2022 RACE

Ruto should stay on message, build bridges, use calm spokesmen not bulldogs

In the nation’s delicate tribal relations, the next president is discussed more along the lines of what his election will portend for the other communities.

In Summary

• In Kenyan politics, the temptation to sacrifice strategy for publicity is one politicians easily succumb to.

• The DP's words have the potential to affect the destiny of 45 million people, and cannot therefore be mere words without conviction that he will contradict them 24 hours later.

Deputy President William Ruto
Deputy President William Ruto
Image: DPPS

It was the typical political blitzkrieg. One evening last week, Deputy President  William Ruto’s Twitter handle went wild with accusations directed at ODM and its leader, Raila Odinga, over the corruption allegations at Kemsa.

The intention was to show that the two statements by ODM secretary general Edwin Sifuna and Raila  were confirmation the party was deeply involved in the scam.

But within minutes, ODM and friendly bloggers had dug out tweets and videos of Ruto that appeared to show the DP in another extravaganza of contradictions. The DP had apparently forgotten his own views just weeks earlier, about investigative agencies and their supposed partisanship.

 

Within hours of being made to partake of ‘the internet never forgets’, the DP’s side had clearly abandoned the attempt to tie Raila or ODM to the mess.

As a casual observer, I imagined any Ruto strategists by next morning should have been in the boardroom with the first order of business: Why is it that attempts to drag Raila into these things do not succeed?

The answer to this would have formed a good starting point for a strategy session, given that Raila now presents the biggest challenge to Ruto's presidential ambitions. In fact, the full question would have been: what makes the same accusations levelled against the DP  become so believable? That 24-hour period provided a sneak peek into Ruto's modus operandi.

In public pronouncements and online activities, his people appear not to worry about what is said today versus what will be said tomorrow, and the attendant conviction or lack of it. The problem for them is that in the job of President, there is a very thin line between the holder’s public views and the official policy.

Presidential promises ideally should be transformed into implementable actions at the government level. Yet the DP, by making contradictory remarks at every turn, makes it look as though his are spur-of-the moment words not meant to carry sustainable weight. This explains why he doesn’t seem to remember when he is supporting what he condemned just yesterday!

A comical confirmation of this came just two days later, when on a tour of the Coast, the DP asked Jubilee officials "whose presidential candidate is in Orange House’, to leave Jubilee House and move to Orange House.  Accompanying him were some MPs elected on the ODM ticket, whose candidate now resides in Sugoi, or Jubilee Asili House, if it exists! The irony didn’t hit the DP.

The second problem for the DP is that a large number of his supporters do not seem to appreciate the gravity of their position right now. Having been turned by the so-called ‘system’ into public enemy Number One, the DP should make his biggest task to win hearts across the country. I’m not sure he intends to do that when politicians associated with him appear confrontational and angry in public discourse.

The emotional meltdown by Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen a few days ago on the floor of the Senate —  even though on an unrelated matter — provides a good example of this.

It seems that Ruto and his supporters treat everything these days as a fight! If the 'deep state' does exist, I think it enjoys the spectacle of the DP and his fans engaging in what will ultimately be a fight in vain for the soul of Jubilee. It keeps them engaged for months, as their opponents plot the succession.

If the DP intends to win hearts across the country, the face of that pursuit must be national and persuasive. It would help him a great deal if Kenyans saw more of the composed and articulate Caleb Kositany than the rambunctious Murkomen. He should prop up more of the youthful and calm Nelson Koech of Belgut than the perennially angry Senator Aaron Cheruiyot of Kericho.

He can the deploy Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi in the role called ‘box-to-box midfielder’ in football. Yes, Sudi may appear more adept at comic relief, but you can’t fault the man when it comes to delivery of the common man’s message in his hilarious video clips.

It would help if the DP himself didn’t sound so quarrelsome on the microphone every time he speaks. For starters, targeting President Uhuru Kenyatta's allies in Jubilee only comes out as antagonising the President, which complicates Ruto's tireless political seduction of Central Kenya, nearly the only political base outside his own Kalenjin vote bloc he can still lay hope on.

The Kenyan presidency is interesting. Even though only one person gets elected to hold the office, a lot of Kenyans weigh the office based on 'how much your tribe will sit on us'.

In the nation’s delicate tribal relations, the next president is discussed more along the lines of what his election will portend for the other communities. Ruto's supporters like to draw parallels between his troubles and those of Vice President Daniel Moi in the 1970s, with Moi ultimately prevailing after the death of President Jomo Kenyatta.

What they don’t mention is that Moi was the quintessential lamb who turned the other cheek, and was seen as weak all round. If he had been an aggressive politician who stoked fear in other communities, the destiny of this country probably would have taken a different trajectory.

The DP’s strategists may be interested in also learning from the journey of their mortal enemy, Raila. The fearsome, leftist Raila of the 1990s, with a revolutionary beard, only became a top presidential candidate, and the nation’s favourite politician, after he transformed into a pacifier and statesman. Before that, his presidential run in 1997 didn’t have much impact outside Luoland.

It is in building bridges across communities that a serious presidential run really takes off.

In concluding, I would recommend the book Believer by former President Barrack Obama's adviser and campaign chief David Axelrod.

Axelrod was obsessed with message discipline and did everything to ensure the campaign stuck to the message, at some point having to read the rule book to the candidate’s own wife. The more the DP’s message appears disjointed, chaotic and all over the place, the happier it makes the other side.

In Kenyan politics, the temptation to sacrifice strategy for publicity is one politicians easily fall for. But one in the Deputy President's position should by now know that preparing to take on the might of state machinery, including the dirty tricks that the DP himself supported for a long time, requires he urgently begins building political bridges across Kenya.

He will have to listen to real strategists and remember that for one who wants to hold the highest office in the land, his words have the potential to impact the destiny of 45 million people, and cannot therefore be mere words without conviction that he will contradict them 24  hours later.

Time is running out for a real messaging campaign!

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