Ruto in school of hard knocks where only truth will save him


President William Ruto. [File, Standard]

Realpolitik is the ultimate school of hard knocks. It teaches even the very finest of us that we know nothing.

Often, too, humility and emotional intelligence are your best weapons in that space. That is the one lesson sinking home, in the wake of the Gen Z Uprising. 

In stark, and sometimes hard-to-print idiom, Kenyan youth have coarsely dished out to President William Ruto unsympathetic stuff. It is stuff that we serve to the political class in decent idioms.

But they are the youth. And they are in the dark alleys of public communications, where the president invited himself on Friday. The president is himself proving that he can be slow in the hard knocks academy. He has addressed Kenyans five times on the ongoing uprising, without showing much learning. 

Each time the president has addressed the public these past few days, he has mourned his dead Finance Bill. When he is not doing that, he is smugly praising the police for brutal handling of the protesters. State House is challenged with reading the public mood and adjusting the sails. Adjusting your sails to the winds so that they can help you get there with ease is always critical. Students of history know Vasco Da Gama of Portugal took four weeks to sail from Malindi to Calcutta in India in 1498. But he took three months to sail back to Malindi, after being unceremoniously bundled out of Calcutta. You see, the famous sailor used the monsoon winds to get to Calcutta. But after being suspected to be a common sea pirate, the Indians ordered him to leave at once. He sailed back against the same winds that had taken him to India. 

Is President Ruto having a Calcutta to Malindi moment? Is he sailing against the popular Kenyan monsoon winds that navigated him to State House in August 2022? 

There is a lessons galore from President Ruto’s last five engagements with Kenyans on the crises in the country. First, be sensitive to public pain and suffering.

Never erupt into an angry outburst against the public without placing yourself in their shoes. How are they feeling? What would they like to hear? That is where to begin. You never begin with how furious you are, and how they must understand that you are the boss; fully loaded with “the force of the law.” You lose it from the start. And that is where President Ruto is, facing public anger. 

Second, speak the truth, stick to it. Check your facts all the time. Do not give interviews before checking your facts. Carry notes. Do not be afraid to admit when you don’t know. Promise to fact check and bring the correct answers later. Earn trust. Don’t look like a deliberate peddler of untruths. Avoid contradictions. The narrative about thugs overwhelming police and taking their uniform and guns has heads still shaking. Surely?  

Third, and which is also first, respect and protect life. Life is the first property, even before estates. Respect also your own political life. The king on the chessboard is always protected. Don’t expose yourself. The president must allow his people to articulate government policy and position on his behalf.

It is dangerous for the president to be a rolling stone; an all-knowing leader who must be in the ring all the time. If he makes a mistake, it cannot be corrected. You are the manager of last resort. Go easy! Create safety valves for communications by loading fuses that are spokespersons in the system.  They will break the circuits of mistakes. Their communication blunders can be corrected. Yours can’t. 

It is fatal when the king makes the wrong move. There is no room for disowning what was said. Palpable eagerness by the boss to be the one to fight every fire betrays a serious failure to take lessons; worse still, failure to consult.

Or, maybe, all the people around the boss are just too scared of him? Even when they think differently, they simply say, “Yes, Sir.” Or, again maybe, the boss only listens to some types of individuals; people who don’t understand, can’t begin understanding, and will never understand? He needs a quiet dialogue with himself in that respect. 

But, finally, every boss must know the true winds that took him to Calcutta. Never mistake a soft Cabinet breeze for the powerful monsoon. And never sail against the monsoon of the people who voted for you. The people are a very difficult headwind. Learn to adjust your sails for a safe and comfortable ride with them. But if you don’t want to, then face them at your own risk and peril.

Dr Muluka is a strategic communications adviser.