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CONSOLIDATING THE CONSTITUENCY

Trump trait in how Ruto is shaping his campaign against 'the dynasties'

As far as the common man is concerned, where does Ruto fall in this scenario of the rich dynasties versus the hustler politician?

In Summary

• Ruto styles himself as a "political hustler", ie one who has made it to the top by "sheer wit" and tactical manoeuvres.

• There is a high possibility that Kenyans may not see dynasties as a problem in Kenyan politics: They may easily be viewed as providing necessary leadership and stability.

Deputy President William Ruto at Mary Leacky Girls High School in Kiambu
Deputy President William Ruto at Mary Leacky Girls High School in Kiambu
Image: GEORGE MUGO

Winning elections in competitive democratic politics of the type we are familiar with in the US, and Kenya is about getting the majority of the votes after they have been cast and counted.

 It is assumed, in both cases, that the process is fair, transparent and just. That, in other words, every voter has an equal chance of putting into power the individual or party of his/her choice by simply exercising the right to vote. 

In practice, we have known from experience that, in both sides of the Atlantic, this has not always been the case. Hillary Clinton accused Donald Trump of having rigged himself into office. Likewise, Raila Odinga also went to court to take Uhuru Kenyatta to the task of having rigged himself into office. In both cases, however, for completely different ways in which these accusations were settled, the "winners" proceeded to take power and the rest is now history.

Having ridden past the rigging accusation, Trump went ahead to assert that the "ordinary American"— who to him forms the majority of voters in the US — was actually fed up with the bureaucrats in Washington and preferred an "ordinary guy like him" to go to the White House and return America to her owners: The common man or woman. 

Trump denounced Congress and its meandering with making laws that don't stop the unwanted immigrants from polluting America with laziness, bad morals and strange foreign ways. It is not that the economy was not producing jobs: It was. The bad thing was that these jobs were being taken by non-Americans supported by liberal Democrats in Washington.

This message, and other kindred ones, argued Trump, galvanised ordinary Americans so firmly behind him that there was no way Hillary could break through.

While analysts agree that Trump — in the last election — focussed his campaign on solidifying his basic political constituency of conservative Christians, the rednecks, rural farmers from the Midwest and the South and the "usual republicans", who will always vote Republican no matter what, this strategy may not necessarily work this time round. Why? I will give you a few "hints."

First, when all is said and done, this basic constituency, even when it turns out to vote 100 per cent, comprises only 40 per cent of the total voting population. The other 60 per cent will vote for the Democrats and other candidates. In an election where the Democrats also exit and mobilise its basic constituency to the maximum, Trump will be in trouble.

Second, by profiling the coming election as "between 'us' and 'them', Trump is actually helping the Democrats to galvanise its own constituency of liberals from the East Coast, the industrial states, minorities, immigrants, African Americans, etc. There is no doubt that the mid-term elections should have cautioned Trump a little: But it didn't, judging by his performance in Florida a few days ago as he launched his campaign.

Finally, campaigning as an incumbent is very different from campaigning as an outsider trying to come in. Trump has sought to play victim to his basic constituency when it comes to policy battles between him and the Democrats in Washington. To Trump, every accusation against him for misuse of presidential powers is "a mere witch hunt" by the enemy. But how about where Republican leaders — such as the late Senator John McCain — complained bitterly about his dishonesty, etc. There could easily be some fall out from his camp. That, in a closely fought election, could make a difference.

Coming back home, we see a "Trump trait" in the way William Ruto is shaping his campaign against "the dynasties." By the dynasties, he essentially means the "Troika" of Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga and Gideon Moi. In other words, those whose fathers were President or Vice President and have "benefited from royalty" to stay in the top echelons of Kenyan politics.

Ruto styles himself as a "political hustler", ie one who has made it to the top by "sheer wit" and tactical manoeuvres.

Ruto also argued that he represents the young generation. The youth, he argues, are the majority and they have come of age. They must now take over the leadership from the old generation. Hence he "tangatangas" with a group of young MPs most of whom he bankrolled during the last election — and may still be keeping afloat financially.

There is no doubt that Ruto, like Trump, has decided to consolidate this "basic constituency" of "non-dynasty originated" leaders, the youth and those "hustling to make it" like boda boda riders, into a solid voting bloc in time for the next elections. Unlike Trump, Ruto will face two major problems in keeping his basic constituency intact.

First, they are not as cohesive as Trump's basic constituency: They are "circumstantial" for lack of a better word. In other words, they must be kept almost glued together as long as the threat of staying apart remains real. One such threat is that staying apart, or straying from the group, could mean some monetary loss, or increased uncertainty of forming the next government. How about if this loss can be obviated by getting a more substantial alternative elsewhere? Or, to put it more pessimistically, if remaining remaining in leads to more uncertain consequences than opting out? Judging from his "Akorino speech" this is the point Uhuru was driving home to the Kikuyu element in the Tangatanga brigade.

Second, fighting against the dynasties is a two-edged sword that could easily cut both ways. There is a high possibility that Kenyans may not see dynasties as a problem in Kenyan politics: They may easily be viewed as providing necessary leadership and stability. The poor, as it were, don't necessarily hate the rich: they only wish they could be just as well off as the rich. The rich become nauseating to the poor when they despise the latter, flaunt their riches arrogantly and don't share with the poor the daily cultural life that is available in plenitude.

As far as the common man is concerned, where does Ruto fall in this scenario of the rich dynasties versus the hustler politician? Ruto may find that the essential category he has cast himself in does not yield much political capital in terms of solidifying a basic political constituency which makes a substantial difference when the votes are cast.

Fortunately, Uhuru has finally entered the political arena to call the bluff of those who assumed he was no longer relevant to the political equation come the next election. He, of the two-term presidency, values his legacy. And this legacy, by his own pronouncement, must not be messed up by the Tangatanga team shaping the discourse of the next election from their own point of view. This, says Jomo' s son, he will not allow. The discourse must be about his legacy. To what extent is this a powerful enough message to solidify or expand his basic constituency?

There is a whole lot of leaders "out there" who have political bases of various sheds and descriptions and who need "to feel at home" in whatever political dispensation comes up after the next elections. Ruto has been desperately trying to cultivate the support of this group by using monetary muscles. Methinks this methodology may succeed among hustlers but not necessarily with this group of leaders and people usually referred to as "the undecided" between the Ruto and Uhuru camps.

Uhuru and Raila have defined their basic constituency as those "who want change for a better Kenya where the politics of inclusivity, elimination of corruption and social progress in a united democratic nation are institutionalised." Can this message effectively galvanise the majority behind Uhuru and Raila? We are yet to hear Ruto state his ideology clearly and simply. 

I have not so far talked about tribes nor tribalism. It is interesting that the Tangatanga and Kieleweke rivalry is actually helping to minimise the issue of tribe. But Tangatanga could help advance this debate in a healthy direction were they to broaden their argument to embrace social change rather than simply limit it to getting the presidency. You get the presidency and do what with It? 

Thumbs up to Uhuru and Raila who have clearly stated  that the current "structure of politics and the state" can take Kenyans nowhere. The coming elections must be about qualitative change and not a mere changing of the guards. But a change we can believe in as experienced elsewhere and as our potential is capable of delivering.