The gravest enemy of the African post-colonial state isn’t imperialism – whether Chinese or Western – but the political bankruptcy of elites who are embedded in the “tribe”.
I put the word tribe in quotation marks because it’s a white colonial epithet. But the word has another contemporaneous meaning – a group or community that’s stitched together for nativist, nefarious, and corrupt enterprises.
The vile bonds may be of blood, ethnicity, race, culture, identity, or political ideology. If Kenya ever collapses, or goes to the dogs, it will be because of the “tribe”.
In my view, no other politician in Kenya is an embodiment of the “tribe” more than Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria. He, and his ilk, are an existential threat to Kenya.
Let me stipulate upfront that I actually admire Mr Kuria’s brilliance and deviousness. But only as an academic matter because he tickles my intellect, even with his heavy English accent.
There are many crafty politicians in the area commonly known as Mt Kenya, but none is more cunning, or Machiavellian than Mr Kuria.
His gimmickry and often cartoonish performances belie a deeply cynical and cutthroat persona. Many people like to think that Mr Kuria punches above his weight. I disagree.
The man is a heavyweight in Kenya’s byzantine politics. He’s both a chameleon and a viper all rolled into one. His political opponents, nay, enemies, underestimate him at their own peril.
He may have the last laugh.
What increases Mr Kuria’s lethality is that he’s a live political grenade. A week ago, I watched Mr Kuria with host Jeff Koinange on Citizen TV’s JKLive. Mr Kuria was masterful as a doublespeaker, a daredevil, and an intriguer. On these traits, Mr Kuria has no equal in Mt Kenya.
I know a lot of folks on social media like to rib him for his supposed love for the bottle. They miss the point. Many have pointed to his after midnight social media posts to dismiss him. They are wrong. Mr Kuria’s ‘madness’ has a method to it.
Those late, early or morning posts on X (formerly Twitter) – which often sound unhinged – are by design. Their timing and association with the tipple give him plausible deniability.
Today, there’s a pitched battle for the “tribal” kinship of Mt Kenya. Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, officially the most senior politician in the region, thinks the position is his by right.
Mr Gachagua has primed himself to “inherit” the “tribal” baton from former President Uhuru Kenyatta, the man who’s supposedly now in political oblivion. But Mr Kenyatta is still the cock that crows in the Mountain, and Mr Gachagua will have to genuflect to – or go through – him to ascend to the mountaintop.
Mr Kuria is sitting there at the foothills of the Mountain calculating and waiting to politically decapitate Mr Gachagua. But all of them will have to deal with President William Ruto, the outsider who conquered the Mountain.
This brings me to the chess match between Mr Kuria and President Ruto, his boss. I’ve no doubt President Ruto must be miffed, or even outraged, by Mr Kuria’s political antics.
Mr Kuria first wryly dismissed his nemesis Mr Gachagua as an “elephant” on JKLive. The jab was subtle but a killer haymaker. The elephant is slow and not known for its smarts. Mr Kuria paid empty homage to the DP. He knows that the person who becomes king of the Mountain will have President Ruto by his “political fundamentals”.
That’s why Mr Gachagua will become the Mt Kenya kingpin over Mr Kuria’s dead body. Mr Kuria will only face Mr Ruto mano-a-mano when he dispatches Mr Gachagua.
This is the six-million-dollar question. Will President Ruto send Mr Kuria to political Siberia before he becomes a complete and total wrecker of the Kenya Kwanza marriage? Or will jettisoning Mr Kuria give him more legs and make him a political octopus? Will sacking him make him an albatross around President Ruto’s neck?
Methinks Mr Kuria wants the Mountain to see him as the person who can reclaim it from Mr Ruto.
Should President Ruto then allow Mr Kuria to stay on the inside pissing out, or throw him out knowing he will piss into the tent? Or is Mr Kuria angling to replace Mr Gachagua as President Ruto’s running mate in 2027? Remember, Mr Kuria is a double-edged sword.
I end where I started. Virtually all Kenyan politicians hide under the “tribe’s” skirt. Mr Kuria knows this. My crystal ball tells me he will play victim if he’s sacked to rally the Mountain behind him. But just like British PM Rishi Sunak sacked his racist interior Minister Suella Braverman – or risk looking toothless – Mr Ruto will crack the whip against Mr Kuria and several incompetent and entitled ministers.
In my view, he has no choice unless he wants to look as though the Mountain owns him. The state faces many challenges. That’s why Mr Ruto can’t afford incompetents, lords of corruption, and “tribal” warlords to lasso him.
- Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School, The State University of New York. @makaumutua.