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Ruto is America's blue-eyed boy, but that might change if Trump returns

 President William Ruto during the World Bank IDA African Heads of State Summit at Nairobi KICC on April 29, 2024. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Kenya and the United States share some things. Besides starting as rebellious British colonies, they hold regular presidential elections, and occasionally experience challenges in the conduct and outcomes of elections. The US has had more influence on Kenyan elections and developments than Kenya has had on the US. When occasionally Kenya appears to have small input in the American election, the loser is not amused.

In contrast, Americans of influence actively campaign and fund their favourite Kenyan candidates. Over time, three Kenyans stood out as perceived point men for American interests in Africa. They were Tom Mboya in the 1950s and early 1960s, Raila Odinga in the 2000s, and now William Ruto as Joe Biden’s point man. Biden inviting Ruto to Washington in a US election year has electoral nuances not lost to Donald Trump’s camp.

The US has had many troubled elections. In 1800, vice-presidential candidate Aaron Burr tried to steal the presidency from Thomas Jefferson; the 12th Amendment fixed the existing anomaly. No one won in 1824 but the decision in Congress went to John Quincy Adams who had come second. Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 led to the Civil War as slave-holding Southern states seceded. There then came the compromised election of 1876 in which the Republicans surrendered black Americans in the South to the Ku Klux Klan. John F Kennedy’s 1960 narrow victory over Richard M Nixon left Nixon bitter. The Supreme Court settled the protracted 2000 George W Bush and Al Gore election dispute but has not handled the 2020 Trump and Biden matter with associated insurrection which sets the stage for a 2024 rematch.

Kenya has also had disputed elections and some have attracted American interest. At the height of anti-colonialism during the Mau Mau War and the Cold War, the US took interest in Kenya and identified Mboya to work with. Mboya was initially a British creation of non-Kikuyu leadership for Africans to counter supposed Mau Mau leaders in jail. The Americans snatched and turned him into their Cold War point man in Africa. In the rigged 1957 election for Africans in Kenya, Americans funded Mboya’s campaign against Agwings Kodhek and were quick to announce his victory. Mboya’s subsequent links with the Kennedys, particularly in 1960, annoyed Nixon who won the US election in 1968 and wanted nothing to do with Mboya or any ‘Kennedite’. Among Nixon’s favourite African leaders was Kenya’s Vice-President Daniel arap Moi.

In postcolonial Kenya, there were serious electoral disputes, some violent, after the return of multi-party politics and the Americans were reportedly involved. US Ambassador to Kenya, Smith Hempstone, was heavily involved in the 1992 election which Moi still won because, Hempstone believed, the opposition was divided. The Americans were active in ‘civil society’ and NGOs in the 1997 election and supported Charity Ngilu, but Moi still ‘won’ over Mwai Kibaki. Unable to undo his own two-term constitutional limitations that he imposed in 1992, Moi was forced out of office in 2002 for Kibaki to win the election.

As President, Kibaki became the target of the West, which favoured Raila. This was orchestrated through the Yash Pal Ghai Constitutional Commission that morphed into the Bomas fiasco which produced a constitutional mongrel of president and prime minister. Kenyans, Kibaki seemingly included, rejected that mongrel in a 2005 referendum but ‘regime change’ effort to remove Kibaki intensified so much that it culminated in the 2007 electoral crisis. As the British demanded, this led to the Kofi Annan power-sharing arrangement. It also led Uhuru Kenyatta and Ruto to The Hague.

The two survived The Hague and Ruto is now president, hobnobbing with Biden in a US election year. Republican Trump might win the 2024 presidential election and might behave like Republican Nixon, dump everyone closely associated with Biden. This is something for Ruto handlers to consider.

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