People don’t follow titles: They follow courage. That quote, attributed to American political activist William Brown, is true for all of us.
There is an innate desire in all humans to find a leader — a man of courage to take the lead in our otherwise uncourageous lives. A good leader must of necessity be a man of great courage and not necessarily a man of title. In a democratic society, it follows that one does not need a big name to have a good chance at being a leader. All you need is courage, and lots of it at that. But a good last name also has its place, not just in Kenyan politics but around the world.
If your last name happens to be that of a former national leader, then society psychologically believes the blood coursing through your veins has the leadership qualities as that of your father. And this is exactly what Deputy President William Ruto does not have. His father is not known to anyone save for very few.
THE BLOOD OF A COMMONER
But from what is seemingly his biggest disadvantage, he has crafted an advantage. He has created a ‘commoner’ narrative around his candidature to attract other ‘commoners’ and is marching to 2022 on the back of this. But herein also lies another problem.
He is up against people who have big names. If children live through their parents, then between Raila Odinga, Gideon Moi and Uhuru Kenyatta, there is well over 200 years of national leadership coursing through their veins. Each of them chose their father’s last names in order to make them instantly recognisable in the Kenyan mind. In so doing, their fathers’ struggles and legacies live through them.
So going to 2022, Ruto will be having just two decades of national leadership under his hand and the blood of a commoner in his veins. But this may be the least of his concerns. There are many issues that will powerfully work against his candidacy in the coming days and months.
TEARS ON THE PILLOW
After suddenly discovering his dispensability after the handshake, the Deputy President is not sitting pretty. Some have asked him to institute a messy divorce in Jubilee and wreck the party from within. He is, however, a good student of history and is the wiser for that. All the past Vice Presidents who tried to shake off their former bosses soon realised it was a bad move. When Jaramogi Oginga Odinga instituted a messy divorce with Jomo Kenyatta in 1966 he was left with the short end of the stick.
President Kenyatta took off with the spoils and found two other lovers who kept him in power for another decade. Then there was Josephat Karanja who denied President Daniel Moi the joy of firing him and quit instead. He too walked into ignominy and that is where he died in bitterness, ruing the day he joined politics.
His otherwise distinguished life had been badly disrupted by his brief stint in politics. Ruto cannot, therefore, dare to institute a messy divorce with Uhuru. It will break him instead, and Uhuru will still complete his term without him. And so he has chosen, instead, to cry at the back of the Mercedes than to smile on the back of a boda boda, at least for now.
The disruptive nature of the UhuRaila handshake became apparent last week when the Jubilee fabric threatened to unravel in front of our eyes. Members of the party allied to the Deputy President demanded the President defines his newfound friendship with Raila Odinga and equated the sudden purge against corruption as targeting their man.
The MPs have castigated the President for being vague about the exact nature of the handshake deal. They do not understand what exactly the Building Bridges Initiative is meant to achieve and what will be the outcome of the negotiations, insofar as their man is concerned.
The handshake has turned out to be a quake that has shaken the conventional thinking around Uhuru succession, and has pretty much thrown the contest open. Until the handshake, the winds on the Deputy President’s sails had been steady.
He is now looking at the vane and cannot tell the direction the wind is blowing. He is desperately turning the wheel left and right against every direction the wind is blowing. And this has taken him all over the country, in what has now been termed as ‘kutangatanga’. This is essentially moving in every direction the wind is blowing. The much-hyped Jubilee Parliamentary Group meeting was not to be and was called off as it would have been a showdown between legislators aligned to the President and those allied to his deputy and would have irreversibly damaged the party.
HOSTILE GOVERNMENT FUNCTIONARIES
Focus is now shifting to what the 14-man Building Bridges Initiative is likely to achieve. On the cards for them, at least in the hope of Raila, is a change of the Constitution to fundamentally alter the nature of the Executive. But perhaps that is not really the worry of the Deputy President at present. There are individuals who were named by the legislators allied to him who are working to frustrate his bid. Interestingly, the named individuals have not come out to defend themselves, despite being adversely mentioned by individuals and their names published in sections of the press.
Their silence has been interpreted as guilt. But now, how would the DP work his way around them? It appears there is nothing he can do about them since he has no powers to hire or fire, and his anger now cannot so much as cause the President to lift a finger against them. He has to sit back and watch as they get over themselves fighting his candidature. In fact, despite being publicly named and shamed, they are likely to step up their efforts to fix the DP. He will not have it easy going forward.
WHEREWITHAL TO FUND 2022
Another factor that would potentially weaken the Deputy President is the combined financial muscle of his greatest antagonists Gideon, Uhuru, Raila and Musalia Mudavadi. Between them, they have the potential of making Ruto look like a college boy competing for the attention of a glamorous college girl against moneyed sponsors.
This is by no means saying the DP is not a man of means. Yes, he is, but he could easily be outspent. Money will make or break the Deputy President and which is why he cannot institute divorce proceedings right now. He has to endure what is turning out to be a bad marriage with Uhuru because of the financial implications of being outside government. But money is not everything. There are instances where even the most moneyed sponsor has been rejected by the beautiful girl.
A case in point was Gideon’s recent tour of the South Rift, where unruly MCAs told him to his face that they would support Ruto, despite his overtures in their region. It became an embarrassing outing when the rather small crowd turned into an unruly shouting match between members of the public and MCAs aligned to the Deputy President. Besides, despite being well announced in the local media, only a handful of individuals were present to welcome the Baringo senator. No significant local leaders were present, let alone his fellow senator or, at the very least, the area MP.
But that is not where Gideon’s mind is. He knows his father’s old networks remain intact across the country and that should he announce his 2022 bid, it will galvanize this group into action and if funded well, it could add crucial momentum to his presidential bid.
PROBLEM WITH RUTOPOLITIK
So far, we have tried to see what could stand in the way for DP Ruto’s candidature going to 2022. Some have intimated that the DP could be his own worst enemy after all. He sometimes lets his guard down and easily makes enemies. He also allows friends to turn into enemies and can be condescending and dismissive. He has indeed collected quite a sizeable batch of enemies in the last few years — some by himself and others on behalf of Uhuru.
There are individuals he financed to ensure his detractors were thrown off their leadership patch. He did not bother to rehabilitate his fallen detractors and this is why many of those who fell by the wayside pointed and continue to point accusing fingers at the Deputy President. Besides, he is in his element when he has a good enemy at his cross hairs. The handshake removed Raila from that list and, suddenly, he found himself with too much cannon fodder but no enemy.
ALBATROSS AROUND THE DP’S NECK
In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the sailor shot a friendly albatross and was forced to wear it around his neck to shame him for the act. The flagging economy — once brilliant and unchoked by high debt — is increasingly becoming the albatross around the DPs neck. The corruption scandals that have rocked the Uhuru Administration are drawing sharp focus on his candidacy and being co-principal in this administration, he may not shake it away so easily. Besides, the purge against graft may have both intended and unintended consequences, depending on who is carrying it out.
Intended consequences for those against the DP will include ruining his candidature and sending him packing, while unintended consequences would include rubbishing any legacy project of Jubilee and aiding the ascendancy of Raila. Moving at this rate, corruption alone has the power to deluge Ruto’s candidacy and he will have a hard time selling his agenda.
In the aforementioned poem, the First Voice asks, “But why drives on that ship so fast, without wave or wind?” The Second Voice replies, “The air is cut away before, and closes from behind.”
I am afraid the air is increasingly being cut away before the DP’s sails and is closing from behind. The 2022 election is taking a life of its own.
He must do more if he is to remain on the course.
Writer and biographer, researcher, publisher and commentator on leadership and social issues