Profound lessons from Wiliam Ruto’s arduous path to power

President William Ruto when being handed the instruments of power by former President Uhuru Kenyatta.

President William Ruto being handed the instruments of power by former President Uhuru Kenyatta after he took the oath of office on September 13, 2022.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

As I sat near the main podium watching Dr William Ruto swearing into the presidency, I could not help but reminisce his long arduous journey to victory. Two deep philosophical queries taxed my mind.

First, why is it that those that desire to succeed must work so hard against great odds? Jesus himself, before facing the cross, desired to avoid the toils. In Luke 22 verse 42, Jesus prayed as follows: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

Of course crucifixion was important to his whole endeavour to save mankind, but Jesus was merely appreciating that the odds were heavy. In a nutshell, the struggles people undergo in order to succeed are often too taxing. For Ruto to clinch the presidency, fate required that he be arraigned on false charges in a foreign land (The Hague) in 2011.

This negative fate helped him consolidate his Rift Valley base. Without this odd, there is every likelihood Ruto would not have united with Uhuru. This unity laid the ground for Ruto’s eventual conquest of Mt Kenya. The second great odd was Uhuru's onslaught after the 2018 handshake with Raila. This odd of betrayal planted the seeds for sympathy votes, which ultimately helped Ruto.

Dr Ruto is not alone in this fate of 'no-gain-without-pain'. Major historical figures have faced great odds as a prerequisite for their eventual success. Kenyatta 1 had to be imprisoned by the Whiteman to become President. Museveni and Kagame had to endure sleepless nights in the bush to topple dictatorships. Musical group Culture (One Stone ) sang "President Mandela was in prison for 27 years, and he leave from prison and take the seat of the president".


Maybe this is how life was designed to be. Suffering is an antecedent to success. Jesus captures this in a story well explained in the bible; Mark 10.39. Two men desired greatness, James and John. They came forward to Jesus and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’

But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?’  They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptised, you will be baptised;but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’

 When the two heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognise as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

Sacrifice and suffering

Leadership, therefore, must entail sacrifice and suffering. It is never a walk in the park. It, therefore, followed that Ruto had to endure hardships to win.

The second philosophical question that came to my mind as I sat near Dr Ruto was the reverse of the first question. How come tormentors do not see the folly of their actions? How come Uhuru seemed not to countenance the possibility of the loss of his project?

Why did the British fight Mau Mau instead of realising that colonialism was headed for an obvious end? Why did Gaddafi fail to spot the Arab spring and escape?

 The Mt Kenya revolt against Kenyatta was a historical moment. There are many historical examples of persons failing to spot historical moments. This phenomenon is called 'sleeping through a revolution'.

When the French revolted in 1792 against the monarchy, it is claimed Queen Marie Antoinette Josèphe Jeanne was so out of touch that she inquired why the people were revolting for bread.

She proposed they eat cake (historians now say this was a false narrative, but the narrative captures the notion of ignorance by persons who are fairly knowledgeable in times of great revolutions like the instant Mt Kenya political upheaval).

The answer to this question lies in the quality of leaders who rise to power. Good leaders need to be philosopher kings, as rightly argued by Plato. The philosopher king is a hypothetical ruler in whom political skill is combined with philosophical knowledge.

The concept is first explored in Plato's Republic, written around 375 BC. Plato argued that the ideal state – one which ensured the maximum possible happiness for all its citizens – could only be brought into being by a ruler possessed of absolute knowledge, obtained through philosophical study.

Historical foresight

Such leaders are able to decipher where history is heading towards and act accordingly. One such leader was American President Abraham Lincoln (1862 – 1865). He faced the challenge of the institution of slavery in an era where blacks were viewed as sub-human.

He had the historical foresight of knowing slavery was untenable and despite the great odds, including adverse public opinion, he abolished it. History vindicated him. Another great leader who had the foresight of deciphering historical patterns was Deng Xiaoping of China (1979-1991).

He was a leader of the powerful Communist party but he wisely noted that communism would decay. He quickly pivoted his country towards capitalism and thus planted the seeds of a new prosperous China. His counterpart in Russia failed to follow suit and that country remains economically static.

As Ruto’s swearing-in ended, I was a glad man. This is because Ruto indeed is a philosopher king. If he deploys the wisdom he displayed in tackling the deep state and the many forces arraigned against him towards economic development, Kenya is headed towards an economic leap forward.

Dr Kang’ata is the Governor of Murang’a County.