William Ruto
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Accept new realities or be swept away by the revolutionary tide

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President William Ruto during the Presidential Roundtable at State House, Nairobi on June 30, 2024.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto must stop speaking out of both sides of his mouth on the stated commitment to address issues raised by the GenZ revolt against oppressive taxation and wider governance issues.

There is no doubt that he has made some important concessions, and is to some extent doing and saying all the right things.

He abandoned the contentious Finance Bill once he realised the futility of resisting a tidal wave. He announced a raft of cost-cutting measures which go some way towards cutting waste and profligacy in his government, engaged the youth on X spaces and is promising some major change in his government as well as putting in place the mechanism for national dialogue.

However, it does appear that he is only acting in response to pressure with little commitment to what he is promising.

If he is only buying time hoping that the widespread anger against his administration will dissipate, he might be in for some rude shocks.

The more he digs in with signals that he wants to ride out the storm, the more perceptions are reinforced of a president who cannot be taken at his word. And the more likelihood that the youth will give up on the effectiveness of peaceful protests or the hope in honest dialogue.

That will give way for more radical elements who might not be interested in just fixing the broken things, but burning the whole edifice to the ground.

Revolutionary moment

President Ruto must realise that Kenya is going through a revolutionary moment, and he must either ride with it, or be swept away.

The problem is that comprehending this might be difficult for a man who has forever been on the wrong side of history.

Though he posed as a candidate for change during the 2022 elections, the truth is that President Ruto is a reactionary by nature, but one opportunistic enough to latch on to populist causes for political expediency.

During the heady days of the fight against the oppressive one-party dictatorship at the beginning of the 1990s, he was a card-carrying member of the infamous Youth for Kanu ’92 brigade that supported President Daniel arap Moi’s kleptocracy. 

And it is forever on record that he was one of the more prominent figures that fought tooth and nail against the progressive new Constitution adopted in 2010, preferring retention of the old order that was not in line with our democratic evolution.

Even where there has been conversation towards addressing some of the critical national schisms not solved either by independence from British colonial rule in 1963, return of multi-party democracy in 1991, exit of the Moi regime in 2002 or adoption of the new Constitution in 2010, Mr Ruto has always been the strident ‘Dr No’.

He would obviously prefer to be left alone to govern in his own ways, but he cannot be blind to the historic events he has experienced first-hand. He must know now that he cannot stand in the way of a revolution.

Wonderful revolution

Now, let us be clear, a revolutionary moment does not have to be a violent takeover. It does not have to be blood on the streets, violent confrontations with security forces, burning buildings or general descent into chaos.

What we are witnessing in Kenya is a wonderful revolution of the mind. It is a young generation that traditionally gave politics or even general discussion on economic and social concerns a wide berth; opening their eyes and saying ‘enough is enough!’

Where their parents and grandparents failed, the GenZ have decided to step out of complacency and confront the national malaise head-on. The fear is gone.

The problem is that on the one hand, President Ruto responds positively to the issues being raised; but in his own words demonstrates that even he does not believe in what he says and does.

Therefore he continues to insist that the contentious Finance Bill was the only answer to Kenya’s woes. He continues to hail as heroes and patriots the short-sighted MPs who ignored the wishes of their constituents by supporting the Bill, and even refuses to acknowledge police brutality in suppression of protests. His commiserations for the youth killed by police come across as forced, reluctant and insincere.

We are also seeing the President’s surrogates mobilised to push back against the onrushing tide. Meanwhile, the state security apparatus is working hard to concoct evidence to fit the propaganda narratives that assign blame for the youth protests to hidden political hands.

Stone-age tactics failed to halt the march to democratisation. They will not halt this new revolution.

[email protected], @MachariaGaitho