Hustler tag could haunt Ruto

DP Ruto
DP Ruto

Benjamin Franklin, considered America’s premier diplomat, famously said, “There never was a good war or a bad peace.” These immortalised words have rung true in Kenya every election cycle. Kenyans of goodwill now tacitly understand that war is bad, whatever the justification, and that peace is good, whichever way it comes. Which is why there is palpable relief at the graduating of the détente between Jubilee and NASA. From handshakes to hugs, the rapprochement between the two parties now sets the stage for the arduous challenges of nation-building.

However, it appears it may not be all fine and dandy for everyone. For starters, two of NASA’s leading lights were conspicuously absent at the recent National Prayer Breakfast meeting. Then Deputy President William Ruto appeared to be a late albeit reluctant convert to the proceedings. Earlier, there had been protestations from the DP’s backyard about inclusion, or lack thereof, in the cessation of hostilities.

Ruto appears to be under siege. Damned if he supports the hugs and handshakes and damned if he does not. If he lends his support, it may weaken his pole position in the 2022 presidential race. If he does not, he will come across as a self-seeking agitator without national interests at heart. And therein lies the rub.

For a long time, Ruto has packaged himself, rather self-deprecatingly, as a “hustler”. And it is this package that may come back to haunt him. Oxford English Dictionary defines a hustler as “a person adept at aggressive selling or illicit dealing”. It is common knowledge that Ruto is aggressive at selling his agenda. He single-handedly delivered the entire Kalenjin vote to ODM in the 2007 election. He was the face of Jubilee campaigns in 2013 and 2017. What his detractors may attempt to do is cast him as the embodiment of corruption due to his meteoric rise from rags to riches.

A second disadvantage of the “hustler” tag is the parochial constituency in which it consigns the DP. A hustler has connotations of village operations. It has not helped that the DP is seen as a leader of the Kalenjin as opposed to a statesman. Even then, his backyard is now in economic subjugation with imports of essentials that were previously profitably farmed.

The sugar, milk and maize industries are all but collapsed. Kakira sugar from Uganda is now on sale in Kapsabet. Lato milk and butter from the same country can be found on the shelves of supermarkets in Eldoret. Then there is the recent maize scandal where billions have been paid for imports from across the border at the expense of local farmers. The implicit statement here is that one cannot run an entire country when their backyard is in shambles.

A third problem for Ruto is the clamour for resource nationalism by some in his community. Nandi Governor Stephen Sang has in the past called for reallocation of land leases. The county has a spread of about one million acres. Of these, a paltry 30,000 are in the hands of multinational tea growers. The rest is with indigenes. Sang wants the 30,000 given to locals without any demonstrated ability to farm the land. Further, he wants the boundaries of Nandi extended to encompass areas currently in the realm of Kisumu county.

Hot on the heels of last year’s fractious and violent confrontations, his pronouncements have done little to foster the atmosphere of hugs and handshakes. Instead, they divert from the real issues of Nandi — lack of running water in Kapsabet town, poorly equipped hospitals, dilapidated roads and inadequate facilities in schools.

It is now dawning on Kenyans that politics is entirely about a play for power. It is rarely about altruism, servant leadership or self-sacrifice. The most effusive in their praises of the hugs and handshakes are at the core of power. Those denigrating feel a sense of marginalisation. Yet all that Kenyans want is peace.

Franklin, in a letter to a friend, at the advent of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, wrote, “I join with you most cordially in rejoicing at the return of peace.” This is the attitude that should inform every right-thinking Kenyan. Franklin further wrote of peace, “I hope it will be lasting and that mankind will at length, as they call themselves reasonable creatures, have reason and sense to settle their differences without cutting their throats.”

That is my prayer for Kenya.

Khafafa is Vice President, Kenya-Turkey Business Council