You must never be too close to people you may have to fight one day. Confess nothing to one-time rivals because they are potential enemies. This is the most important lesson every politician should cram into their noggin. In Kiswahili – kikulacho ki nguoni mwako
(your best friend is your worst enemy). That’s why there should be no friendship in politics, only interests. This is the cardinal sin that Gatundu’s Uhuru Kenyatta committed with Eldoret’s William Ruto when the duo formed Jubilee. Mr Kenyatta, unlike Mr Ruto, appears to have confessed too much to secure the latter’s hand in their political marriage. Now, Ruto is using those secrets to hogtie Kenyatta. That’s why Ruto has called Kenyatta’s bluff.
Let me peel your eyes, and tell you why Ruto is eating Kenyatta’s lunch. First, Ruto, who has described himself as a “hustler” – and not a prince – has amassed enormous wealth. How the son of a peasant did it in plain sight no one can really say unless Kenya’s investigators grow some cojones and tell us. But Ruto knew the only way to play in the big leagues is to grab wealth – by hook, or crook. Today, the whispering classes say that Ruto has more money than God. In a political system where corruption is king, and the electorate can be bought for a shilling, Ruto’s primitive accumulation of money was a masterstroke.
Second, Ruto plays the long game, although he’s unable to hide his naked ambition. He formed Jubilee not because he was in love with the Kikuyu, or Kenyatta. No – he did so with two strategic goals in mind. The first was to escape the noose of the International Criminal Court. Mission accomplished. The second was to lasso the Kikuyu and Kenyatta into supporting him for the State House in 2022. He’s three-quarters of the way there. Where Kenyatta is asleep because he has no compelling reason to be awake, Ruto is awake all the time. Kenyatta is content with power. Ruto is hungry for power. A hungry man is an angry man.
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Third, Ruto knows that the Kikuyu are running scared. How I do I know this? They say so openly in public in Ruto’s presence. Recently, Kenyatta had to read the riot act to Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu after he asked Kenyatta to re-affirm his support for Ruto. Governor Waititu told Kenyatta that the only way to save the Kikuyu in the Rift Valley was to back Ruto. Waititu speaks his mind because he has an ungoverned mouth. But he hit the nail on the head here. He was reminding Kenyatta that Ruto has Kikuyu hostages in the Rift Valley. You can’t spell the word threat any more clearly.
Fourth, Ruto has never been in awe of Kenyatta. Not even after he became his deputy in 2013. Why? It’s because he believes that he made Kenyatta the head of state – something Kenyatta confirmed by making him co-president. By the time Kenyatta realised that he had to snatch the keys to the mansion back from Ruto, it was too late. Ruto had already made several duplicate keys. One of those keys has been to pack the political branches – the executive and the legislature – with his lackeys and allies. The biggest insult to Kenyatta is that Ruto has either bought, installed, or corralled three-quarters of all elected leaders in Mt Kenya.
Fifth, Ruto has neutered Kenyatta because the Constitution gives him total independence from Kenyatta. Kenyatta commanded that Ruto cease “loitering” (campaigning for 2022). Ruto ignored Kenyatta. In fact, Ruto has been camped in Kikuyu country campaigning every day. Kenyatta asked Ruto to support his “handshake” with ODM’s Raila Odinga. Ruto instead flipped the proverbial bird on Kenyatta. Lately, Ruto has unleashed a torrent attacks on the “handshake” and Raila. Ruto has gone so far as to suggest Kenyatta is naïve and has been conned by the “evil” Raila. Ruto has defied Kenyatta at every turn and dared him “uta do”?
(I dare you).
Finally, it’s clear Kenyatta’s policy of containment against Ruto has failed. Ruto feels emboldened. He knows arresting him for corruption would cause a political explosion. Can Kenyatta and Raila engineer a political decapitation – like an impeachment? Possible but improbable. This leaves Kenyatta an outsider in the government he leads. Ruto has edged him out and taken the reins. Question – does the scion of the Burning Spear have one more arrow in his quiver?
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- The writer is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua.