AJUOK: Why Ruto has become master of false promises

The typical Kenya Kwanza voter is not renowned for any ideological grounding in political and economic principles.

In Summary
  • There is a long-running joke on Kenya’s social media simply titled “Kamariny Stadium, which is historic”.
  • It is in reference to a time when the current President was the running mate of retired President Uhuru Kenyatta.
President William Ruto during the interview with journalists at State House, Nairobi, on May 14, 2023.
GOVERNANCE: President William Ruto during the interview with journalists at State House, Nairobi, on May 14, 2023.

I nearly fell off my chair last Sunday night, May 14, when, watching President William Ruto’s media interview, he suddenly brought Chief of Defence Force’s General Francis Ogola’s name to the discussion.

In response to a legitimate question about the emergence of a trend where people from one community are perceived to be taking over all key parastatals and state agencies, Ruto began by stating that “I appointed General Ogola CDF even though he is one of those who went to Bomas to try to overturn my victory.” It was as bizarre as it was surreal.

I can guarantee you that you will not find any jurisdiction on earth where a commander-in-chief accuses his newly appointed chief of the military of something that would be close to treason, on live TV.

But Ruto was not done. He added that when he met the general before appointing him to the highest military rank in the land, Ogola told him “I have no defence, you can do anything to me.” It is the sort of thing which if you haven’t watched in person and someone narrates to you, you would, in Nairobi street slang, simply dismiss with “Gerrarahia!”

Statecraft is an alien concept to this Kenya Kwanza regime, and possibly to the President himself.

First, the conversation he had with Gen Ogola ought to have been a classified national security matter, not for public consumption. The President and the general hold the two most important, and most powerful, national security posts in the country. Their meetings, aside from the parades at national holidays, are high-security briefings that ordinary mortals wouldn’t and shouldn’t know about.

Both of them have to believe that neither will leak the finer details of their encounters. The President is the symbol of national unity while the general is the symbol of the nation’s sovereignty and mascot of military subservience to civilian authority. The latter fact is important, as I will explain next.

I do not believe that anything Ruto does is ever mere coincidence or accidental. At the very least, given how long he went on with the discussion, he certainly would have known that his comments would undermine the authority of the new CDF within the rank and file of the military.

I mean, how are the soldiers supposed to respect their new boss and implement his orders if he has been caricatured in public as a general who may not only have been loyal to someone else, but attempted to change the presidential results of their sitting CIC.

As with the military not undermining civilian authority, the philosophy presupposes that civilian leaders will on their own part remain impartial, fair and forthright in dealing with the military.

In the words of the great Lt Gen (rtd) Lazaro Sumbeiywo, the former army commander, “soldiers go to war and give their lives in the belief that they serve brave and principled commanders, and a firm and forthright Commander in Chief”. There is no grey area of innuendo, controversy and divisions.

Let us for a moment debunk the myth of “Gen Ogola overturning the election” today.

Article 240 of the Constitution establishes the powerful National Security Council. In 240(2), it proceeds to name the office holders who constitute the NSC as the President, Deputy President, Defence Cabinet Secretary, Foreign Affairs CS and his Interior counterpart.

Others are the Attorney General,CDF, National Intelligence Service director general and the Inspector General of Police. The vice CDF does not sit in the NSC.

The import of this is that if indeed Ogola, alongside other National Security Advisory Council members visited Bomas in August, any deputy or vice-officeholder in the delegation would have been there on the orders of his substantive boss. Which is to say that as VCDF, Gen Ogola could only have been at Bomas on the orders of then CDF, Gen Robert Kibochi.

We would never know if Gen Kibochi feels that his orders were implemented, because generals don’t call press conferences to clarify issues, leaving politicians narratives to run unchallenged. Be that as it may, the man who should be stating what the Bomas mission was should be Kibochi.

The Ogola matter aside, first I have to applaud the media team that conducted the interview on Sunday night. They were fearless and firm, putting Ruto on the defence all through the interview.

But what came out clearly was that the President is a master of roadside declarations, and that is what hurts his image in the public. Put to task to explain most of the promises he has made in recent times revolving around the cost of living, he fumbled and attempted to revise timelines in some, meaning that these promises are never well thought out.

I’ll be honest, I can’t see one reason Ruto needs to keep appeasing his voting base with more promises of good times to come. With utmost respect, the typical Kenya Kwanza voter is not particularly renowned for any ideological grounding or belief in political and economic principles. Many of these guys voted simply to “send Uhuru and Raila home”.

Some bought the bizarre narratives of a Raila presidency potentially forcing men in their communities to wear colonial-era shorts, or actually believed that in his spare time, the ODM chief worships some sort of monster with several horns and tails. In Ruto’s position, I wouldn’t bother giving my economic blueprints to this type of voter. I would instead go to work quietly.

There is a long-running joke on Kenya’s social media simply titled “Kamariny Stadium, which is historic”. It is in reference to a time when the current President was the running mate of retired President Uhuru Kenyatta. Ruto, in typical fashion, took to making outlandish promises, among them, that new stadia would be constructed across the country, including the “historic” one in Kamariny, Elgeyo Marakwet county.

Last Sunday, he was again forced to address this matter, on top of new ones like the promised drop in the price of cooking gas. Incredibly, he didn’t seem to understand at that moment that as a perennial giver of promises, he ensures that scrutiny of his many “plans” becomes a national pastime.

At any rate, if Ruto had strong bipartisan political networks and truly professional Cabinet members, he wouldn’t need to be on TV explaining his government’s agenda. Political allies and CSs would be out there doing the talking and being the ones contradicting themselves. Unfortunately, even on this, the President doesn’t fare any better.

He has assembled a team that echoes the boss’s words, however unpopular, and is preoccupied with campaign-era divisions.

Take the example of Belgut MP Nelson Koech, the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Defence, Intelligence and Foreign Relations.

The morning after the President’s unfortunate slur on Gen Ogola, Koech appeared on a local station, where the anchor asked him if there was a way to explain the President’s unprovoked rhetoric about the CDF. The legislator, rather than help his boss walk back cleverly from those comments, chose to echo the words in total.

No wonder the President has to keep inviting media people for interviews to explain himself.

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