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September 26, 2017

Ruto’s hostile crowds: He should focus on people, not numbers

Deputy president William Ruto addressing Nakuru residents on Thurday, January 26. /DPPS
Deputy president William Ruto addressing Nakuru residents on Thurday, January 26. /DPPS

Over the last few days, the Deputy President William Ruto has encountered hostile crowds in his quest to get people registering as voters.

Hostile crowds is democracy by voice and it is probably the politician’s worst nightmare. It is embarrassing and quite demeaning particularly for holders of high office.

It sends the message that you are not quite as popular as you may have thought or rather not powerful enough to command the respect of those gathered.

In a highly charged political environment like ours, incidences of heckling are only bound to increase as politicians try to mark their own territories and spheres of influence.

This behaviour of course is not unique to humans. Animals mark their territories to protect their breeding ‘rights’ and will fight the death any (male) who tries to enter their territories.

The paradox of heckling

A disrupter could just be trying to speak to the Government he perceives as being unresponsive to a particular situation he is facing.

However crude or embarrassing it may be, such disruptive voices can only be heard within a democratic environment – where people have freedom of speech and freedom ‘after’ speech. They can say whatever they like without fear of reprisals.

Heckling is a form of direct democracy by a people voicing their anger or frustrations. The Constitution of Kenya 2010 gives wide freedoms to individuals one of which is the right to demonstrate (peacefully) and so indeed, we are likely to see the heckling continue for a while longer.

But while it is a form of expression, it is a tool of marking political territories which is against democratic principles and can easily precipitate chaos. It is bound to zone the country along political lines which threatens our democracy and nationhood.

In totalitarian regimes, heckling crowds would be greeted with severe reprisals and many have been killed for so much as trying to whisper a dissenting voice.

While it is the mark of disrespect and insensitivity, heckling serves as an important barometer of how a politician or political party is likely to perform in a particular area. In our politics, there is no leader who can claim to be totally acceptable across the entire country and therefore immune to such disruptive voices.

Once at a rally in Ukambani at the height of his totalitarian power, President Moi came face to face with an uncharacteristically hostile crowd.

It was during a particularly hard drought and the Government had glossed over the dire hunger situation facing the people. Shouts of ‘Harambee!’ which would normally be greeted with ‘Nyayo!’, were instead greeted with ‘Njaa!’ The food arrived shortly afterwards.

Two types of hecklers

The heckling crowd is often composed of two individuals – one who is genuinely feeling the pinch in the shoe and the one who stopped feeling the pinch and simply hates the shoe.

The latter has nothing to lose in his life, he lost it a long time ago. He is the dangerous kind who will say anything or even engage in acts of violence and feel nothing about it.

He will turn his anger at those who represent the system and the senior you are the better for him. He is a product of years of deprivation and neglect.

Another important though minor kind of heckler is the hired goon who has been given money to disrupt a meeting either by heckling or shouting down a leader.

This is done by politicians keen on limiting the influence of persons they have identified as rivals or who have influence they need to reduce.

This last kind has in its ranks outright criminals and substance abusers who, for a few shillings, will agree to shout down a leader and disrupt meetings.

This kind will most assuredly change tune if someone else pays them to do so. In all, hecklers are children of political intolerance and sycophancy.

Today we live with the ‘Xaxa’ Generation which is largely devoid of any conceptions of decorum and the respect accorded to leaders and elders. They live in a world that has removed itself from the traditional African values of honour and the dignity bestowed upon leaders

Left behind

There is something similar in all the categories of hecklers and crowd disrupters. They are mostly the children of deprivation. Inevitably, as society moves forward, pockets of it will be left behind economically and this happens everywhere.

The ‘left behind’ individuals turn their bitterness to their leaders or the system that has left them behind and vent their frustrations to their face.

They will heckle any leader and as you all know, even world leaders have come under hostile crowds and hecklers at one point in their career.

What is happening to Ruto is therefore not unique to him and if it is any consolation, even Jesus Christ had to face hostile crowds on various occasions including during his trial before Pilate.

Shoe democracy

President Uhuru encountered his own set of hostile crowds when he toured his rival Raila Odinga’s backyard not so long ago. He had to endure ‘shoe democracy’ in September 2014 while at a rally in Migori when a group of rowdy youth threw shoes at the presidential dais.

The incident received wide condemnation and Migori governor Okoth Obado who was hosting the event, organised a delegation to State House Nairobi to apologise to the president.

The youth were following an incident made famous by Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi who threw his shoes at US President George Bush at a Baghdad Press conference in December 2008.

Perhaps the worst reaction to a hostile crowd in Kenya was in October 1969 when Jomo Kenyatta was heckled while opening the Russian-funded New Nyanza General Hospital.

A hostile crowd shouting ‘Dume, dume’ the political symbol of the Kenya People’s Union headed by friend-turned-foe Oginga Odinga, pelted stones at the departing presidential limo causing presidential guards to open fire killing dozens.

It is said that many shoes were left behind by the crowds scampering for safety.

Ruto and hostile crowds

Ruto probably holds the record for the largest number of disrupted meetings in a politician’s career. He has encountered boos and catcalls in many of the meetings he has attended outside his domain of influence.

In some situations, he has employed diplomacy and political tact while in others he has used outright arrogance and supercilious indifference.

Everywhere he goes however, there seems to be someone out to spoil the party for him. This is true for even his own political backyard where he should ordinarily enjoy unqualified popularity.

Perhaps in the light of this, Mama Ngina visited retired President Moi to work out a deal which could see Gideon Moi play a more active role in Jubilee politics. It appears she doesn’t trust that Ruto alone could deliver the vast Rift Valley singlehandedly.

What is clear to her (and probably troubling) is that Ruto has this uncanny ability to court controversy wherever he goes.

Once while trying to land in Kisii, a belligerent crowd threw objects at his helicopter greatly endangering his life. The chopper was forced to return to the air and landed elsewhere but they were not out of danger anyway.

Again he found himself running for dear life after a marauding crowd attacked his entourage and his partner Omingo Magara was physically injured in the incident.

In January last year, a scheduled fundraiser at Gusii stadium in which he was to preside over, was cancelled at the last minute for fears of violence.

The situations are indeed nearly uncountable leaving one to wonder why he attracts so many such incidents. In fact his security detail seems to be working at great lengths to keep him safe seeing he keeps running into so many confrontational situations.

This week alone he was forced to turn his helicopter to Kitale Club because a hostile crowd was waiting at the scheduled landing at Kiminini.

He arrived by road at Kiminini and decided to face the unfriendly youth head-on during the rally. At one point he shouted back at a youth saying he should have remained at home instead of coming to jeer at leaders. Shouts of ‘Ford Kenya’ drowned the DPs voice, but he kept on narrating what the Government had done and urged the youth to register in large numbers as voters.

It is not clear if the youth had been paid by the DP’s bitter rival Moses Wetangula who is the dominant political figure in that area.

Wetangula’s silence over the incident however, is quite worrying because inevitably, William Ruto also has his own areas of dominance which any other leader including Wetangula should be welcome to peacefully explore.

Why Ruto was heckled at Narok

It was only last week Thursday that Ruto ran into another antagonistic crowd in Narok County and was (yet again) shouted down in the presence of local leaders.

Unlike Western Kenya, Narok is quite another story altogether. Vocal MP for Emurua Dikirr Johana Ng’eno is an avowed enemy of Ruto and has powerfully worked against Jubilee’s interests in the South Rift.

The genesis of their bad blood, which appears to be personal, is rather unclear. Johana Ng’eno represents a large Kalenjin constituency in Narok and has even allied himself with the DPs arch-rival Isaac Rutto in attacking him.

Ng’eno is a great grandson of the famous Kipsigis leader Menya araap Kisiara who signed a treaty with the British in October 1889. He first came into political limelight in 2007 when he vied for the Trans-Mara Constituency on a Kaddu ticket.

He had hoped to get the ODM ticket but that was denied him by Ruto who was then a senior ODM luminary. Ruto was keen not to destabilize the delicate Maa politics by supporting a leader from a migrant community to clinch the seat even though it was a fellow Kalenjin like him. He tried to prevail on Ng’eno not to vie but he seemed determined to do so, going for the seat through another party.

For denying him the ODM ticket, he seemed to have turned his bitterness at Ruto and have not been friends since. Confident of winning, he joined Cyrus Jirongo’s Kaddu party but as the vote tallying seemed to go his way at Kilgoris town, rowdy youth angry that a non-Maasai would be leading them, turned off the lights and destroyed the ballot boxes rendering the voting exercise null and void.

In the by-election, Ng’eno who goes by the nickname ‘Ngong’, fared badly against a combined Maasai vote which saw Gideon Konchellah clinch the seat.

The Trans-Mara constituency was later split to create Kilgoris and Emurua Dikirr constituencies and in 2013, Ng’eno emerged the winner in the latter on a KNC ticket which is not an affiliate party of Jubilee. Aged 44, he remains unmarried and doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get hitched.

In his younger days he attended a Ukrainian university before joining Mount Kenya University where he recently graduated with a Law degree.

The Narok gubernatorial race

In the current scheme of things, he has closed ranks with his erstwhile Maasai rivals and has created a close working relationship with Patrick ole Ntutu who is considering vying for the Narok gubernatorial seat against Samuel ole Tunai.

Sources have it that Ntutu is considering taking Ng’eno as his running mate so as to oust the incumbent Tunai who had clinched the seat by appointing a Kalenjin running mate.

Tunai easily commanded the considerable Kalenjin vote said to be approaching and is very likely to surpass the crucial 50% mark of the total Narok vote tally.

Things for Patrick Ntutu may however be complicated by the fact that Ng’eno is engaged to marry his niece Nayia, daughter of his brother Livingstone.

It could just be a family affair after all making the ticket less attractive. If however the issues of clannism and the vast influence of the Ntutu name come into play, the seat may just go their way.

On the other hand, even though Ng’eno is at odds with Jubilee, he may remain popular as an individual but the presidential vote in his Kalenjin backyard may very well be Jubilee.

This fact has made him refrain from joining Isaac Rutto’s CCM and is what keeps Tunai’s hope of retaining his seat high particularly if Ntutu opts to run in Cord. Whatever the math, nothing will move well in Narok without the Kalenjin vote playing a crucial role.

In being at odds with William Ruto, Ng’eno is clearly playing to the gallery in Maa politics where the DP has often found himself receiving mixed support.

It is said that the DP has forged a close working relation with Tunai which has complicated certain local arrangements particularly in the control of the resources from the vast Mara ecosystem.

The age of voter fatigue

While the overarching mission of Ruto is to drum up support for the IEBC voter registration exercise, the big question is why in the first place should anyone need such heavy prompting to register as a voter.

People should know that it is their duty to vote but why then is there so much inertia this time round. We have ushered in the era of voter fatigue.

Worldwide, voter numbers are dropping and voter turnouts are even lower. This is not attributed to voter apathy, it is nothing but voter fatigue. People are not fully convinced that their individual vote really counts in shaping things for them.

They don’t feel that their elected leaders are speaking for them hence the need to speak for themselves. Ruto is searching for numbers when instead he should be searching for people. Numbers are silent but people have a voice.

Numbers are mere figures while people have a say.

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