of politics Kenya plays.

Ours is structured as a liberal democracy – where the Executive enjoys much power, with a representative Parliament, and where the public exercises suffrage. This model, while it acknowledges and attempts to protect the essential role of the rule of law – where one arm watches over and checks the other – is captive to the whims of electoral majorities – highlighted in our constitution as ‘first past the post’. However much we like to romanticise it, government does not represent the wishes of the majority.

In Kenya today, because of our tribal brand of politics, the stable task is to make radical choices that can help government survive, without breaking what little social cohesion there is. Transforming the model of government has proven impossible. And, with the rallying and participatory power of social media, which is now a primary mode of citizen governance, it has become incumbent on President Kenyatta to begin cutting off the gangrene-infested limbs to his administration. The way to begin, many are convinced, is by confronting the un-citizenlike activities of his deputy.

Political observers agree that Uhuru, perhaps out of political need, tolerated grand corruption during his first term. It is not excusable, but it happened. And by every estimation, we may never recover what was lost then. In his second term, about ten major scandals have erupted in quick succession, with newsroom sources intimating the source of the revelations is State House.

Because almost all of them seem to touch on the Deputy President in some way, the quick conclusion is that the President is turning into the avenger Kenyans want him to be. The other inference is that this purge can only culminate in the indictment of Ruto for economic crimes. It is an all-out war.

Uhuru has said he will institute a lifestyle audit of all government employees, including himself. This is political statement with no real effect. But it is sending a message to the Deputy – if we want you, we will get you.

In a harsh assessment of the state of politics in the country, a vocal legislator from Nakuru County told this magazine, “Forget the political statements everyone is making, including the President himself. This is about sending a message. Some of us know the details of the 2012 deal between Kenyatta and Ruto. The DP, along the way, decided to take his boss up the very political statements he often made, about handing over to him at the end of his second term; he wanted it all. Silently, the President was not amused. He was playing politics, and he hoped his deputy understood.”

“This purge is not about cleaning up government. There is no avenger in Uhuru, you can forget about it. What he has done is choose to cut his Deputy down to size, so he has him where he wants him. If we look to history, the end-game tends to be the inauguration of a ‘chosen one’, the charming saviour the regime wants us to believe will deliver us to the next stage. I do not believe that person in not going to be Ruto.”

Does he think the DP’s endeavours are in vain then?

“He may be at a disadvantage; he is suddenly extremely wealthy, the source of which many suspect to be the proceeds of graft, and there are strings to be pulled. But, as anyone will admit, the DP is a resourceful man; he is going to give them a fight.”

If, again, history is to be any guide, it is unlikely that the system will lose. Like in gambling, the House always wins. Always. (

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