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January 19, 2019

OMWENGA: The succession game is on; whose side are you on?

President Uhuru Kenyatta is ushered into parliament by Deputy President William Ruto to deliver his annual State of the Nation address to Parliament. May 2, 2018. Photo/Jack Owuor
President Uhuru Kenyatta is ushered into parliament by Deputy President William Ruto to deliver his annual State of the Nation address to Parliament. May 2, 2018. Photo/Jack Owuor


The Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 in England replaced the reigning king, James II, with the joint monarchy of his protestant daughter Mary and her Dutch husband. This revolution also led to the coalescing of what would become the Whig party that dominated British politics and remained in total control of the government for decades until King George III came to the throne in 1760, marking the return of the Tories back to power.

To understand why James II’s most powerful subjects eventually rose up in revolt against him and sent him to exile, one needs to understand the deep-seated fear of 'popery' in Stuart England.

'Popery' meant more than just a fear or hatred of Catholics and the Catholic Church. It reflected a widely-held belief in an elaborate conspiracy theory, that Catholics were actively plotting the overthrow of church and state.

In their place would be established a Catholic tyranny, with England becoming merely a satellite state, under the control of an all-powerful Catholic monarch, then identified to be Louis XIV of France.

A new crisis of ‘popery and arbitrary government' erupted in the late 1670s, when public anxieties were raised by royal succession. Charles II fathered no legitimate offspring, which meant the crown would pass to his brother, James, Duke of York, whose conversion to Catholicism had become public in 1673.

Public concerns about the succession reached fever pitch in 1678-81, when Whig politicians in Parliament promoted exclusion bills that would have prevented James from succeeding to the throne. James II, however, managed to ascend to the throne in February 1685. His reign, however, lasted only for a few troubled years, as he was forced into exile in the late 1688.

While in exile, the dethroned King James II still had supporters back in England and Scotland, who continuously tried to find ways for his return but all to no avail.

Of interest, and the reason for this piece, it was widely believed during this period that many in government secretly and even treasonously supported James II.

These are pages in British history we’ve borrowed; or, to be more precise, shrewd politicians in Kenya have borrowed and used as blueprint for their own political schemes we continue to witness to this day.

For example, the efforts to prevent VP Daniel Moi to succeed Jomo Kenyatta in the mid-70s was nothing but pages from the Whig playbook of 1678, where the target was then James who, like Moi, outmaneuvered the plotters opposed to him.

Go back up and replace “Catholics” with “Raila” and “Catholic Church” with the “Luos” and you’ll understand why the former PM has won at least twice but has not become President.

In that case, “popery” may as well be odingaism based on ignorance or backwardness fueled by refusal to let go of non-existent tribal superiority notions.

When Moi made the inexplicable mistake to try and shove then Minister for Finance down our throats as our next President in 2002, smarter minds and the winds of change outwitted him.

The period following James II’s exile, however, was interesting because those in government then were often unsure how to treat those supporting the return of James II to the throne because they were concerned if they showed hostility towards them or otherwise frustrated them, they could end up paying dearly were James II to return.

The same fear no doubt grips many a politician as they try to decide how to align themselves relative to William Ruto in the 2022 succession game that’s already on knowing fully well where they stand will ride with the fortunes or misfortunes of Ruto either becoming or not becoming President.

So, what side of Ruto should one be relative to his presidential ambitions?

Coming soon on these pages.

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