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Reconcile Uhuru and Ruto, yes, but what drove them apart?

By Mark Oloo | October 24th 2021

Jubilee President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto on the campaign trail in Maua, Meru County, 2013. [George Mulala, Standard]

Kenyans' memory can be as short-lived as a gob of saliva. There were golden times when President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto were true political siblings.  

A few months after the 2013 elections that ushered in the dynamic duo, a Zimbabwean journalist confronted me in Harare.

He looked at me in the eye and asked: “How are Uhuru and Ruto settling in? They seem to be doing well.” That morning, a photo of the two leaders adorning white shirts and red ties was published in the foreign pages of a leading Zimbabwean daily.

I don’t recall my response to the journalist but his interest gave a hint of just how far and wide the two leaders had won admiration. In their heydays in the higher echelons of power, the ‘digital team’ had unparalleled grit and splendour.  

That was the time The Hague controversy was at its peak. Countries that believed in the narrative of colonial courts and powers angling to harangue African leaders didn’t hide their solidarity with Kenya. The two ambitious and hope-filled leaders focused on what united than divided them.

But today, things have gone south. They now throw brickbats at each other, with Ruto fast falling into the category of a perpetual outlander. The deputy president blames the March 9, 2018 Handshake but his narrative remains up in the air.

Interestingly, there have been discreet attempts by top bishops, powerful businessmen and senior politicians to reconcile the two leaders. Countless strategy meetings have taken place. But these reconciliation efforts all seem to have fallen flat in the face, at least going by what’s in the public domain.

The most recent of such efforts was by Catholic bishops. Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui warned that forces around Uhuru and Ruto who thrive on their discord would do anything to thwart the likelihood of reconciliation. I’m not sure this is the case.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and DP William Ruto, 2014. [George Njunge, Standard]

My take is simple. I believe neither Uhuru nor Ruto is averse to reconciliation - their supporters could be. The only muddle is that when people deserving to be reconciled don’t fully and voluntarily own the process, it becomes a farce.

Without the two leaders publicly revealing what spawned their divorce in the first place and admitting their failure to iron them out at their level, third parties such as the church are merely shadow boxing.

The two are yet to declare their so-called differences irreconcilable or that they have tried and failed to restore their working relations. They have simply chosen to say adieu to each other. Kenyans don’t know why.

Maybe a privileged few know what is inside the Uhuru-Ruto political closet. But being holders of public offices, nothing prevents them from pouring their hearts out to share their stories on why their final days seem loud and messy. 

You can take this to the bank. Reconciliation is not just about forgiving and forgetting as some church leaders would want us to believe. It is about deep retrospection and learning how to remember, embrace change and move on. It is, by and large, looking back and mending your ways and sticking with new resolutions.  

Anyone could have the moral authority to set up the reconciliation table. But this should be preceded by a first-hand understanding of what they are trying to cure.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and DP William Ruto, 2014. [Tabitha Otwori, Standard]

Austrian psychologist Fritz Herder talks of a theory where people tend to focus on cause-and-effect relationships even if they don’t exist. In retrospection, it helps to understand “other people's behaviour by attributing one or more causes to the specific behaviour”. The Jubilee leadership must not be economical with the truth on its implosion.

It’s called political honesty. What’s the one inexcusable thing that someone did? It is immoral to derive political capital with rudderless reconciliation attempts. That’s not how it works.

All over the world, it is not out of the ordinary for leaders to disagree in principle. It has happened elsewhere, including in Malawi where Joyce Banda, while serving as Number Two, was ruthlessly edged out from the inner circles of President Mbingu wa Mutharika.

In 2017, Uhuru and Ruto described themselves as pillars of unity when they collapsed their parties and convinced many others to fold and form a party with ‘a national look’. Their supporters, who had so much hope, are now clinging to the mere possibility that one day, they will get to know what killed the Jubilee dream.

When Kenya’s post-2010 Constitution history is written, the woes of Jubilee will have a chapter. The big question will be what made it falter and why was it not addressed in the nick of time. In the meantime, let retrospection begin in all honesty.

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