Will in a Rut

In the scheme of politics, the economy and dynasties, things can only get progressively tough for the Deputy President

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By Barrack Muluka

It is common knowledge that the Deputy President, Dr William Ruto, is walking a tight rope. Make no mistake; the Deputy President is a man under siege. The rain began beating him shortly after the fabled March 9, 2018 handshake, which sent him and his sidekicks into the panic of protecting their space from perceived interlopers from the Orange Democratic Movement.

In the weeks following the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his nemesis Raila Odinga, a panicky ex-URP (United Republican Party) brigade began gallivanting across the country, taking the ODM leader to task. They cautioned him against imagining that the handshake was about creating space for him in the government. When the idea of a constitutional review and possible referendum to vary the architecture of the Executive was first floated, their panic transformed into a frenzy. Odinga however ignored them, chuckling rather cheekily like someone who knew something that some people should know but won’t know. Did he agree with the head of state that they would trim the DP to what they consider to be his rightful political size?

Ten months later, Ruto has clearly been sidelined by his political partner in the UhuRuto alliance of yesteryear. Media images of their convivial joint appearances at public gatherings are things of the past. If the President will be seen with anybody, it is likely to be the ODM Party Leader. The DP has been left hanging precariously on the coattails of a few trusting lieutenants from his North Rift and South Rift Valley backyards, as well as a remnant few from Central Kenya, led by Kikuyu Member of Parliament, Kimani Ichung’wa.  Add to these a handful of rent calculating seekers from Luhyaland and the Coast and the picture of his support base is complete.

The world will want to ask, what went wrong? Times were when the DP would join his boss, the newly elected President Uhuru Kenyatta, clad in schoolboy kind of common attire, holding hands, announcing their cabinet. They addressed the country antiphonally, almost as if they were Siamese twins, joint at the heart. Today all that is history. It reminds you of the English poet Lord Byron who wrote once long ago:

“So, we’ll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.
For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.”

What started as tragic mischief by the then Governor of Kiambu County, William Kabogo, increasingly takes on a nightmarish outlook. A few months into the 2017 elections, Governor Kabogo made a public outburst to the effect that the Deputy President should not take it as a matter of course that the Mt Kenya region would automatically support his presidential bid in 2022. He would have to convince the region that he was good for it and to show the residents what was in it for them. Angry mouths came out with flaming tongues. They threatened to consume the governor who, initially, stood his ground, affirming that his remarks had been made in good faith. He was only cautioning the Deputy President about what lay ahead. Someday, he said, the DP would want to remember his words. Kabogo was, however, forced to eat humble pie and apologise to the DP and his staunch supporters.

Today the sword of history is outwearing its sheath. Though the DP’s heart is still as loving of political competitions and his moon still looks bright, yet he goes no more a roving with the President. 

“For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.”

The wheel of history itself continues to turn. And the groundswell against the DP turns with it. For his part, he is shaken where he thought he was strongest. Nyeri Town MP, Ngunjiri Wambugu was the first off the blocks after the inauguration of President Uhuru for his second and last term. He repeated Kabogo’s ominous words, only with more pomp and purpose. He spoke with the belching mien of the satisfied. Others took the cue from him. Musical artists composed songs. They cautioned the DP against believing that Central Kenya was his for the taking. The region owed him nothing, they said. They will go no more a roving with him:

“Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet they’ll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon.”

In most recent times, former Gatanga MP David Murathe gave fresh and bold significance to the nightmare that 2022 would seem to promise to be for the Deputy President. “If he has a pact with Uhuru about 2022, that is a private treaty between the two of them. It has nothing to do with us,” Murathe told celebrants at the Vihiga Cultural Festival in Western Kenya on December 26.

A few days later, in Siaya, Murathe vowed to go to court to stop the DP even from as much as running for President. He was serving in a conjoined presidency with Uhuru and he should prepare to retire with him, the then Jubilee National Deputy Chairman said.

Murathe’s caustic remarks have seen him go into what looks like forced resignation from his position in JP. Yet some see this as a part of a carefully planned choreography against the DP. The plot would seem to be to completely paralyse his politics to the extent that, ultimately, he indeed does not even contemplate running. Murathe has promised to give the DP the fireworks now that he is no longer a party official. Could this be only a plank in a grand scheme with other lethal and vicious actors?

Did Ruto call this to himself?

The Deputy President easily qualifies for the proverbial mouth that eats up the owner. It engages its gears way ahead of the mind and common sense. He began an acerbic 2022 presidential election campaign even before the 2013 season was out. He would ask the country to “unite” behind him and the President so that after the President has enjoyed his second term, he would become the helmsman for the next ten years. And President Uhuru helped to cement this dream. “Give me another five years,” he would say, “Then Ruto can have his ten years.”

Yet, was there always a huge cultural chasm between the two political giants in the Presidency? Was the chasm always unbridgeable? Has the chasm tended to generate awkwardness and even irreconcilable focus between the two gentlemen at the pinnacle of power in the country?

President Uhuru is the scion of Kenya’s foremost urbane family. His upbringing was polished, tutored and mannered. Even when he tries to sound rude and bad on the political podium, he is not convincing. When he throws murk at his adversaries, he seems “to aim to miss.” For, that is not who he is. He is Kenya’s foremost Eton collar, Ivy League boy who has been schooled in manners. He belongs to the class that owns Kenya and understands such notions as the economy and sustainable and abstemious taping into the country’s natural resource. He knows the meaning of nurture and understands the need to cultivate and grow a political economy that can be passed on to the next generation, with the deep future of the country in mind.

Conversely, the Deputy President is in his element in aboriginal idiom, accosting and lampooning people he derisively considers to be members of “dynasties.” The flipside of this is that he calls himself “a hustler,” by which he seems to mean a slogger. He sees himself as someone who has worked extremely hard to defy poverty and its trappings. He is happy that he has defied destiny. He sits and eats with the Eton collared boys of yesteryear. He can, therefore, tell them off between rich mouthfuls. Tied up in the self-same knot, however, is content that is likely to make his boss unhappy. Who are the “dynasties” in Kenya?

This far, the Kenyatta family is easily the only family that qualifies for this appellation. Jaramogi Oginga Odinga family stands in a distant second position, striving for catch up. For, when Jomo was in charge, his family was virtually everywhere in government. You looked at City Hall in Nairobi and you found his daughter Margaret Wambui there as the Mayor. You turned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and you found his nephew Dr Njoroge Mungai calling the shots.

Elsewhere in Mzee’s office and around the big man, you saw his powerful brother in law, Mbiyu Koinange. His family dominated business and politics. Names like Jemimah Gecaga, Mareka Gecaga, Udi Gecaga, Peter Muigai Kenyatta, Ngengi Muigai, Beth Mugo, Ambassador Mugo – and many others – became household names. The First Lady, Mama Ngina Kenyatta, was the queen of business. They have lost none of this. Here is a true dynasty if ever there was a dynasty on the African Equator.

When you attack pioneer families and dynasties, you strike a treacherous straight blow at the Kenyattas. You especially box the ears of the reigning supremo, Uhuru Kenyatta. The Deputy President has been sufficiently jaundice-eyed as not to see this. There is always a price to pay. He has perhaps begun paying this price. You don’t attack wealth and the pioneers of wealth and go on to look for political power in the same space, unless you are some latter day revolutionary Che Guevara or Emeliano Zapata. There is an African saying that if the child says in the hearing of a snake that the family will have a snake’s head for dinner, the snake will not allow the child to see dinner.

Is Deputy President Ruto the proverbial child who has been gloating about the snake’s head for dinner? John Michuki, once a minister of Interior in the Kibaki government, once cautioned Kenyans that if they rattled snakes they should expect to be bitten. Has Ruto rattled the snake that is the Deep State? In his own naïve way, he may have imagined that he was now a member of this powerful fraternity. He is likely to have another think about this. There is more in common between President Uhuru and ODM leader Raila Odinga, for example, than the casual political observer gleans. They are joined at the hip by the strong chords of capital. When they quarrel, theirs is an internal family tiff. Supporting casts must know their limits, regardless that Odinga and Kenyatta only engage in passing political infatuation, or that they get into a healthy lasting relationship.

Their concern of the class the DP calls “dynasties” takes on fresh and lethal significance when the conversation begins shifting towards the possibility that the Deputy President’s cronies in government could be plundering public resources. The talk of corruption over the past ten years has never left the space around Ruto, to the apprehension of this class. When you talk about corruption and running down the economy, you must ask the question, “whose economy?” The economy has its owners. It does not belong to the ordinary cogs in the wheel of the economy. When you plunder the economy, you hit at the soft centre of the heart of those who own the country. The Deputy President is by all probability innocent of things that some people have accused him of. He possibly has no hand in the grand corruption in the maize and petroleum sectors, for example. He has, indeed, perhaps done nothing in the land scandals in the country and in various plunders in the Ministry of Education and in that of agriculture. Yet pointers have a stubborn way of facing him.

The spin-off is that the owners of capital must get very worried about him. They must wonder that if the man could be said to have done the kind of things some people believe he has done, what will he be said to have done if he were to become the President? The barons of the economy begin seeing a very gloomy picture of a fallen economy and a collapsed state. They must see a future in which virtually everything has been looted by a government that is unashamedly about stealing. They see a dying country under a future “President William Ruto.” Accordingly, they begin doing everything possible to derail his dreams. Expect, therefore, that things will get progressively tough for the Deputy President with each passing day. What you have seen this far is only the tip of a massive iceberg. The best part is still coming.

The Deputy President does not make things any easier for himself. When he should be making friends and building alliances, he has taken on a hostile approach. He has opened up many warfronts, virtually against leading political figures across the country. Nowhere in the country can you talk of a political giant in the same docket with the Deputy President. This is except for President Kenyatta. Yet, increasingly, the President is increasingly seen as only nominally with him.

The latest administrative changes that President Uhuru has made in Cabinet speak volumes. Is the President cutting down his deputy to size? Dr Fred Matiang’i of the Ministry of Interior is now a veritable Chief Minister, supervising cabinet colleagues and reporting directly to the Head of State. This comes in the wake of the Deputy President’s recurrent refrain at public gatherings that he is the President’s principal assistant. Accordingly, he says, it is his role to supervise government projects and give reports to the President.

It is not clear where the elevation of Superman Matiang’i leaves the DP. The President did not seem to define any role for his principal assistant. Politically, these developments have the character of clipping someone’s wings. Lessons from previous principal deputies to Kenya’s Presidents would suggest that the DP may need to hold a quiet conversation with himself about his comportment. He is a rather loud and caustic politician, who does not hesitate to rubbish just about anybody anywhere. He is happy to be edged on by political rent seekers whose flattery is music to his ears. Such dissembling minions are especially numerous in Western Kenya and at the Coast. If he could look into the seeds of time with a measure of accuracy, the DP would see that there are serious road works ahead. And they don’t look particularly good for him.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest. (

— The writer is a strategic public communications adviser; www.barrackmuluka.co.ke

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