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How Mt Kenya voters paid two political debts in full in one election

Uhuru Kenyatta (right) hands over the ceremonial sword during William Ruto's swearing in at Kasarani on September 13, 2022. [PSCU]

Mountain people believe that all debts, except those involving witchcraft, must be paid in one way or another. The supposed debts are theoretical, emotional, collective, and cultural to the extent that people of the Mountain might identify with them.

Since they include political debts, the 2022 presidential election appeared like one of collecting political debts from the Mountain. The debts were to individuals who were perceived to have made political contribution.

In considering those debts, however, the concept of kihooto (fact) comes into play to set priorities. Since no person can over-ride kihooto, irrespective of his stature, personal interests give way to the collective sense of justice.

There were two supposed debts in 2022 whose collectors were prying the Mountain. One debt is about a family's (the Odinga family) political relations with another, the Kenyatta family.

The second debt hovers around an individual, Dr William Ruto, who assisted Uhuru Kenyatta to bag the presidency amid international hostility. The two supposed political debts appeared to mature at the same time- and the Mountain decided to pay them.

Political fate offered ways out in the form of differences over priorities between Uhuru and the other Mountain people From the time of Iregi when Gikuyu people rejected rule by one man, they have insisted on kihooto as their guiding principle before undertaking anything major.

When Uhuru told people to vote for Raila and not Ruto, they demanded to know why and since adequate explanations were far from coming, they collectively refused to go along. They also empathised with Uhuru's endorsement of Raila to pay a Kenyatta family debt to the Odinga family.

The debt in question goes back to June 1958 when Jaramogi Oginga Odinga stood in the Legislative Council to re-introduce Kenyatta’s name in public. He did that to undercut his political rival, Tom Mboya, a favourite of the Western media. The only leaders that the Kenyans knew, he declared, were those in jail led by Kenyatta.

Thereafter, no politician dared to address the public without demanding the release of Jomo. For resuscitating Jomo’s name in public, Mr Odinga prepared the way for Kenyatta’s release and eventual presidency.

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga (left) with Jomo Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi, in 1965.  [File, Standard]

This made the Kenyatta family indebted to the Odinga family. Uhuru was seemingly trying to pay that family debt by helping Raila to become president.

The second debt relates to Uhuru and Ruto's joint tribulations as victims of international schemes through the ICC. The Mountain people considered the allegations against Uhuru to be a symbolic assault on the community, which was on the receiving end in the 2007 election chaos. They were determined to rescue him.

In that rescue effort, they saw Ruto join Uhuru to forge a political unity and were clear about two things. First, the unity had helped to rescue both men from The Hague and propel them to the presidency.

Second, to Uhuru's supporters, Ruto was there when it mattered which translated into a community debt. Whether or not Uhuru saw it that way, the people in the Mountain considered it a matter of kihooto, of fairness, of honour. To the people, claims later that Uhuru had bought Ruto’s support made little sense; it was poor excuse for seemingly ignoring kihooto. While letting Uhuru do as he wanted, the people decided to pay their collective debt by voting Ruto. Since Uhuru did not offer adequate reasons for rejecting Ruto, his wish seemingly went against kihooto; it was not right.

The 2022 presidential election, therefore, helped the Mountain to ’pay’, and free itself from, two debts. By supporting Raila’s candidature, Uhuru paid the 1958 Kenyatta family debt to the Odinga family for resuscitating Jomo’s name.

By voting for Ruto, the Mountain community honoured its sense of obligation to pay a collective debt arising from the ICC rescue; a matter of kihooto. This makes both Uhuru and the Mountain politically debt-free.