2022 POLITICS

Why Ruto’s stratagem could redefine politics in Kenya

For the first time, a DP not only openly contradicts the president, but doesn't hide the fact he wants the presidency, pronto.

In Summary

• If William pulls this one off, he would have redefined not just national politics, but politics in the entire length and breadth of the Kalenjin nation.

• Perhaps Ruto’s major undoing is his hustler tag. It is a fake and vacuous vehicle as it contradicts his lifestyle and goals. More importantly, it is a strange type of politics that defies human nature.

Deputy President William Ruto.
Deputy President William Ruto.
Image: FILE

In 1967, when William Ruto, Kenya’s future Deputy President, was barely a year old, the Kalenjin nation's first-ever vice president was appointed by President Jomo Kenyatta.

For the next 11 years, Moi would deputise Jomo by operationalising a psychology that is typical with pastoral communities: stubborn patience, complicated meekness and calculated amnesia. Even Jomo’s overtly sophisticated and cosmopolitan kitchen cabinet could not penetrate Moi’s shell of invincibility, which was made all the more complex by his undiluted Christian confession.

It was difficult to pin down Moi with a scandal. Not even a trifling moral infraction would wash. Skillful interplay of native psychology, natural political instincts and favourable fate achieved for Moi the presidency he coveted covertly, but one he was prudent enough to hide from the public.

 
 

William Ruto is the exact opposite. Indeed, his trademark daredevil politics have continued to confound keen students of African politics. He seems to disinterestedly dispense with the crucial survival toolkit that enabled Moi to ascend to power.

He even appears to shy away from Moi’s calculated blandness and formlessness that ensured Jomo’s kitchen cabinet was torn down the middle in trying to figure out what he was all about!

And because the typical pastoralist's covert power instruments seem far removed from Ruto, some pundits opine that he is, socially speaking, an eclectic of sorts, a fact that seems to have blurred his native instinctual senses.

For the first time in the republic, we have a deputy president who not only openly contradicts the president, but does not hide the fact that he wants the presidency, pronto. This is a first in the republic and one that has left older and shrewder politicians in total bewilderment.

If William pulls this one off, he would have redefined not just national politics, but politics in the entire length and breadth of the Kalenjin nation. Yet, he can borrow a leaf from Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 37th US President.

Our obsequiousness to the rich and powerful more frequently arises from our admiration for the advantages of their situation...The great mob of mankind are the admirers and worshippers of wealth and greatness.
Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments

As majority leader in the US Senate from 1955 (and before that minority leader), Johnson was ruthlessly effective. It’s believed that he virtually reinvented legislative leadership and has been touted as the greatest Senate leader in America’s history.

However, when John F. Kennedy chose him as his vice president in 1961, Johnson was shocked to see that the charisma he appeared to radiate as Senate Majority leader was obscured to the point of non-existence at the White House ― thanks to Kennedy’s inner circle of family and friends who openly loathed and isolated him.

 
 

Of the vice presidency, Johnson had this to say in his memoirs: "The vice-presidency is filled with trips around the world, chauffeurs, men saluting, people clapping, chairmanships of councils, but in the end it is nothing. I detested every minute of it."

To his credit, however, he mastered the pastoralist survival strategy of biding one’s time. Johnson’s patient stratagem was not idle. Like Moi with his lowly Turgen heritage, he made a realistic calculation that since he was a southerner – a rather inconsequential region as far as the American presidential matrix was concerned – it would be almost impossible for him to be elected president in his lifetime. The last southerner to be president was Zachary Taylor, the 12th president, in 1848.

Johnson’s patience paid off. He left a much greater legislative legacy than his predecessor, Kennedy, in particular the civil rights legislation that went beyond what Kennedy was capable of.

Ruto’s bare-knuckle and impatient approach to the presidency is informed by his choleric personality. And so is his seemingly one-man showism, a problem in our coalition-based politics.

But perhaps Ruto’s major undoing is his hustler tag. It is a fake and vacuous vehicle as it contradicts his lifestyle and goals. Even more importantly, it is a strange type of politics that defies human nature.

Adam Smith, the reputed ‘father of capitalism’ addressed this matter in his ingenious way. Writing in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith contends the following about human natural proclivity towards the rich and powerful: "Our obsequiousness to the rich and powerful more frequently arises from our admiration for the advantages of their situation...The great mob of mankind are the admirers and worshippers of wealth and greatness."

It’s a clever tactic to play the poor and suffering into believing that they have to be proud of their dire and penniless condition. Unfortunately, this approach runs counter to human nature, which is decisively capitalistic in orientation.

And Kenyans, in general, tend to hero-worship their rich without a care in the world as to the source of their wealth. In Kenya’s politics, it’s raw human nature, stupid.

Fellow with Deepsea Think Tank. [email protected]