By George Omuholo
Will Kenya’s self-styled hustler, William Ruto, survive the shark-infested waters that are Kenya’s political landscape, to become the county’s fifth President in 2022?
That the race to the Big House on the Hill has begun is not in doubt. This is despite political top cats every often petitioning everybody else “to stop doing politics and focus, instead, on development.” The plea is itself at once a contradiction and a misnomer. It is political abracadabra that only brings out the leaven of hypocrisy, for there can be no separating politics from development.
By its very nature, social and economic development will fall within one or another prism of political orientation – usually referred to in social science as political economy. Even at the most basic level, it should be possible to identify a trend that can take a political name.
Consciously thought-through paradigms may assume such tags as free market political economies. Others may want to be deliberately closed political economies, such as were many thrusts in socialist and communist countries in Eastern Europe and in such other places as Cuba, North Korea and North Vietnam.
In Africa, many states have claimed to embrace mixed political economies – where it is understood that they practise elements of both capitalism and socialism. The notion of bandit robber baron and buccaneer economies would seem to be more astute, however, for most African political economies.
Whatever the case and the definition, however, politics is the most common coin in government. Those who govern will pursue agenda that seeks to keep them in power, while those outside will attempt to get in. A sitting government will try to embrace a political, social and economic agenda that could keep it in power, even when there is change over from the current head of government due to term limitations.
The Opposition, on the other hand, will seek to replace the government. If the opportunity to replace them comes sooner than at the appointed official election date, so much the better for them. It is, therefore, meaningless to tell politicians to drop politics and focus on development. They will politic all the same.
And none politics like The Hustler. His capacity for realpolitik has seen him literally rise from rags to riches – from a street peddler of chicken to the Deputy President of East Africa’s foremost economy.
Accordingly, he is quietly whispered to be among the wealthiest new multiple billionaires. This is, at once, one of his greatest strengths and weaknesses in his quest for the highest office in the land. William Ruto’s wealth places him in a very good place in a country that is obsessed with free money – and especially political free money.
While political parties are good at preparing manifestos, few voters – if any – are interested in reading these documents and informing their choice by what these promissory notes say. Voting is, instead, hugely influenced by money and ethnicity.
While he may consider a few other factors, such as the political party within which the eating is taking place, the balance will tilt towards the hand-out factor. As a self-made billionaire, Ruto is sitting pretty – regardless of how he has made himself a rich man.
The funds should also help him to put in place a formidable election campaign infrastructure. This will usually range from high-end powerful four-wheel-drive vehicles to choppers and allied automobile paraphernalia. He will also usually be able to set up a state of the art presidential campaign secretariat, populated by highly paid professional consultants and campaign strategic managers. An astute propaganda team will be in place, to do both white and dark propaganda for him. It is also possible to institute a hugely professional approach to the field, based on reliable statistical opinion polling.
Ruto’s moneybags are also already helping him to acquire support from previously unlikely quarters. Courtesy of the famous handshake between former Opposition leader Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta, some coastal Members of Parliament previously in the Opposition have openly come out to pitch support for his 2022 bid.
They argue, sometimes with tongue in cheek, that the handshake has brought rapprochement between the Orange Democratic Party (ODM) and the Jubilee Government. There is nothing wrong, accordingly, in their supporting the Deputy President. Besides, they say, the ODM Party Leader pledged, while on the campaign trail last year that he was running for President for the last time. In a word, Ruto’s new wealth is good political capital.
Yet this political capital is not without blemish. In point of fact, it could turn out to be the poisoned chalice in his political lap. From as early as 2003, when he was Minister for Agriculture in the troubled Grand Coalition Government of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Ruto was adversely linked to unproven claims of financial scandal. There were at the time allegations of involvement in a massive maize scam in his Agriculture Ministry, as well as matters pertaining to what looked like inappropriate public land acquisition, known in common parlance as land grabbing.
The pick of the basket was the allegation in 2014 that he was the infamous “private developer” who was attempting to grab land from Lang’ata Road Primary School in Nairobi, as well as more land from the adjacent Lang’ata Women’s Prison. When then Land Cabinet Secretary, Charity Ngilu, disclosed that the person behind the Lang’ata land saga was some smoky and amorphous Sikh, the makers of caricature concluded that it was William Ruto Singh. It has since been common to see cartoons of him in the Sikh turban, which has replaced the trademark campaign cap that both he and the cartoonists have abandoned.
The narratives have not dissipated at all. Each time there is footage on a new scam, Kenyans readily point fingers towards the Deputy President and his close associates. In the ongoing poisonous sugar scam, both the DP and his friends from Rift Valley and North-eastern Kenya have been mentioned in Parliament. There has also been recent news of scams in the energy sector and in the maize sector, in which his name has cropped up.
An official list of shame in the maize scam listed exclusively both well-known and strange persons from his Kalenjin tribe. The assumption was made that these were his friends, prompting some of his allies, like Marakwet Senator, Onesimas Kipchumba Murkomen, to scramble to the DP’s defence.
When the fire-eating Nandi MP, Alfred Keter, attempted to call a farmers’ meeting in Eldoret to discuss the latest maize saga, other political leaders from the area accused him of “disrespecting the DP and seeking to tarnish his reputation,” despite the fact that Keter had not uttered the words “Ruto” or “Deputy President.” Among these were the outspoken Nandi Senator, Samson Cherangei, who is one of Ruto’s foremost defenders.
The import of all this is not that it can make Kenyans refuse to vote for Ruto in 2022. Kenyans simply don’t care about such things when voting. Indeed, in 2013 Ruto, together with his boss, President Kenyatta, polled massively from their ethnic backyards at a time when they were before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes. If that did not count, nothing moralist could ever count. The import of these allegations, however, is that powerful adversarial forces and influence peddlers could use them to stop him dead in the tracks.
As things stand, President Kenyatta has publicly expressed his disquiet at his deputy’s focus on 2022. In a rather derisive manner, the President last month lamented that his principal assistant was “in love with roaming uselessly in the countryside.” A few days later, Ruto turned around the barb when he told the President at another public gathering that he was doing well on his roaming mission, having received the President’s blessings to do so.
The uproarious laughter that greets these brickbats can be misleading. For, all is not well in the House of Jubilee. From the very outset, there has been unfinished business, further to the 2007 botched Presidential Election and the subsequent post-election violence in 2008. The violence cast the President and his deputy on opposing hostile sides.
Yet, in a marriage of convenience, the two came together to save their skin before the ICC and to clinch the Presidency. This has since given them scope to sweep under the rug the burning questions of the day. It is common knowledge that the Kalenjin angst against Kikuyu migrants into Eldoret and Nandi countries had little to do with an election gone awry, per se. The basic concern gravitated around land issues.
From as early as 1964, Kikuyu migrants began settling in the Rift Valley – hitherto seen as Kalenjin and Maasai country. It has been widely claimed that the appointment of former President Daniel arap Moi to the office of Vice President in 1965 was the outcome of a pact between President Kenyatta and Moi, where it was agreed that Moi would safeguard the migrants in their new home, in exchange for the plum office.
Already, there were discordant voices from Rift Valley, led by the late fiery MP for Tinderet, Jean Marie Seroney, who was, in 1965, arraigned in court in Nakuru, to answer charges of incitement against Kikuyu migrants in Nandi and Uasin Gishu. He had sensationally advised the Kalenjin “to build a long fence around Rift Valley, to keep out marauders.” The case died midstream when hundreds of lorries arrived in Nakuru ferrying agitated Kalenjin youth who had come “to be enjoined in the case as co-accused.” The same year (1965) Kalenjin politicians, gathered in Kapsabet, sounded an ultimatum to Kikuyu squatters living in forests in the Rift Valley to vacate, or be forced out.
Land matters remain the giant elephant in the Jubilee room, as the Uhuru Presidency begins its homestretch in earnest. Will it resurface? Can the Kikuyu trust William Ruto to protect their interests? How could they, when those who were displaced from their property in 2008 have never been allowed to go back, despite the amity between the President and his deputy? These are the issues boiling in the Jubilee cooking pot. If not well managed, this pot could easily boil over into a political cauldron from hell. This is where Ruto’s new massive wealth could be a liability.
There exist perceptions that at the tail end of President Kenyatta’s onslaught against corruption is one William Samoei Ruto. Having made loud public pledges to support a Ruto candidature in 2022, President Kenyatta is hard pressed to honour his promise – and his community together with him. If they don’t support him, they will look very bad. Having been previously accused of betraying Raila Odinga after he supported Mwai Kibaki in 2002 and Kalonzo Musyoka, who rescued the Kibaki presidency by accepting to serve as his Vice President in the troubled 2008 post-election situation, the Kikuyu political elite are wary of the tag “traitors”.
There is also the issue of playing dirty political games against Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, in the infamous “Madimoni Saga” of 2012, when Uhuru dramatically disowned a political compact he had entered into with Mudavadi. The Kikuyu must, therefore, support this man who has been very faithful to them since the ICC days. Yet this man is also the epitome of some of their very worst fears as a community. Their only other option, it would seem, would be to keep him out of the race altogether.
But how do you keep Ruto out of the race?
Your best bet, it would appear, is to play the anti-corruption card. You will begin by nabbing and packing away a few fat cats from the top. If you could jail a few of these, the country might just begin adjusting to the possibility that there will be no sacred cows. Kenyans may even begin baying for his political blood. Hence, by the time you zero in on him, you will not be doing anything strange. If only one of the numerous allegations against him could stick, you could impeach him. You could then possibly – just possibly – lock him out of the race. And possibly is good enough, for now.
Can it work? Time will tell. (