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November 22, 2018

Why DP Ruto owes the Kalenjin nation a political debt

At a public lecture at the University of Dar es Salaam, Prof PLO Lumumba emphasized the need for ‘hygiene’ in African politics.

 He created the powerful need for visionary leadership as an agent political ‘hygiene’, which he is identified as the improvement of the quality of people’s lives.  In the riveting lecture, (which I highly recommend and which you can watch on YouTube), he never lost the chance to make us Kenyans look bad — to which his primarily Tanzanian audience cheered profusely. But that is besides the point.

At the end of the lecture, a certain Dr Camillus Kassala stood up to respond to Lumumba with what he called the ‘Not-always’ Vicious Circle of African Politics.’ Kassala said that in African politics, “What is logical is not always practical, what is practical is not always right, what is right is not always ethical, what is ethical is not always desired, and what’s desired is not always logical — taking us to the beginning.” That is the ‘Not-Always’ Vicious Circle of African Politics.’

 Dr Kassala pretty much summarized Kenya’s politics at present. When William Ruto convinced the Kalenjin nation to support the Kikuyu nation in 2012, it sounded quite logical. In fact, he dimmed dissenting voices about the wisdom of such a move, saying it was the sure way to take them to the ‘Promised Land.’ He had burnt bridges with Raila Odinga, and had convinced the Kalenjins not to back him.

Many questioned the wisdom in the move given Raila, who still enjoyed considerable support among the Kalenjin at that time, was still smarting from a betrayed MoU, a stolen election and a frustrated stint as Prime Minister. Kalonzo Musyoka had pretty much been thrown under the bus, even after accepting the position of Vice President and giving Mwai Kibaki’s administration the much needed legitimacy it needed after 2007 election.



When the 2007-08 post-polls violence broke out, the two communities at the epicenter of the crisis were the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin. Then the ICC indictment became the millstone around Uhuru Kenyatta and Ruto’s necks.

Uhuru’s presidential candidacy was premised on wriggling out the millstone around his neck and that of his running mate, Ruto. The logical thing was to pair up and hit the road. In fact, it sounded logical to support the candidacy of Uhuru with the promise he would be support Ruto in 2022. They convinced their respective nations they would work together serving two consecutive decades. The plan was kosher! But while it was the most logical thing to do (and to say) it was dubious in its practicality.

While the coming together of the Kikuyu and Kalenjin in 2013 and 2017 looked logical, there are those who did not see it as practical. But perhaps it was practical only that nobody could have seen the changing dynamics in Kenya’s politics as we know today, or that the historical issues that caused divisions between the two communities would emerge to cast doubt on the unity.

And even if it was it was practical, it may not have been right. Those who questioned if it was right, argued that a Kalenjin-Kikuyu political duopoly was not good for the nation. They argued that in a nation of 43 or more ethnic groups, only two communities dominating political power since Independence was not right. Practical yes, but not right — because it perpetuated feelings of marginalisation and exclusion by other communities outside this duopoly.

This argument was quickly countered by arguments of ‘numbers don’t lie’ and they even went further to assert that the duopoly was a ‘tyranny of numbers.’ They said as a democratic nation, the majority must have their way. They were right, but it was not ethical. 



While the tyranny of numbers was right and it is indeed the basic premise of democracy, there are those who felt that the whole arrangement of passing the baton to yet another Kalenjin was right not ethical. But the Kalenjins quickly argued they had a Kikuyu passing the baton to another Kikuyu was no less unethical than passing the baton to a Kalenjin. But there were those who said it would be difficult for the Kikuyu to freely give power to another community, least of them the Kalenjin. They stated that there was nothing special about the Kalenjins and even warned them to beware. In fact, they accused the Kikuyu of making promises they didn’t intend to keep. They pointed out to Jomo Kenyatta’s MoU with Oginga Odinga. There are those who saw Kibaki’s MoU with Raila and another with Kalonzo . Both were betrayed at the alter of political expediency and tribal jingoism.

And this brings us to the idea of political debts. Chinua Achebe, in his book Things Fall Apart, presents us with the character Unoka, who never paid his debts. When approached by Okoye, who needed back his money to prepare for the Idemili title, Unoka told him there were others whom he owed much more money and they had not come to ask for their debt to be paid. He wondered why Okoye wanted his debt paid first, yet it was the last one. Unoka told Okoye, “I will pay my big debts first.” If you look at the discourse, there is something disturbingly real about the situation Ruto finds himself in.



If indeed Okoye gave money to Unoka, he was probably doing so to save him from a seemingly unsurmountable crisis he had found himself in. The Kalenjin debt with the Kikuyu was to cover the ICC crisis and this seemed more urgent at that time. But now, the crisis is over and humans being who they are change priorities as they go.

It began with anti-Ruto voices in the run-up to last year’s election. They found him the undesirable leader of the nation after Uhuru. But these voices were vehemently muted by other Kikuyu leaders, with the logical argument that the Kalenjins need not be rattled at that moment when NASA was pretty much threatening Uhuru’s hold on power. The Kalenjins stood firm behind Uhuru and Ruto had delivered his part of the deal.

Soon after the March 9 UhuRaila handshake, these voices regrouped. A musical video that went viral stating in the Kikuyu language pretty much stated what many Kalenjins had feared, that the Kikuyu, owe nobody anything. Although many Kalenjins do not understand the Kikuyu language (with a few exceptions like my friend Mzee Nyolei, who is very fluent in the language), the message was very clear — the writing was on the wall! They had found themselves in a position that was not desired. But if it is ethical to pay the old debts first, it is not desirable to the Kalenjins.



The Kalenjins listened as Ruto stated publicly that nobody owed him anything. This is of course the most desired thing to say, but it was not logical. If nobody owes Ruto anything, he himself has a massive debt to the Kalenjin nation. Video clips of Uhuru’s vehement promise to hand over power to Ruto were quickly shared online. It was on the basis of this promise, that Ruto convinced the Kalenjins to support Uhuru. And he, therefore, created a debt to them that he must pay. Speaking at a televised interview, he said if he did not become President, he would be satisfied that he had achieved greatness by being Deputy President. No!

The Kalenjins did not send him there to become great as DP. They sent him to become President, which is why they came out fighting intensely to see that Ruto is not played. The situation seems illogical particularly for those like me, who were afraid that the Kalenjins had not quite defined their strategic interest in the presidency. It looks like they have.



Ruto is appearing like the poor man, who, finding his family badly hungered, promised them he would go off to a land far away to find work. He stated that when he would be paid, he would return to bring them food. Enduring the hunger pangs and living on the promise of food coming, his wife and children let him go, praying night and day that he would return bringing with him food. After a while, he returned and said that he found the job alright but that he was not paid, and that his employer had said he owed him nothing. That is absurd!

It is, therefore, understandable if his family would feel dejected. He is duty-bound to go back and demand his payment. Yes, he worked, and yes it is the ethical thing that he be paid. The children are hungry.


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