How the 'tumundu' rebellion in Mt Kenya catapulted Ruto to State House

President William Ruto during the KDF Day Celebrations in Laikipia Air Base. [PCS]

The 2022 presidential election outcome was unusual in that it revealed the existence of an uprising in the Mountain; a revolt of the tumundu or small people. Although the signs were long there, the Mountain political elite ignored them, showed disdain, and assumed it had power to tell the tumundu what to do. To them, what the tumundu thought was irrelevant. Along the way, experts on ‘Kikuyu’ political culture and behaviour cropped up and filled the airwaves with authoritative assertions on how the Kikuyu act or were expected to behave.

Experts talking about the Kikuyu became a norm that left many Agikuyu wondering about the sources of the supposed expertise. The few who tried to warn that all was not well in the House of Mumbi were ignored partly because they probably belonged to the tumundu category. Ignoring the signs led to the wiping out of the existing political leadership in August 2022.

That revolt of the tumundu is rooted in two interconnected and enduring anchors, the Iregi tradition and the Kihooto principle. The people of Iregi generation rejected the rule by one man, instituted rule by layers of kiama or councils, and advanced the concept of generational rotation in governance called Itwika. Underlying that new system of governance was the kihooto principle that stressed justice, fairness, and maturity.

Since maturity meant integrity of action, speech, and thought, people were not expected to lie or mislead others. Those who behaved to the contrary were dismissed as children that needed rectification and could not be trusted with serious matters of the ‘nation’. While the tumundu continued to believe in Iregi and Kihooto, the supposed establishment in the House of Mumbi seemingly deviated from both anchors, lost sight of the beliefs that held the people together, and seemingly threatened the ‘nation’. With both anchors under threat, the reaction to the perceived threat accounts for the revolt of the tumundu.

Uhuru Kenyatta’s tragedy, in his obsession with legacy, was losing his ‘people’ - the tumundu. He had ‘advisors’ who repeatedly made him look unfair, unreliable, and without feelings.  Unaffected by shortages of basic commodities, they condoned evictions and destruction of businesses and dwellings. The supposed tumundu felt the pain and could not appeal to Uhuru, their man who was the president. He appeared not to feel their pain and was seemingly subservient to Raila's wishes as he engaged in mega showcase projects such as roads and ports. His appointments appeared geared to appease those who had wanted him jailed, rather than those who stood by him. This puzzled the tumundu into looking for alternatives.

That alternative became Deputy President William Samoei Ruto who, appearing like a victim of the high-profile schemers, attracted public sympathy. As Uhuru advisors struggled to discredit Ruto as potential presidential candidate, some claimed they had bought Ruto for more than Sh10 billion to support Uhuru and he should not, therefore, expect more. Since Ruto had, however, refused to 'stay bought', they were frustrated and their public demeanor became erratic. Uhuru campaigned for Raila against Ruto which increased Ruto’s political sympathy quotient. The tumundu, feeling neglected and mistreated, empathised with Ruto’s tribulations and made him one of their own. With the inadvertent assistance of Uhuru's advisors, therefore, Ruto exploited that empathy to the hilt; as a victim of ‘dynasty’ scheming.

Uhuru, realising late that he and his advisors had goofed, came out blazing against Ruto and in praise of Raila. He appealed directly to the Mountain people to accept his wishes, but he could not dent the tumundu resolve; they were tired of him. The election was thus a referendum on Uhuru, not Raila or Ruto. In electing Ruto, the tumundu rejected Uhuru and whatever he stood for mainly because he had acted contrary to Iregi and Kihooto expectations.