If we play Ruto, then we must pay Raila

It is unwise for the Kenyan state and republic to have two sizable voting blocs nursing political wounds. The possibility of them uniting in a pity party then as a coalition of the dispossessed would plunge us into massive political violence, as it did once

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President Uhuru Kenyatta and CORD leader Raila Odinga during Labour Day celebrations
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BY Kenyatta Otieno

The Jubilee Coalition can be likened to a duck – tranquil above the water even as its webbed feet furiously row beneath the surface. Built on the premise of avoiding a repeat of the 2008 post-election clashes, it has lived up to its mandate, but only just.

UhuRuto won the 2013 elections in an aura of bromance and cordiality. Unlike the 2008 National Accord-created coalition government between Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki that was plagued by squabbles, Jubilee’s has been peaceful. Uhuru Kenyatta even handed over power temporarily to William Ruto to skirt around the legal provision of appearing in court at The Hague as a head of state.

The general understanding was that as long as the Kikuyu, whose elites are economically well-endowed, and the Kalenjin, whose warrior status is legendary, are in power, nobody else can fund or sustain a war in Kenya. The understanding was that Uhuru’s Kikuyu would support William Ruto in 2022. The deal was oft mentioned at political rallies and passed across as a gentleman’s agreement. We have a history of disowning well-drafted and signed political agreements, like the Narc memorandum of 2002, as well as that between ODM and PNU in 2008, and so the absence of a ‘legally binding agreement’ looked like a non-issue if the two camps were committed to it.

The build-up to August 2017 General Election, the nullification of presidential poll by the Supreme Court and the repeat election pushed Kenya to the edge of its collective wits. Raila’s ODM brigade began calling for secession of counties allied to NASA to form the ‘People’s Republic of Kenya’. That the Constitution spells out a bloodless path to secession meant treason charges could not be preferred even after Raila’s mock swearing-in – NASA had even began the creation of Peoples’ Assemblies as a means to secession. Something had to give, for the country was slipping into anarchy.

Even as Uhuru and Ruto insisted on the legitimacy – and only legitimacy – of their government, it was obvious that a section of the country wasn’t ‘feeling the vibe’ of their rule. Then ‘handshake’ came in March as a no-strings-attached agreement between Uhuru and Raila. The country breathed a collective sigh of relief but soon people realised that Raila had challenged Ruto to a riddle that is proving a difficult to solve.

Uhuru has not spoken out against his deputy’s ambition, but his attitude towards him has certainly changed. It is not a concealed fact that relations are tense between the two

The wind is blowing and every politician and his dog has adjusted sails towards 2022. DP Ruto is fighting his way out of a corner he is being pushed into. A Kikuyu Benga artist has produced a song, “Hatuna deni ya mtu- kitaeleweka”. The song is believed to be directed to the Ruto camp in Jubilee Party not to expect support from Central Kenya in 2022 in return for his support of the President. Some of the more bold ones have gone further to say Ruto has already been compensated through getting key posts in government. Some cheeky ones even suggest that his support in terms of numbers wasn’t enough, so that they had to rig to get into and retain power. For his part, Ruto has decided no one owes him anything.

When Raila and Uhuru announced a truce, many of us thought politics would take a back seat; we were wrong. It is now clear that Kenyans eat, sleep and drink politics. Uhuru has not spoken out against his deputy’s ambition, but his attitude towards him has certainly changed. It is not a concealed fact that relations are tense between the two. Uhuru is focused on his legacy while Ruto is scheming his way to the presidency. Jubilee Party has reached a fork on the road. Both camps are, as far as can be deduced, playing it safe not to rock the boat too much. Meanwhile, three things come to mind.

Firstly, the last several elections have proven the will of the people never prevails. It is obvious to me that election results are always premeditated and decided elsewhere; the presidential elections are just a formality. With this in mind, we can adopt a pragmatic approach to 2022. One way is to adopt a parliamentary system of government. The other is to create a Senate of eminent persons, who will be tasked with nominating/electing a president.

Secondly, playing Ruto is like swallowing a coconut whole. If we close our eyes tightly and open our moth wide enough, we can succeed in sending it down our throats. The problem will arise when we have to evacuate it. It will be painful and, in Moses Wetangula’s words, “noisy and messy”. The fear that Ruto’s Kalenjin have begun issuing threats and are likely to attack the Kikuyu in the Rift valley in frustration cannot be wished away. The only consolation is that their wound will still be fresh, and they have no history of political wounds.

Thirdly, if we have to play Ruto, then we must pay Raila, who has been a constant divisive figure in Kenyan politics. Almost everyone agrees he was rigged out in 2007. He has also insisted that he was rigged out in 2013 – which, if true, must have been one of the cleanest rigging jobs to ever happen. The nullification of the August 2017 presidential election by the Supreme Court lends some credence to Raila’s allegations. If you factor in his woes during the Narc administration and in the grand coalition government, you will agree that he has had more than his fair share of the shorter end of the political stick.

It is for this reason that Raila’s political base, which has its core in Luo-Nyanza but with a larger constituency countrywide, feels disenfranchised. The calls for secession at the end of 2017 were born out of despondency and a lack of trust in the Kenyan electoral system. This constituency got to a point where it began to treat everything about the country and government with contempt. A case in point is when it callously celebrated when Al Shabaab murdered KDF officers. Their political wound had become septic.

If we have to rob Ruto, then it is imperative to pay Raila. It is not prudent for the Kenyan state and republic to have two sizable voting blocs nursing political wounds. There is a high likelihood of them coming together first in a pity party then as a coalition of the dispossessed, which would plunge us into political violence as it did 11 years ago. If Ruto must be robbed then the proceeds must be used to pay Raila. For avoidance of doubt, Raila or a person of his choice must be president in 2022; it is the only way for the country to forge on with the least amount of collateral damage. (

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