What quest for deputy from Mt Kenya means for top candidates

ODM leader Raila Odinga (left) and Deputy President William Ruto greet each other at the installation of Arch Bishop Philip Anyolo as the Kisumu Arch-Diocese Bishop at Uzima University [NDUKU/DPPS]

The first amendment to Kenya’s Independence Constitution was passed in 1964 to achieve two major objectives. First, it established and declared Kenya a republic, meaning that the Queen of England ceased to be our titular head of state.  Secondly, the change established the constitutional positions of president and vice-president in which, like the American presidential model, the president would be the head of state and government, and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The holder of the office of vice-president would be appointed by the president and serve as the principal assistant and be the first in the line of succession. 

Under the 2010 Constitution, the position of the vice-president was upgraded to a deputy president whose holder would be nominated as a running mate of the successful presidential candidate and automatically serve as president for the remainder of the presidential term in the event of death, resignation, removal or incapacitation of the elected president. The immediate implication of the 2010 upgrade of the vice-presidency was to turn the choice of a running mate position into a high stakes matter in the countdown to a presidential election. Accordingly, the highly publicised controversy in Raila Odinga-led Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Coalition and the less talked about one in William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance should not come as a surprise except for the fact that whilst Kenya has more than 40 ethnic communities, the decision on whether the leading presidential contestants will pick Kikuyu running mates is the most potent fuel to this controversy. For a critical understanding, two historical dimensions and one political reality are worth noting.

Since 1964, the positions of president or vice-president have been held by ethnic Kikuyus save for the short period in 2002 when Musalia Mudavadi served as President Daniel Arap Moi’s Number Two. Secondly, in all competitive presidential elections since 1992, the votes cast in Central Kenya, which comprises the former Central Province and the current Nakuru, Laikipia, Meru, Tharaka Nithi and Embu counties have, determined the winner or the runners-up in the race. The political reality of the August presidential election stems from the fact that this would be the first time that a competitive election will be held without a major candidate from Gema country; put differently, this is the first time since 1992 that the Gema country will be a battle ground in the presidential election. Since ethnic Kikuyus account for over 70 per cent of the votes in Gema, it should be easy to understand why the decision on whether or not the running mate of Raila and Ruto should be an ethnic Kikuyu is a heavy one, hence what I call the Kikuyu factor in the 2022 presidential race.

Under Article 138(4) of the Constitution, the successful presidential candidate must receive “more than half of all the votes cast in the election (the 50 per cent plus one vote rule) and “at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in each of more than half of the counties (the successful candidate must get 25 per cent of votes in at least 24 counties). Given that the Gema communities of Gikuyu, Embu and Meru account for at least 30 per cent of the registered voters in the August General Election, it should be easy to reckon why it is critical to any serious presidential candidate. Equally significant is that the geographical spread of the Gema nation makes their votes crucial in fulfilling the 25 per cent votes’ requirement in at least 24 counties on account of their residence in Kiambu, Nyandarua, Murang'a, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Embu, Meru, Tharaka-Nithi, Nakuru, Laikipia, Isiolo, Lamu, Nairobi and Kajiado counties.

First round win

Three things deserve to be mentioned about the effect of Article 138(4) on this year’s presidential elections. First, in all likelihood, the two leading presidential candidates Raila and Ruto will easily fulfill the 25 per cent votes requirement in at least 24 counties. Secondly, the presidential election is likely to be a two-horse race and so it will be won or lost in the first round, and so the 50 per cent plus one vote requirement must be the main basis for the two horses to assemble the coalition or alliance to deliver the presidency. Thirdly, the best candidate for the running mate position should be the person able to contribute the highest number of votes to his or her alliance.

Kenya’s political demography is interesting because out of its much vaunted 42 communities, five of them namely the Kikuyu, Luhya, Kalenjin, Luo and Akamba account for over 70 per cent of the registered voters. This is the reason debates about the positions of president and deputy president revolve around politicians from these communities. Considering now that the leading presidential candidates hail from the Luo and Kalenjin communities, it is easy to understand why the talk on the running mate revolves around politicians from the Kikuyu, Luhya and Kamba communities. But it appears in Kenya Kwanza, Ruto might have convinced his Luhya allies to settle for much less.

There is something else. The ethnic character of Kenya’s presidential contests means that the support of influential political brokers from the five largest communities is necessary to win the presidential elections. Without a doubt, in the post 2010 Constitution era, the chief political brokers of presidential elections have been Uhuru, Raila, Ruto, Kalonzo Musyoka and Mudavadi in that descending order. Despite the fact that Uhuru will not be a candidate in this year’s election, his position as the incumbent still leaves him as the single most influential broker (I pledge to explain this contention within a fortnight).

At the heart of the Hustler Nation’s rapid spread in Central Kenya is the Lutheran notion that, just like the concept of personal salvation in Christianity, each individual may leverage his or her presidential election interest without going through their respective ethnic brokers alias kingpins. To date, this revolutionary idea has gained most acceptance in Central Kenya than, say, among members of the Luhya, Kisii, Maasai and Miji Kenya communities who support Ruto. In fact, Uhuru’s substantial loss of political influence in Gema country springs from the fact that his erstwhile supporters have joined Hustler Nation as free agents who submit and owe allegiance to Ruto directly. This is certainly not the case with majority of the Luhya in Kenya Kwanza.

Political elite's interests

Viewed in these perspectives, it is obvious that the Kikuyu factor in the choice of running mate will be a more complicated matter for both Raila and Ruto than it appears in most popular opinions. To be sure, there is no clamour or hunger for the running mate positions among ordinary people in Gema country, and so no significant popular offence would be occasioned by the refusal or failure of either or both Raila and Ruto to pick their choice from Gema politicians. However, from the standpoint of the political elite, the position is crucial, and particularly Kikuyu politicians who support Raila or Ruto. Let me explain.

About three months to the August General Election, the evidence of my eyes and ears show that out of every 10 Kikuyus, five are diehard members of the Hustler Nation, two of them either hate Ruto with a passion or consider the bottom-up philosophy as deceptive politics and economics mumbo jumbo. It is not easy to come across five supporters of Raila out of every pool of 100 Kikuyu voters. However, the anti-Ruto sentiment is usually so deep that its carriers will vote for Raila to try and stop a Ruto presidency. This means that out of our sample of 10 Kikuyu voters we have only three who could be persuaded to vote either way depending on the deal that Ruto and Raila will offer to the Kikuyu nation through their representatives. The dilemmas facing Ruto and Raila on the Kikuyu factor in the running mate controversy is best understood when cast as a question. What does Ruto or Raila stand to gain or lose by deciding to pick or failing to pick a Kikuyu running mate? 

'Tugege Aristocracy'

Let us start with Ruto, whose dilemma is significantly less because, going by the results of the ongoing UDA nominations, he has managed to establish an alliance of political vassals and underlings politically dependent on him. A less charitable friend describes this elite of the proletariat and lumpen bourgeoisse as the Tugege Aristocracy. In real terms, this elite is so beholden to Ruto that they need his support to get elected more than Ruto needs then to secure Kikuyu votes. The greatest paradox for Ruto is that whether or not he picks a Kikuyu running mate, about half of the voters will still vote for him because their support is unconditional so long as he remains their vehicle to project their spite and new found hate for President Kenyatta and his family. Ironically, there is no guarantee that the other half of the Kikuyu voters will vote for him merely because of a decision to pick a Kikuyu running mate. Yet it is more necessary for Ruto than for Raila to pick a Kikuyu running mate. Is there a contradiction somewhere?

The short answer is No. Outside Central Kenya, the Hustler Nation has shallow roots and its bottom-up economics holds little sway among Kenya’s conservative agrarian elite. In fact, unlike the Kikuyu majority, the Kalenjin people will vote for Ruto on account of shared ethnic identity as opposed to common membership of the Hustler Nation. It seems to me that only among the Kikuyu do you find a majority that has traded their ethnic identity for the socio-economic identity embodied in the Hustler Nation.

Excluding Central Kenya, Raila has a bigger political base than Ruto, but if Ruto manages to get over 70 per cent of the votes in Gema country, it would require the most dismal performance in Luhya land for him lose the presidential race. Thus, it is a matter of life and death for Ruto to secure overwhelming support for his presidential bid in Central Kenya. To do so, the Hustler Nation political elite would need the credibility to demonstrate to the undecided 30 per cent of undecided voters that UDA or Kenya Kwanza is giving the region a better political deal than the one Uhuru’s Jubilee is trying to get in the Azimio coalition.

In the mind of many Kikuyus, the most valuable political trophy in Kenya outside the presidency is Nairobi’s gubernatorial seat. In the wake of Ruto’s decision to give a direct ticket to Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja, the credibility of the Hustler Nation’s Kikuyu elite would be irreparably damaged if Ruto declines to give them the running mate position as a consolation prize for the unexpected “loss” of the Nairobi gubernatorial seat. The immediate implication is that it would become a tall order for Ruto to raise his support beyond the 50 per cent of the Kikuyu who have unconditionally laid themselves for the ends of the Hustler Nation.

Let us now turn to Raila and the running mate controversy in Azimio.  As adverted above, Raila’s quest for Kikuyu votes starts from the massive disadvantage that his principal backer Uhuru has for all practical purposes been replaced by his nemesis deputy as the chief political supremo in Gema country. Accordingly, Uhuru’s political goodwill in Gema country might not guarantee Raila 10 per cent of the votes at best. Yet for three reasons, there is more to presidential incumbency that will count for Raila than Uhuru’s political goodwill. 

The first reason is that since the 2007 General Election, Raila has perennially complained that his presidential victories were taken away because the State was against him. Seen in this perspective, now that Uhuru has publicly endorsed him, Raila should feel hard-pressed to lose the coming election. Secondly, Uhuru can still use his incumbency to secure a better deal in Azimio that convinces the conservative, cerebral sections and socio-economic elites of the Kikuyu nation that the new Jubilee Party elite will safeguard the long-term interests of the community compared to the Hustler Nation elite. At the very minimum, this deal must include ODM withdrawal from the contest for Nairobi gubernatorial seat in favour of Jubilee Party.

The third reason is the most poignant and consequential and it stems from the reasons Uhuru has oftenly given for his rejection of the “kumi ya Uhuru, kumi ya Ruto” pact in 2013. According to President Kenyatta, the 'handshake' with Raila was supposed to unify the country by ending political polarisation and brinkmanship that have manifested themselves in contested presidential elections and in the joint control of the presidency by the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin elites since independence. The logical conclusion of Uhuru’s reasoning is that he is morally obligated to support a non-Kikuyu for the position of president and deputy president, otherwise he would be a hypocrite. The way I see it is that in the running mate controversy in Azimio, Uhuru has no choice than to support Kalonzo. Yet the question is: Should Azimio’s running mate position be settled on sentimental considerations?

Again the short answer is No. Among the Gikuyu, there is little hunger or appetite for the running mate seat; the majority clamour for a consequential presidency and the loss of it cannot be consoled with the deputy’s position. In this regard, it is important to note that in a twisted sense, their support for the Hustler Nation is their way of keeping the presidency through Ruto whom they believe will deliver them the goods that Uhuru failed to. To the masses with such mindset, I wonder how many votes they would give Raila if Uhuru convinces him to choose a Kikuyu running mate.

The converse of this argument is more interesting. Kalonzo is desperate to be Raila’s running mate, his Kamba community values the position and will certainly express their gratitude with overwhelming votes for Raila’s presidential bid. In this regard, it will help to acknowledge that Kalonzo embodies the political aspirations of his community at the national stage and there is no governor of his Kamba counties that can truly replace him. Whichever way you look at it, therefore, with Kalonzo as the running mate, Raila will deliver more votes than a Kikuyu running mate endorsed by Uhuru will realistically bring. 

Moreover, at the national level, Raila stands to gain more from Uhuru’s support if the same is predicated on national considerations of national unity and inclusivity than as the chief political broker of the Kikuyu, which Ruto has substantially usurped. Finally, it will help Kalonzo to stop pushing his quest for the running mate position as an entitlement because in the end, the Luhya and the Gikuyu communities might give Raila more votes than the Kamba. In short, the main justification for Raila to pick Kalonzo as his running mate is because it would guarantee him of least one million votes that Raila cannot afford to lose. However, this will only happen if the spectre of a Ruto presidency scares Uhuru bad enough to forfeit the running mate position to Kalonzo.