As campaigns go to the wire, the attacks get tawdry and ill-tempered

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) and his deputy William Ruto.

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) and his deputy William Ruto.

Photo credit: File | PSCU

Oh, so William Ruto thought of slapping Uhuru Kenyatta for showing a lack of spine to fight for the Presidency after the Supreme Court annulled the presidential election in 2017? Though purportedly said in jest, it shows the utter contempt, the disdain, he holds for the President. Ruto was actually saying this to a group of self-styled Mt Kenya elders led by Uhuru's cousin.

What startled me beyond belief is when Uhuru, while hosting a Mt Kenya religious delegation in State House on July 8, corroborated Ruto's story that he was ready to cede power, ostensibly for the sake of peace. What? Did he actually mean to do that? Seriously? What is this mortal threat to peace that he perceived? Where is the logic that a court ruling – that goes against you, mark you – will provoke bloodshed? Even if it does, what's the difficulty in standing firm to protect a process that is constitutional?

As I recall, the Supreme Court ruling elicited no violence, just bitter feelings against the judges whose motives were patently political. The street demonstrations and skirmishes with police (mainly in Nairobi) came much later after the repeat election.

Breathing fire

If it's true Uhuru wanted to leave office, is it logical then to infer that it's Ruto who lent him the backbone to fight on and to start breathing fire about "revisiting" the Judiciary. All of which confirms to me something I've always suspected: Uhuru was not sure about what he wanted to do with the presidency when he sought and won it in 2013. He evidently lacks a killer instinct. No, no, no, I don't mean the urge to murder or kill! ‘Killer instinct’ is a figure of speech that simply means “a ruthless hunger to win”.

“If they had slapped me over power, I would have given them the other cheek to slap.” Oh God! Such utterances look weak and feckless. Get real, Uhuru. Power is not something to trivialise. As the late Cabinet Minister John Michuki used to say, it is not something to pass casually around like “moto ya sigara”. Used well for society, power is transformational. Why, I wonder, if you know you acquired it legally, should you feel guilty of holding it? And how would you explain such an abdication to those who elected you? That you were frightened out of office by a competitor?

Last week, while launching his campaign for the Raila Odinga-Martha Karua ticket in Nairobi, Uhuru described himself as lenient but assured that Karua, who Raila has pledged to assign the Justice docket, would jail the corrupt. Mr President, we thought you used to blame the courts for the inaction? And what about the warnings that Kenyans should not mistake a rained-on lion for a cat?

The story of the near-slap has allowed Azimio la Umoja to dig into Ruto's character and temperament. The chorus from the Azimio camp is that the DP has anger management issues that make him unfit to be President. Some people are seeing a correlation with the latest opinion poll results showing Raiĺa is ahead. There was the incident last week in Vihiga where Ruto loudly hectored a heckler: "Wewe kijana, wacha kunijibu! Unanijibu kama nani?" He then told him to leave the rally. As a politician, he perhaps should have handled it more calmly. Ruto's defence for that display was that he was angry because Kenyans were angry too because of the bad economy they were experiencing. But was the outburst about the cost of living?

Unrestrained anger

 Karua and Azimio's Chief Minister-designate Kalonzo Musyoka have seized on this narrative of unrestrained anger in the Number Two. While campaigning in Machakos on Thursday, Kalonzo narrated an incident in the 1990s when Ruto reportedly punched his then political rival in Uasin Gishu, Reuben Chesire, outside President Daniel arap Moi's office at the Eldoret State Lodge.

The low point of the insults was after Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa mentioned how Ruto ostensibly opposed his appointment to the Cabinet in 2018 and how at one point he almost slapped him as well. Ruto's response? "In my culture we don't slap women." The insinuation was that Wamalwa was a woman (meaning what, exactly?).

Ruto was communicating that he didn't respect the CS at all and that in his culture women weren't respected either. A shocked Wamalwa could only answer that Ruto had "stooped the lowest" and that this attack was "very unpresidential". The CS quoted Michelle Obama: "When they go low, we go high." He added that the factuality of his earlier comments was known to colleagues in the cabinet.

Zipporah Kittony, the sister to Ruto's old nemesis Chesire, has lately offered the DP some advice: "The DP manifests bitterness and anger. So many sensitive decisions are made in State House. The pursuit of power has blinded Ruto to the obligation of confidentiality."

Will Uhuru's recent entry into the pro-Raila campaign inflame Ruto uncontrollably?

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The $10 billion James Webb space telescope, a partnership of the US, European and Canadian space agencies, released its first stunning images last week. It's the most advanced telescope ever built. Task One is to peer back in time to when the earliest galaxies were forming some 400-600 million years after the Big Bang that birthed the universe 13.8 billion years ago. It can do this because it has infrared capability that sees through the dust and gas of the cosmos, unlike visible and ultraviolet light. 

Task Two is to explore for exoplanets and determine which are suitable for life using a technique called spectroscopy that can tell the chemical composition of their atmospheres. Within hours of activation, Webb found traces of water vapour on exoplanet WASP-96B, 1,150 light years away. But it's too near its star and too hot to conceivably harbour life.


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