Ruto’s key headache is in Jubilee, not the Uhuru-Raila handshake

Deputy President William Ruto

Deputy President William Ruto has long being valourised for his political genius. He’s been called a master strategist – a ruthless, cut throat schemer without peer in the Republic of Kenya. The man from Eldoret wears his burning ambition on his sleeve. Ever since he was betrothed to Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta for the 2013 elections, Mr Ruto has kept his eyes on the prize. He maniacally craves sleeping in Kenya’s most powerful address. That’s the house on the hill – State House. He thought he had corralled the Agikuyu – without whom he will never wake up at State House – until the March 9 “handshake” between ODM’s Raila Odinga and Mr Kenyatta. To Ruto, only Raila stands between him and State House.

Sit back, and let me peel this onion to reveal Ruto’sconundrum. Methinks Ruto may be traveling down a cul de sac, a dead end. There are many things I don’t agree with analyst Mutahi Ngunyi about. But Mr Ngunyi hits a bull’s eye when he opines that in Kenya, a person doesn’t – cannot – make himself president. In Ngunyi’s witty telling, others make you president. Ruto would be wise to heed Ngunyi’s sage advice. Ruto has proceeded as though he will anoint himself president whether Kenya’s political Mafiosi like it or not. This is a fool’s errand unless Ruto is planning a popular revolution, a mass uprising – a thronging mob – of “chicken hustlers.”

In tennis, there’s something called unforced errors. That’s when a player unravels and keeps shooting her/himself on every foot. Ruto is there. He’s like that antelope in Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease who danced herself lame before the shindig started. By the time guests arrived, she was snoring, soundly asleep from exhaustion. Ruto comes from the Kalenjin Nation which is famed for long distance running. He obviously has missed the lesson of pacing oneself for the main burst down the stretch. He’s flailing about, spending money like it’s raining from the heavens, and spouting off at the mouth without any guardrails. These are signs of panic. The heart has eclipsed the brain. He’s acting before thinking.

Last week, Ruto’s boss – the son of the Burning of Spear – warned certain persons to stop early campaigns for the top seat in 2022. Kenyatta bluntly said the attendant harsh rhetoric was raising political temperatures. Ruto is the only person who’s been campaigning for 2022. Kenyatta was telling his deputy to knock it off. You will recall several months ago Kenyatta had publicly reprimanded Ruto to his face to stop “kutangatanga,”Kiswahili for “aimless political loitering.” It was a poignant moment. That statement was made in Raila’s presence after the “handshake.” No rocket science is required to decipher what’s going on. Kenyatta doesn’t want Ruto to kill his legacy.

But there’s more. Ruto had hitched his fortunes to Jubilee in a pact that he thought was suicidal. In other words, Ruto believed that denying him power through Jubilee would also kill the party. It has been a tragic miscalculation. Jubilee was always a vessel of convenience, an empty instrumentality for the machinations of the status quo. Ruto hasn’t realised that he’s the outsider in that scheme. He thought at the end he could collect on a debt. In political science, they teach you not to put all your eggs in the basket of a political debt. Otherwise your heart will be broken – hard. Ruto is turning out to be Exhibit A of this truism.

Which brings me to Ruto’s panicky attacks on Raila. It’s clear that the “handshake” rattled Ruto to his core. His boss didn’t even tell him about it beforehand. Since then, Ruto and his acolytes have been trying to find out – without success – what’s the “handshake” is all about. It’s really eating him. He says, without evidence, that Raila is using it to dismember and cannibalise Jubilee to neuter Ruto. He thought the anti-corruption putsch was a plot against him. Ruto can see his dream slipping away. I don’t blame him. Kenyatta has left him at the altar. He’s jilted. They say hell hath no fury than a woman scorned.

I have free advice for Ruto. He should leave Raila alone. The son of Jaramogi isn’t his problem. Ruto’sfundamental problem is Jubilee and how – and why – that house was built in the first place. The basic contradiction for Ruto is in Jubilee, not with the “handshake.” The “handshake” simply exacerbated Ruto’s woes – it didn’t cause them. The son of Samoei is now staring down a cliff as he hurtles towards the ravine. Can he recover?

- The writer is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua