Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta were incompatible from the word go

Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto at State House, Nairobi, April 2015. [Tabitha Otwori, Standard]

From the optics, the natural chemistry between President William Ruto and former President Uhuru Kenyatta is inherently incompatible.

I hold a theory that this state of affairs is attributable to the upbringing of both individuals which could have motivated Ruto to craft the hustler-vs-dynasty narrative as a campaign strategy.

That ideally should be their business, but we are living at a time when the resultant class warfare impacts our collective lives and livelihoods in a fundamental way. Being in their age bracket and knowing both fairly well, I believe that I can write on this subject authoritatively.

I attended university in the 1980s and I understand Ruto and what drives him. Having excelled through the public school system, this brilliant son of a rural farmer was predisposed to humble ways, sang in the university choir and was an ardent member of the Christian Union.

It was the choir that exposed him to State House where his singing endeared him to President Daniel arap Moi and ultimately propelled the Botany student into the world of politics.

University students in those days were guaranteed prestigious government postings upon graduation, but Ruto chose to plunge into the murky waters of Kenyan politics because he had bigger dreams than most of us. Under the tutelage of powerful Kanu mandarins, the youthful novice learnt the politics of big money, patronage and brinkmanship. He has never looked back.

The class divide between Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto is stark. When Ruto was herding goats and drinking Mursik in Sugoi during school holidays, Uhuru was playing Rugby between rounds of Pilsner in the city with carefree abandon.

Unlike Ruto, Uhuru was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, went to prestigious schools in Nairobi and led a privileged early life. The likes of Ruto loathed this ‘spoilt’ city crowd because they tended to access life opportunities effortlessly. For Ruto and Uhuru, this archetypical social class rivalry did not end with early adulthood, it spill over into the realm of competitive politics.

It is generally perceived that Uhuru never really harboured a burning passion for the presidency. He was lured into it and hence inexorably forced into a political dance with his nemesis. For Ruto, becoming the president has always been a zealous endgame regardless of the means to that end. At the outset, Uhuru brought into the UhuRuto administration the spendthrift excesses of city revelling complete with the erstwhile buddies effectively sidelining his outsider deputy from the revelry.

Ruto endured the snooty treatment but stayed on because the status quo accorded him the platform he desperately needed as a springboard to the presidency. Ruto clung to the failed marriage even after Uhuru invited the Opposition chief into the political matrimonial bedroom and watched the palace party from a distance.

As the palace revelling carried on late into the night, the jilted partner stealthily penetrated the ground and stole the grassroots vote. Uhuru never saw that coming. Ruto brought into the presidency a combination of the underdog’s determination to prove a point and the Moi-era brinkmanship politics.

Moreover, he came to office free from the UhuRuto-style power-sharing baggage. Nevertheless, many of the key policy decisions that he makes as president are driven by a boorish desire to negate those that his erstwhile boss made regardless of merit.

As a result of this egoistic competition, the management of State affairs and inevitably health of the economy will hinge on whether Uhuru was right or wrong. It doesn’t help matters that the retired president refuses to disappear from the local political scene but instead continues to pile pressure on the Ruto government from outside. 

I once tried to explain the UhuRuto farce as a marriage of convenience to a crowd of Jubilee revellers in a village pub at the peak of the 2012 presidential campaigns. I was immediately attacked with a barrage of invective and expelled from the pub by a mob of inebriated ‘hustlers’. The campaign agent who was buying the drinks happened to be a former classmate.

As some of us proceeded to university, he joined a throng of shady brokers who often hung around street corners and in dark corridors of public offices selling shortcuts to essential government services. Two years into the brokering hustle, he was driving an old Volvo. I lost contact with him shortly after 2013 but recently bumped into him inside a city shopping mall.

He was pushing an overflowing trolley accompanied by his wife and son. He told me he had moved to live among people of his social calibre because he could no longer stand the gullibility of the village folks.

I watched as he loaded the shopping into a shiny Toyota V8 and thought to myself - in just over 10 years - he had moved from hustling in the streets to driving a ramshackle Volvo to living in an upmarket residential area and driving a brand-new SUV, an amazing transformation by any stretch of the imagination.

I later checked with people in the know and learnt that my former schoolmate was a thriving Nairobi businessman dealing mainly with government tenders.

Meanwhile, a number of our classmates who graduated from university are retiring after 40 years of backbreaking civil service to a life of peasant farming in the village. I suddenly understood the real meaning of the bottom-up socioeconomic model in the pre and post-UhuRuto context.