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February 18, 2019

Interesting days ahead: Ruto vs dynasts


Anyone who follows global news keenly will know that the South Korean Parliament is famous for the regularity with which fistfights break out during debate on contentious issues.

In recent years, Ukraine has emerged as a rival in this kind of drama: You can watch very many YouTube videos of Ukrainian MPs engaged in fistfights if you care for that kind of entertainment.

The odd thing is that these wild scenes, which our own MPs are yet to even approximate, are not considered to be particularly disturbing by the citizens of those nations.

There are those who feel embarrassed of course. But many others seem to regard these fights as just an eccentricity of their local politicians.

It’s not easy to understand the political traditions of foreign nations.

And speaking of local political eccentricities, our own Deputy President William Ruto has been on the campaign trail for the 2020 election in a manner which would no doubt greatly puzzle foreign observers.

Here is a Deputy President, barely one year into the new election cycle, already going all over the country recruiting allies; offering “goodies”, which in many cases consist of pre-selected government projects; and otherwise seeking to make himself popular with the electorate as though there is a presidential election just around the corner.

Well, there is a logical explanation for this: And indeed, Ruto is following a script that has worked very well for him before.

Back when Ruto was a Cabinet minister in the “grand coalition government”, which was formed following the tragic post-election violence of 2008, he was the most junior of the ministers from Rift Valley. His Cabinet colleagues included Henry Kosgey, who was already a Cabinet member as far back as the early 1980s, when Ruto was still a student. Also, Dr Sally Kosgei, a former head of the civil service.  And Franklin Bett, who was a former Comptroller of State House.

But while these more senior figures diligently attended to their ministerial portfolios, Ruto got an early start touring the country in much the same way as he is doing now, invariably accompanied by MPs from other regions.

There is a deep strategic and psychological significance to this: Whereas this kind of touring may not get him any lasting support in the regions he visits, it has a huge impact on “the folks back home” in his Rift Valley political backyard.

For many Kenyans, seeing a political leader who is “one of their own” travelling around the country, and being received by rapturous crowds literally every weekend, has a very powerful effect.

Their thinking is likely to be, “If our son has such immense popularity all over the country, how can we not support him?”

Thus, the race for the Kenyan presidency invariably begins in the candidate’s own backyard.

This explains why former VP Kalonzo Musyoka’s presidential hopes will rise or fall with the outcome of the Machakos gubernatorial by-election – if indeed it does come to that – as it involves his rival for regional influence, Dr Alfred Mutua.

So, what would seem to be hopelessly premature electioneering by the DP, is actually a very effective process of outmanoeuvring his key rival for political “ownership” of the Rift Valley vote bloc: Baringo Senator Gideon Moi.

And such an anti-Gideon manoeuvre is not only an essential preliminary to Ruto’s presidential ambitions. It is indispensable to such ambitions, given what observers have termed as “the coming together of the great Kenyan political dynasties”: The Kenyattas, the Odingas and the Mois.

This is a group that conspicuously leaves out the DP, while at the same time apparently bringing in a former President who has no known dynastic inclinations: Mwai Kibaki. It is a very formidable group indeed.

On the face of it, Ruto has no chance against the combined power of these dynasts. But that applies only if they stick together. Let there be any political cleavages among them, and the whole game changes.

And even as he hopes and prays for just such a splintering, Ruto has to secure his backyard against a resurgent Gideon.

All in all, we have interesting days ahead.

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