Politics of kettle logic

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By Emeka-Mayaka Gekara

Deputy President William Ruto is a master of what philosopher Jacques Derrida calls kettle logic. This is a tendency to make multiple, contradicting arguments, in an attempt to prove a point.

Derrida illustrates the case used by psychologist Sigmund Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams – a man accused by his neighbour of damaging a kettle he had borrowed. The borrower defended himself with three arguments, contradicting himself at every turn: that he had returned the kettle undamaged; that it was already damaged when he borrowed it; that he had never borrowed it in the first place.

These days, it is not unusual to for the Deputy President to sound like the kettle man. The eviction of invaders from the
Mau Forest in parts of Narok County provides the perfect context.

It is noteworthy that majority of the victims are members of the Kipsigis community from the neighbouring Bomet and Kericho Counties, which form the bedrock of his Rift Valley vote bank.

The evictions, part of a presidential directive captured in the “Save the Environment Mission” entrusted to Ruto in June. Before we ask how a man of the Deputy President’s stature has been made to look and be like the kettle man, we must first ask why he was specifically given this mission in the first place. Your guess is as good as mine, but I suspect Ruto is right to apportion blame this unfortunate luck on the handshake, and to Raila Odinga in particular, for past political indiscretions; it is the perfect political waterloo for the son of a peasant.

Sitting at the top of the state bureaucracy that is spearheading the evictions – routinely described as inhumane – the DP is the target of anger by wananchi for the deprivation of land rights and livelihoods, in an exercise strongly opposed by his people but supported by
Masai leaders.

Secondly, his allies reckon that his opponents, such as Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, could exploit the situation to hurt Ruto’s 2022 presidential ambitions – the Senator toured the area last month and cautioned against attempts by some politicians to incite the evicted families against government.

Further, it has put him in the crosshairs of Masai leaders, as well as his boss. It is exhausting drama even for the most stoic of men.

The irony of Ruto’s June order is that it contradicts his position in 2009, when he waged an aggressive resistance to a similar mission then spearheaded by Raila Odinga. A report of cabinet approved the evictions to save Kenya’s most important water tower, but Ruto objected to the manner of the exercise, accusing Odinga of persecuting a community that voted for him.

He chided Raila for “criminalising the settlers” and “using an environmental issue as an excuse to inflict misery on people we have issues with.” He charged then that the forest could be conserved “without causing misery.” Well, it cannot, as he has found out.

According to Ruto then, he had his heart in the Mau and was ready to pay the price – including being sacked as minister – if the encroachers were not compensated. He went on to organise a fundraiser – attended by Uhuru Kenyatta as deputy prime minister then – to compensate the “victims” to raise funds for them. Kenyatta, too, demanded compensation for the encroachers.

The political cost for Raila Odinga was huge; he lost an important voter constituency. Now, it appears, is Ruto’s turn.

It is difficult to explain why the Deputy President’s logic in 2009 suddenly lacks merit for him in 2018. Not only did he order the evictions, but he is no longer demanding compensation for the “victims”; in fact, government has ruled it out and directed those aggrieved to seek recompense from those who sold them land.

The exact words used by Environment minister Keriako Tobiko when he appeared before Parliament were: “compensating the invaders would be tantamount to validating an illegality.”

The argument has been made that Ruto chose loyalty to his boss over his people, and that he will find a way to make it up to them when he becomes president; this is the narrative his allies, including Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, are preaching.

The other, more believable, if hurtful, alternative fact is that the 2009 narrative was intended to injure Odinga’s presidential ambition, which it did, but the circumstances have changed.

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