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November 14, 2018

WYCLIFFE MUGA: Ruto needs a better strategy

For the past many weeks Deputy President William Ruto has engaged in an election campaign so vigorous that a stranger visiting Kenya would be excused for thinking that there is a General Election due in six months or so.

There is no harm in that. Any politician with serious ambitions should ideally start plotting his path to electoral victory well before the official campaign period of the next election.

Others may not be as open in their efforts as Ruto. But no doubt there are plenty of politicians out there cursing the ungrateful voting public for their defeat in the last election – and working diligently to ensure that they fare better next time.

There is only one problem with Ruto’s campaign effort. He has drawn from the past for his campaign strategy, not planned for the future. And the backward-looking strategy that he has adopted is one which did not work particularly well, even back in the day when it seemed like a good idea.

In short, Ruto needs a better strategy. Why do I say this?

Well, what Ruto has been doing is going around the country focused on visiting those regions which he would rationally be expected to target as key to his possible victory in 2022. Again and again he has returned to the Coast; to Western Kenya; to the Kisii counties; and other such regions that are generally assumed to be “key swing vote blocs”.

And his efforts to endear himself to the locals usually take the form of fundraising meetings at their churches. Well, about 20 years ago, that is exactly what President Daniel Moi used to do. Almost ignoring those parts of the country which he felt had no choice but to support him, he would focus his attention on endearing himself to the hardcore holdouts of Central Kenya and Nyanza regions.

This is my favourite example of this approach to making friends and influencing people in the Moi era: A by-election came up somewhere in Central, which Moi’s advisers persuaded him his ruling party, Kanu, had a decent chance of winning. The key to this victory, though – they emphasised to His Excellency – was that the people of that constituency had to be dazzled with an outpouring of “development”.

Government machinery roared into action, and previously impassable rural roads were “graded” to perfection within weeks, along with other evidence that “development” was at hand.

Most remarkable was that the supposedly independent Kenya Power and Lighting Company sent teams of technicians around that constituency to distribute “electricity poles” to every corner, and to throw around strategically the heavy-duty cables that we all recognise as “power lines”.

And along with this came an official assurance that, promptly, upon the glorious victory of the Kanu candidate, the locals would be “given electricity”.

Well, within a day or two of the Kanu candidate being buried in a classic Central Kenya anti-Kanu landslide, those poles and cables miraculously vanished from the roadsides of that rural constituency; never to be seen again until after Moi had retired from the presidency.

Indeed, by the standards of those days, Ruto’s development-oriented campaigns are positively anaemic. All he does is give money, specifically, sums that can be handed over personally.

Well, back in the Moi era TV coverage of His Excellency’s public meetings often included a local leader asking that the President grant the locals “a university of our own”.

And, with no reference to the budgetary or staffing implications of building such a major public institution, His Excellency would smile, and assure the crowd that there would indeed be a university in that place, very soon indeed.

The odd thing is none of this ever translated into votes. If Moi always won in presidential elections, it was not due to the promise of “development”, but because of his far-sighted political cunning.

Moi always ensured that he ran against a deeply divided opposition. Creating political cleavages among his opponents, was the real key to his victories.

He never got more than 40 per cent of the popular vote. But under the old Constitution, that was enough for him to win against a divided opposition.

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