The protagonist in Things Fall Apart, the iconic anti-colonial novel by the great Chinua Achebe, is Okonkwo. Achebe writes that “Okonkwo was well known in the nine villages and beyond.” His fame rested on “solid personal achievements” among which was “throwing Amalinze the cat, the great wrestler who for seven years was unbeaten, from Umuofia to Mbaino.” ODM’s Raila Odinga is Kenya’s Okonkwo.
Which begs the question – what makes Deputy President William Ruto dream that he can “throw” Agwambo? Many a titan have taken on Raila only to be flummoxed. His March 9, 2018 handshake with Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta is Exhibit A. Take this to the bank – Raila will have Ruto for lunch sooner than later.
It isn’t that I think of Ruto as a shrinking violet. No – methinks he’s a ruthless political strategist who rose to national prominence through skullduggery. He’s a one man wrecking ball. But in politics you need three qualities to triumph in a democracy. Your enemies must fear you. Your friends must love you. Everyone else must respect you. Ruto possesses only the first of those qualities – his enemies fear him. But his friends don’t love him, and “everyone else” doesn’t respect him. In contrast, the man from Bondo boasts all three qualities. Raila is feared by his enemies, loved by his friends, and respected by “everyone else.” In this contest, Ruto is a minnow.
Even so, Ruto has decided he’s going for broke in clear defiance of his Jubilee superior, Kenya’s CEO Uhuru Kenyatta. Ruto is relying on a vague and unpublished memo – which I don’t even know whether it exists – between URP and TNA. In the rumoured memo, Mr Kenyatta apparently promised Ruto that he will deliver to him – like sheep to a slaughterhouse – his Mount Kenya electorate in 2022.
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Such political pacts are dicey. They aren’t legally binding, even when in plain black ink. It’s clear to everyone – even the village chicken – that Kenyatta has put that memo asunder. Ruto blames Raila’s handshake with Kenyatta for the complete pulverisation of the “succession memo.”
Ruto is right and wrong. He’s right the memo has gone bump in the night. That’s because the memo was a noose around Kenyatta’s neck. Ruto fancied himself a co-President. That was his undoing. He held Kenyatta hostage. The man from Eldoret should’ve been humble and bid his time patiently. An understudy must never – ever – show up the boss. Or give away that he’s chomping at the bit to replace his superior.
But Ruto has untethered ambition. The Chinese have a saying – it’s the peacock that raises its head above the others that gets shot. But Ruto is also right because the “handshake” with Raila freed Kenyatta to ditch him.
Ruto has taken the tack that he can bully Raila into submission. This is both foolish and wrongheaded. I don’t know who thinks for Ruto, or whether he only takes his own counsel. Taking on Raila is akin to wrestling a mugumo (fig) tree. First, the mugumo tree is rumoured to possess metaphysical powers. Second, Raila is an institution, which Ruto isn’t. It’s the height of folly for Ruto to think he can go mano-a-mano with Raila and come out alive. The better strategy would’ve been to go “around” Raila. The clever – I use the word to mean cunning – strategy would’ve been for Ruto to subordinate himself to Raila.
If, let’s say, Raila is Kenya’s equivalent of Nelson Mandela, where does Ruto get the cojones to believe that he can fell the mugumo tree? This spat – for that is what it is – won’t end well for Ruto. Raila will end up knocking Ruto out. There’s another simple reason Ruto will be Raila’s roadkill.
Ruto has unsuccessfully protested against claims that he is corrupt. The scandals that dog him and his perceived opposition to the war against corruption have stuck to him like a flea. It doesn’t help that his brigade breathes fire every time the kingpin is fingered.
Find no one behind
They say that if you want to run fast, run alone. But if you want to go far, run together. Ruto is determined to run alone. I am certain he can run fast. But he will find no one behind him when he looks back. I think every Kenyan is entitled to run for President. It’s Ruto’s right. But running full steam ahead like a pig will not get it. Demonising Raila is politically an existential threat for Ruto.
- The writer is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua.