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Sagana was meant to bury DP but gave him a fighting chance

Deputy President William Ruto speaks during the burial of Amb. Ken Osinde at Ngata, Nakuru County. December 23, 2021. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

It was to be a turning point of sorts; President Uhuru Kenyatta holding the hand of his ‘brother’ Raila Odinga as he metaphorically scaled the vote-rich Mt Kenya.

In the end, Sagana III didn’t live up to its billing. The President’s anguished attempt to explain to his Central Kenya backyard why he threw his deputy under the bus unwittingly left his critics in glee, unsettled his allies, disenchanted his base and drove a wedge between him and those who were warming up to his entreaties.

It was such that at the end of his speech, his allies among them One Kenya Alliance were left unsure while many others wondered whether it was worth the hype created in the days leading up to it.

Worse still, it did little to dissuade his base from feeling disillusioned and adrift.

His effort did little to explain the turbulent relationship between him and his deputy that has at times threatened the viability of government and in the process made some unforced errors.

The choice of language of delivery aside; Uhuru said things he didn’t need to say and didn’t say things he needed to say. Does remonstrating with the Church - where many of the poor go to look for hope and solace from the daily hardship - undermine efforts to win back the people from the Hustler Nation embrace? He tarred a whole community with the same brush. Was that necessary?

The question remains; is the emotional attachment to the Hustler Narrative so strong in his backyard that it needed so much effort?

That he grappled with the reason why he prefers Raila as his successor by explaining why his deputy, William Ruto was unsuitable speaks volumes.

In the end, Sagana III bore the hallmarks of the last 10 years; where he has had to explain away his decisions over and over again because he has solely been misunderstood or that he has had a change of heart and mind.

First, he has treated his broken relationship with his deputy like a can to be kicked down the road seemingly never concerned about what a fractured relationship would have on those who voted for him and how their estranged relationship would have a bearing on the affairs of the government. The net effect of their souring relationship has not only disrupted the development agenda, it also sowed the seeds of mistrust and bred a dysfunctional government.

Secondly, it did not cure the hurt in his base most of who question the wisdom of inviting to government a challenger whom you campaigned hard against.

The question is if Dr Ruto is as ugly as the portraits we have heard suggest, why hasn’t the president directly (and strongly) repudiated him? If indeed Ruto has stolen and is guilty of abuse of office, he should be dealt with in accordance with the laws of the land. For most of the time, media was reduced to reading the body of the two leaders. Otherwise, what the president is telling Kenyans is that it is okay to abuse your office and steal, so long as you are the deputy president. And for Ruto to keep a straight face despite all the accusations swirling around him, is to invite more condemnation and a measure of culpability on his part. 

Something is not adding up. Just like when the president says he invited Mr Odinga to Harambee House for the March 2018 ‘handshake’ to stop the violence and ‘bring peace” and continuously disparages the first-past-the-post model of democracy as winner-takes-it-all yet by all intents and purposes, democracy is a contest of ideas with the good idea giving way to a better one?

The tragedy of it all - at least as we have heard over and over from the president’s men - is that the differences were of a personal nature and not philosophical like the size of government or the role of government, but about who should be successor.

And that is why deeper thought, planning and consideration needed to have gone into Sagana III. The president ought to have disavowed the narrative that risks defining most his legacy; that he elbowed his deputy out of the way despite he (Ruto) sacrificing so much for him.

In short, he needed to make a more convincing case why Mr Odinga was a better alternative.

His followers expected him to bury his deputy in an avalanche of revelations. From what happened, his deputy will surely live to fight another day.

Jeremi Suri argues in The Impossible Presidency- The Rise and Fall of America's Highest Office that even the most capable presidents are doomed to fail.

“Limiting the failure and achieving some good along the way” is the least they can do. The jury is still out on Uhuru’s achievements; he will have to do more than more get-togethers at Sagana to explain his failed relationship with his deputy and the damage it has caused him.

Mr Kipkemboi is Partnerships and Special Projects Editor, Standard Group