Courtesy: Kamau Muiga
I was sitting at home devastated when they announced Odinga’s defeat in the general election earlier this month. But I was soon distracted by the madness that erupted that Friday night in Ruaka Town, where I live, as soon as the results were announced. This is Kiambu County, the heartland of Uhuru Kenyatta’s support. I had to go and check it out for myself. Thousands upon thousands of euphoric townsfolk poured into the main avenue and lit large bonfires to sing and celebrate the results. It was a marvellous learning opportunity. I talked with as many people as possible wanting to know why they were so happy about Kenyatta’s win.
In their heightened emotional state, some were surprisingly honest: Borori uyu ni witu – this country belongs to us – some of them said – meaning we the Kikuyu. But I pressed for more rational answers. One that stood out was that through Kenyatta’s victory, the survival of the Kikuyu tribe had been guaranteed. Odinga would have taken from the Kikuyu to give to the Luo. David Ndii’s words began ringing loudly in my mind: we Kenyans are not a nation. Not even nearly. I clearly saw our nationhood as a pretence we like carrying around, one which we can easily shed at a moment’s notice.
I did not expect to find any reason to smile when I came out into those celebrations that night. But within minutes I was grinning from ear to ear: I had also asked everyone I talked to whether they would be voting for William Ruto for president in 2022 as the Uhuru-Ruto deal had critically stipulated. The most common answer was a categorical no. This is the silver lining in this huge mess folks. Ruto might never get to be president. The response I got is borne out by the evidence: other ethnic groups in Kenya have voted for a candidate outside their own ethnicity in prior elections, except the Kikuyu. Since the advent of multiparty politics in Kenya in 1992 the Kikuyu electorate has voted only for Kikuyu candidates. There is no reason to believe they will behave any differently in the coming election.
This is a reason to rejoice even if we lost at the polls. The Uhuru administration is inept and corrupt. A Ruto administration would be inept, corrupt and brutal. You will remember where Ruto’s political career began: doing Moi’s dirty work. Before 1992 Moi controlled a one-party state. Elections never gave him any jitters because only one party – his own – was on the ballot box. After the fall of the Berlin Wall the US didn’t need the dictator anymore so he faced pressure to democratize. Multiparty politics arrived. Moi was now afraid of elections. He dealt with this situation in two ways. Violence was first: he needed to forcefully remove from his strongholds people belonging to ethnic groups that never voted for him. For instance Kikuyus were attacked and chased away from Molo in the Rift Valley, where I went to high school. The second strategy was massive voter bribery in regions that could be easily swayed: a hideous plot that saw massive amounts of currency brazenly printed for this purpose, plunging Kenya into an inflation crisis.
A group of young people was brought together to carry out this violence and mass bribery on behalf of Moi. It was called Youth for Kanu ’92. Its leaders? Cyrus Jirongo and William Ruto. That’s how our deputy president got his start in politics. That’s the person who could become our next president. He is a person who has stayed true to his gory origins: it’s not surprising that local journalists and witnesses in the Rift Valley who were reporting candidly to the world about Ruto regarding the 2008 violence and the ICC case all over sudden decided to start visiting their maker. Ruto’s road to power is a canopy dripping with the blood of innocent Kenyans. The police violence against civilians – infants included – and the crackdown against civil society we’ve seen in the past two weeks is horrifying. But it would also be much worse in a Ruto presidency. He is a piece cut right out of Moi’s fabric.
The victory carnival in Ruaka was broken up by tear gas canisters after a small group of unruly youth verbally taunted police officers standing nearby. Earlier in the night the same group of youth had blocked and hit a long-distance passenger bus making its way through the town. Looking at passengers inside the stationary bus, a group of ladies standing behind me started saying “Ona uria mairite! Ici ni nyamu cia ruguru!” – “Look at how dark they are! These must be animals from the West”. The Kenyan dream of a credible national unity is fast fading away.
It is why I am still mourning Odinga’s loss in this month’s election. Canaan would have meant a much stronger inclusion of marginalized ethnic communities in this country. It would have meant a better shot at building a nation. It is why we must cry for Odinga’s loss. Being on his side throughout the difficult journey makes it an extremely bitter pill to swallow. But we must feel the pain, for we need level heads in the next couple of years. A much graver threat to the dream of freedom and true national unity lurks around the corner.