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January 19, 2019

Politics of Visibility: Why ‘kutangatanga’ is key in DP Ruto’s political strategy

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto at roadside meeting in Elburgon. Photo/file
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto at roadside meeting in Elburgon. Photo/file

President Uhuru Kenyatta puzzled Kenyans last week when he described his Deputy William Ruto’s weekend movements as ‘kutangatanga’.

The Kiswahili definition of the word is somewhat derogatory, meaning loitering and moving about aimlessly without disposition. The Deputy President’s detractors read deep into the President’s comments. Some saw it as a crack in the otherwise tight relationship the DP has had with the President. Their point was made by the fact that President Uhuru chose to start his statement by saying: “Hii kijana anaitwa Ruto…” (This young man named Ruto…”

Now, Ruto is not exactly a young man and the President’s choice of words only smacked of patronisation and condescension. And by using the objectivising Kiswahili pronoun ‘Hii…’, he was reducing his deputy to an object, even furthering the derogation.

There was another category of people who dismissed the whole episode, saying the President could not have meant to hurt his deputy. But there was a healthy discussion about the whole matter on social media and the video clip shared widely.

The Deputy President took it all in his stride. He never responded to the President in public and during the funeral of Speaker Justin Muturi’s mother, he told Uhuru that he spent his time in weekends moving here and there inspecting development projects. He added that in the process of ‘loitering’, he had been able to confirm that the upgrading of the Mathathari-Siakago-Ugweri road had been completed. There was uproarious laughter and some hailed the DP for being the ultimate comeback kid. But to the Deputy President, ‘loitering’ is at the heart of his political philosophy.



For Ruto, visibility is everything. He must be seen and must identify with the people. Thanks to his fleet of modern helicopters, he can be at one end of the country at a given time and be at the other end in no time.

Visibility for a politician is everything. It helps make his position come alive in the minds of the people who elected him. This is why looking at his itinerary in the last few months, he has spent more time in his traditional support bases and even outside.

Visibility is also important particularly in projects because contractors being who they are can take away their equipment soon after they are paid or will take their time to complete a project. Arriving unannounced often has the effect of getting things done quickly. By publicly identifying with a certain (often marginalised group) has the effect of enhancing the rights of that group. If for instance, if the President had dinner with children living with autism, it will go a long way to enhance their welfare. There will be renewed empathy for them and it would galvanise support for their course.

The same is true for certain causes such as conservation, poverty eradication, job creation and even inclusivity. The Deputy President has been moving all around the country — even more than the President. And everywhere he stops, there is new focus on whatever he was going to do there.

But to the Deputy President, visibility is vital part of his 2022 strategy. He wants a situation where come 2022, there will be virtually no part of this country he will not have been to. As a seasoned campaigner, he knows it helps to build on such visits to create political capital, particularly if development projects are at the bottom of it.

If you really see, Jubilee’s appetite for borrowing is largely on the back of financing development projects, which were largely designed to enhance the acceptability of its two leaders. In short, they used our money to help us look at them favourably. Visibility for Ruto is also about maintaining his friends and creating new relationships for that he deems needful for his 2022 bid.



There are those who have tried to contextualise the words of the President in the light of recent developments. To them, the President’s usage of the words could only have happened because of the diminishing importance of Ruto. When Ruto came into coalition with Uhuru, it was on the back of a national crisis borne out of the post-election violence that pitted the Kalenjins and the Kikuyu.

The coming together created a truce and an alliance that saw them triumph in the election of 2013 and last year. But in his legacy term, the President was increasingly becoming frustrated by his inability to get things done because of constant political bickering in Kenya.

On March 9, he closed ranks with his perennial rival Raila Odinga in a handshake that caused national tranquility. He can now focus on his Big Four agenda peacefully. In short, Raila is the man of the moment, not Ruto.



If you, like me, had a chance to see retired President Moi at the prime of his presidency, you will know he invested a lot in visibility. He was here and there and everywhere.

The 7pm news bulletin showed images of the President being practically all over and he also visited foreign nations quite often. When he came to your area, meticulous arrangement was made to host him and roads would be upgraded to motorable standards because he (unlike Ruto), preferred to travel by road.

He made unannounced stops in trading centres and other places and the people stopped their business to listen to him. His Press Service was on hand to beam him voice to the large crowds that gathered instantaneously.

His successor Mwai Kibaki however, invested very little on visibility. He hardly travelled. The Mau Summit – Kericho road greatly deteriorated in 2003 and angry residents of Kericho said it was important to elect a leader who travelled around because roads would get fixed ahead of his coming. Many of them had never seen Kibaki and they would not see him through much of his presidency. Eventually, the road was reworked but Moi’s style of going about had not left the minds of the people of Kericho.

Ruto’s choice of helicopters is also a part of the visibility strategy. Helicopters are crowd pullers and if he lands in a place, all business stops and he has a crowd he can sell his vision to. Helicopters also land in the most remote places in Kenya.

In politics, as in marketing, visibility is everything. In this day and age, you must reach out to the electorate where you connect with the needs of people and identify with their aspirations. DP Ruto knows very well Kenyans have a ‘microwave’ mentality, with the desire to have an instantaneous improvement of their lives. Being silent in the face of so many challenges faced by Kenyans is political suicide. For an MP, your opponents could capitalise on your invisibility and finish you.

You must ask questions in Parliament, participate in committees and in debates and let your voice be heard in the local media. You must also travel the length and breath of your constituency. The coming of social media has helped many politicians since they can remain visible with minimal costs. But visibility costs money and also time. One must invest quite a chunk of money outside the normal perks of office to attain visibility. For Ruto, the end.




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