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Is Ruto the light that Koitalel saw a century ago?

Deputy President William Ruto during the Kenya Kwanza Nakuru county Economic Forum on May 19, 2022. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

In 2006, a century after the Nandi resistance, a Kenyan from Warwick University, with the help of British archaeologists, found a ‘sacred’ tribal stick thought to have been used by Koitalel arap Samoei, the legendary Nandi leader. It was traced to the home of Captain Richard Meinertzhagen–the man who shot Koitalel in 1906.

His son Randle Meinertzhagen decided to return it to Kenya. A politician remarked that “it was so glorious for the Nandi to have once again acquired the strength of their great grandfather”. Curiously, the stick was ceremoniously handed to Deputy President William Ruto and kept at the Eldoret Town Hall. This act earned Dr Ruto a euphoric following and great respect. Many Kalenjins viewed Ruto as the reincarnation of Koitalel. 

This myth was instrumental in understanding how Ruto was able to emerge as the foremost Kalenjin leader. The government recently immortalised Koitalel arap Samoei by naming a public University at Mosoriot after him. For nearly a century now, the Nandi civilisation has not produced a man of great strength and stature as Dr Ruto.

 Besides Koitalel arap Samoei, there was Kipchumba arap Koilege and  Barsirian arap Manyei - men who shaped Nandi the history; men of great endurance to resistance, resilience and chauvinism, all who ruled between 1889 and 1925. 

The man who is thought to be a reincarnation of these great men has steadily raised his national standing and today, he is vying to become the next president of Kenya. I have, in the past, argued here that one of Ruto’s political inspirations comes from the fact that he is a Nandi in mould, culture and ethnology. When, for example, he says “no retreat no surrender”, one is reminded of the Koitalel Samoei of the Nandi rebellion. A recent coronation ceremony conducted by the Talai clan to endorse Ruto for presidency is testimony of this historical connectivity. 

However, Ruto, whose real name is Kipchirchir, is not related to Samoei. He came up with the name Samoei after getting into politics. Christopher arap Koiyogi of Talai clan confirms that Ruto is not related to the family of Koitalel. By the way, it was under the reign of Koitalel that the Nandi became hostile to foreigners entering Nandi territory. As a result, the Nandi were branded vandals. When Ruto made a remark on Watu wa Kung’oa reli, little did he know that the man whom he calls a descendant had led Nandi to vandalise the railway 100 years ago.

On June 14, 1906, Richard Meinertzhagen, the British military administrative officer, shot and killed Koitalel during a “peace” meeting. It had taken the British a decade to hunt down and kill Koitalel. They did this with vengeance and anger. They beheaded him. His head is still kept somewhere in Lancaster. Samoei had led the longest and most protracted resistance against the British rule in Africa. Before his death, he made a prophecy that there would be darkness in the Nandi for 100 years upon which light would come. Will this light be Ruto? Time will tell.

Dr Chacha teaches at Laikipia University