By Sudi Baraka
Deputy President William Ruto badly wants to be president. So much so that he has threatened to destroy anyone who gets on the way of his ambitions. Anyone! Now that’s ambition.
Unfortunately, time and time again we have been reminded that the presidency does not go to the most ambitious nor to the one who shows most hunger for it. If that were the case, the Odingas, Njonjo, Mboya et al. would long have occupied the seat. They didn’t. To be president the stars must be aligned in your favor – big time. And you also need some foresight. I’m not a seer but it seems someone somewhere is un-aligning Ruto’s stars, if at all they were ever aligned.
I read somewhere that some Luhya leaders are uncomfortable with DP’s frequent visits to Western. What pettiness and insecurity! If there is an argument against DP’s early campaigns in Western and other places, it is not their frequency but that they are directed at the wrong audience. As far as Ruto’s presidential campaigns are concerned he only needs an audience of one- President Uhuru Kenyatta. Unfortunately for the DP, and unlike Moi in the 70s, he doesn’t seem to view such personal campaigns as important. That is the mistake Ruto is making and is going to pay for it dearly for it. For all intents and purposes Ruto’s ambitions are fully dependent on Uhuru’s goodwill (or lack of). Unfortunately, thanks to his miscalculations and mistaken desire to show Uhuru that he can be president without him, the president is now the man at the centre of the un-aligning his stars.
Since his election last year Uhuru has made seemingly uncoordinated and innocuous moves that now, with knowledge of hindsight, point to a grand plan to keep Ruto from ascending to the presidency, at least in 2022. And the plan seems to be working.
For all his talents and presumed political mastery, Ruto has multiple Achilles heels. First, in Kenya’s tribalized politics he begins from a point of weakness. Kalenjin vote is a big force when acting as an auxiliary but on its own it’s relatively small. Unlike Uhuru who only needed Gema votes plus those of another big tribe, Ruto needs votes of almost four major tribes in addition to his Kalenjin votes to be president. That is if Gema does not support him.
From his campaigns all over the country, it seems that he is already preparing to enter the presidential race minus the Gema vote. If so, he’s toast. No matter how hard he tries Ruto can never assemble the kind of coalition Raila assembled in 2007. Even Raila himself failed in similar attempts in 2013 and 2017.
For such a large coalition money is important but not the deciding factor. You also need a deeply felt issue. Something beyond the useless dynasties narrative he has recently adopted. In 2007 the deciding factor was Kibaki’s tribalism. For Ruto, there’s nothing. It is all about him and his ambition and the power of the purse, which he flouts with abandon.
I’m yet to see any person winning solely by telling people ‘it’s my time to lead because I’m this and that’. Obama didn’t make his blackness an issue neither did Hillary didn’t make much of her womanhood. There’s nothing special about Ruto’s humble beginnings because all Kenyan presidents except Uhuru were born poor. Thus, with nothing positive to talk about, he’s tied his appeal almost entirely to money.
And therein lies his main weakness. To contain Ruto you only need to limit his purse because that’s all that he has. Like chicken only run to you when you have grains spraying at them, Ruto’s non-Kalenjin friends, so to speak, are only behind him because of the generous handouts he gives them. If Kenya were Rome two thousand years ago, Ruto’s strategy would have succeeded. All the people wanted was bread and circuses. Times have changed.
In any case it seems Uhuru is already working to limit his money muscles. For the better part of this year, he has been trying to figure out how to reduce his deputy’s money flows. He began with lifestyle audit proposal. That was silently dropped after it proved too controversial. Recent targeting of mainly Kalenjin CEOs in cash-cow parastatals seems to be the latest strategy that has gained currency among his inner circle. It kills two birds with a stone. One, it weakens Ruto by directly reducing some of his money sources. It was also makes him, at least for now, watch his back before dipping his hand in public coffers. It is a classic kill the chicken, scare the monkey strategy. Secondly, it makes the public believe that something is being done about corruption. Certainly the DPP has done a good job of shining light at some of the darkest corners of government where corruption thrives. Sure, he’s yet to successfully prosecute anyone but just like light is the best disinfectant for cockroaches and their ilk, merely shining a spotlight on some of these corruption havens may help to slow down the vice.
As a tool for containing Ruto, an anti-corruption drive seems effective. Like the mayor in Gogol’s Government Inspector, one of Ruto’s ‘little failings’ is that he doesn’t like to ‘let go what swims into his hands’. That much is well known by all except cavemen. Since becoming DP in 2013, it seems a lot of big fish have been swimming his way. Like rappers who believe that ‘making it rain’ makes them powerful, Ruto has literally been throwing millions around to pave way for his presidency. That money is government money, not personal money. Uhuru has probably figured out that turning off those money taps will be effective in cutting Ruto to size, at least for now.
So if Ruto is really determined to destroy anyone who stands on his way, the person to destroy is Uhuru. Not even Hercules can manage to destroy a powerful sitting president. Clearly, that is something Ruto can’t attempt. So he should do the opposite- humble himself before Uhuru, in a big way. Constant campaigns all over is merely ploughing the seas. Buying political support is useless because once Uhuru closes the money taps, the ‘allies’ will flee. Flouting wealth, power and ambition for more wealth and power only serves to unite and strengthen the resolve of his very powerful political opponents. The best strategy would be to follow the nyayo of the man he currently despises – former President Moi. It is no accident that he’s so far the only vice president to succeed a president. The trick is to lie low and appear as unthreatening as possible until the meat is in your mouth.