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December 14, 2018

Did Governor Isaac Rutto take a leap into the dark? Or not?

Bomet governor Isaac Rutto
Bomet governor Isaac Rutto

There is a saying attributed to Mahatma Gandhi — 'There goes my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.’

But it has been alleged that if indeed Gandhi did say this, then he was quoting the great 19th Century French revolutionary Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin, who is also credited with saying those very words.

Be that as it may, this quote is a reminder that as often as not, the recognised “leaders” are not really charting out a new path for their followers, even when this may superficially seem to be the case. It may well be that they have just been astute enough to gauge where “their people” were already inclined to go, and positioned themselves to appear to be at the forefront of this movement.

It is from such a perspective that we must consider what was perhaps the most significant political move of the current election cycle: Bomet Governor Isaac Rutto’s decision to align his Chama Cha Mashinani to the opposition National Super Alliance.

In previous elections, the usual patterns were that either the various leaders already in the opposition worked to form an opposition coalition; or that the opposition alliance of the day broke up over the rival ambitions of key leaders – a process invariably facilitated by hirelings of the serving president.

But for an influential leader in a well-defined “government stronghold” like the Rift Valley to bolt to the opposition alliance just a few months ahead of the election is a most unusual development. And so, we must ask: Did Governor Isaac Rutto take a leap into the dark when he decided to join the opposition? Or was he simply following a direction which he knew the South Rift regional voters were already inclined to take?

The answer to this question would reveal to us the most likely winner of the upcoming presidential election. And to explain why this is so significant, we need to detour into a little Kenyan electoral history:

Traditionally, the key to reelection for a Kenyan president has been to run against a divided opposition. This is largely because our history shows clearly that no matter how hard a Kenyan president works, come election campaign season, a very large portion of the electorate will have no difficulty believing the opposition’s clams that they are worse off than before. To this, the opposition usually adds the toxic detail that if indeed there are Kenyans who are now better off, they are to be found exclusively in the president’s political backyard.

In such an environment, the best chance of success for the president (or, more precisely, 'the political establishment's favourite') is to move heaven and earth to bring about a deep cleavage in the opposition ranks. And indeed, this was successfully done both in 2007 and in 2013, where a substantial number of votes that would otherwise have gone to former PM Raila Odinga went instead to a third presidential candidate.

Somehow President Uhuru Kenyatta has not been able to pull off this elementary manoeuvre, which is usually a prerequisite to a Kenyan president’s reelection.

This leaves the President with only one strong card to play in his bid for reelection: He cannot afford to lose even a single vote from the regions that supported him back in 2013. Every living voter who woke up at 4am to go out and cast their votes for Uhuru must do so again. And every young person in those regions who has since then grown into adulthood, must do likewise.

And, above all, there must be no question of a newly evolved “regional kingpin” walking away from the President’s coalition in anger, and embracing the opposition alliance.

Yet, this is what has happened with Rutto.

And so, the question arises, “Has Isaac Rutto taken a solitary walk into the ranks of the opposition alliance? Or is he in fact able to say, “'There goes my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.”

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