Let Uhuru, Ruto call off the dogs

Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi waves at a crowd that had gathered at Langas Police Station in Uasin Gishu County, where he presented himself on September 13, 2020.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Over the past week two of Dr Ruto’s most vocal supporters have dominated the news following searing attacks on President Kenyatta that descended to insults targeting his mother, former First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta.
  • The harsh words, which also singled out the President’s powerful but reclusive younger brother Muhoho, were clear indicators of the anger and bitterness that prevails between the President and his estranged deputy.

The decibel count has always been a reliable indicator of rising political tempers and is often a harbinger of likely political violence.

To that end, the clearest indicators of where we are headed may not necessarily come from the voices of the principal players — such as President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto or former Prime Minister Raila Odinga — but the unchecked utterances of their respective attack dogs.

Over the past week or so, two of Dr Ruto’s most vocal supporters, Kapsaret Member of the National Assembly Oscar Sudi and his Emurua Dikirr counterpart Johana Ng’eno, have dominated the news following searing attacks on President Kenyatta that descended to insults targeting his mother, former First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta.

The harsh words, which also singled out the President’s powerful but reclusive younger brother Muhoho, were clear indicators of the anger and bitterness that prevails between the President and his estranged deputy.

The danger signals from such unwholesome tirades is that they are not just about two individuals but leaders who command veritable political armies that have in the past faced off with deadly consequences. When the likes of Sudi and Ng’eno hit out, it is not just at the President but the entire edifice of a government and political system under his command.

Anger and bitterness

Expressions of anger and bitterness that Dr Ruto helped guarantee President Kenyatta’s election only to be betrayed point the finger wider at his support base of a community with a well-earned notoriety for using others to descend to power and then turning its backs on them.

These verbal assaults come with coded threats implying that mistreating Dr Ruto will attract dire consequences. What will easily come to mind for many are deadly episodes of ethnic political violence in the Rift Valley that have so often erupted with the electoral cycle. Whether or not that was the message Dr Ruto’s supporters meant to deliver, it was eagerly picked up by Mr Kenyatta’s boosters.

In short order, troupes of women, significantly outfitted in traditional dress, were paraded to loudly protest the slurs on Mama Ngina. It was clear that they were primed to not just defend an individual but pick up on the supposed threat to the community.

To that extent, the tirades backfired. They played right into the hands of President Kenyatta’s Kieleweke brigade, which has been looking for an opportunity to counter Dr Ruto’s inroads into the community.

Depicting the DP as an enemy or threat has not had the desired effect even as the narrative is played up that the community faces the recurrence of violence in the Rift Valley if it did reciprocate and vote for him come 2022. Still, it serves Dr Ruto little good when the likes of Sudi are seen to reflect his thinking.

Toxic language

The DP was quick to decry toxic language in the wake of the Sudi-Ng’eno utterances but it was case of too little too late, particularly as his disavowal was couched in general terms and did not amount to directly disowning the two MPs and their words.

The episode undoubtedly excited Dr Ruto’s base and also attracted others who harbour deep resentment against the long political and economic dominance of one community. If it played into the hands of his foes; he probably still came out the winner because of the usual ham-fisted response.

The words from Sudi and Ng’eno spoke for themselves in inadvertently helping to sell a specific narrative on Dr Ruto. However, the Kenyatta forces managed only to throw away a clear advantage by unleashing the police to arrest and haul them to court on offences that couldn’t quite be traced in the Penal Code.

Extraneous charges

Insults are par for the course in Kenyan politics and are not necessarily criminal offences. The eventual charge sheets were not about insulting Mama Ngina but extraneous charges that bore no relationship to what has caused the uproar.

In any case, Mr Kenyatta’s mouthpieces have also liberally been hurling epithets at the DP.

For every piece of garbage that comes out of Sudi’s mouth, there will be something equally impolitic from the likes of Jubilee vice-chairman David Murathe.

It is probable that the tirades against the President were direct riposte to a remarkable verbal assault from Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko, who dismissed the DP as “a mere clerk”.

If the likes of Sudi are taken to speak for Dr Ruto, it follows that Tobiko was also voicing President Kenyatta’s thinking.

Maybe temperatures could be cooled if both called off their vocal hirelings.

[email protected] www.gaitho.co.ke @MachariaGaitho