The Ruto missteps and Gema rebellion

Deputy President William Ruto and mate Rigathi Gachagua

Deputy President William Ruto (right) and his running mate Rigathi Gachagua during a campaign rally.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Today, Deputy President William Ruto sits on the horns of a dilemma. For the past 10 years, Mr Ruto has assiduously built what he thought was an impregnable castle in the Mt Kenya region. He almost succeeded. Operative word ‘almost’. Then suddenly, he’s watched as the winds of time eroded his once iron grip on the Mountain.

There are many reasons the man from Sugoi is now gasping for political oxygen. But they can all be grouped under the canopy of the ‘Mt Kenya Rebellion of 2022’. It’s a metaphor that mountains are slippery, but none more than Mt Kenya. Mr Ruto is learning this lesson the hard way. The problem is that the “rebellion” is now unstoppable. It’s zero hour – political midnight.

Mr Ruto is a worthy political opponent. He’s a strategic and calculating political animal. If there’s Noah’s flood, and everything was destroyed, Mr Ruto would crawl out from under the rock. Alas, his nine lives are ending at the Mountain.

Often, your biggest strengths are also your most debilitating weaknesses. Ambition is one of them. A double-edged sword. I don’t know whether there’s a person in the Republic of Kenya who’s like Mr Ruto – the man will do, and say, anything to get what he wants. He’s a true Kenyan Machiavelli. It’s that same ambition that has done him in. A control freak to the ninth degree, Mr Ruto doesn’t let those around him breathe.

First cardinal sin

Let me table the evidence. Mr Ruto’s first cardinal sin was his attempt to politically neuter his boss, Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta. That’s against all the Laws of Power. And if you try, you better succeed, or the guillotine will be your just reward. Mr Ruto aimed, and missed. That, to me, was a fatal error. Testosterone can do bad things to men. It can disable your brain cells and make you discharge a gun against your own head. Mr Ruto did just that. As if that wasn’t enough, he told Mr Kenyatta that he had replaced him as the Gema kingpin. He had taken over his “bedroom”. In no society, even among the Mafiosi, is that ever allowed.

Thereafter, Mr Ruto would jog around the Mountain taunting Mr Kenyatta. Often, he’s uncorked filthy epithets whilst in the Mountain. It’s one thing to conquer someone, but quite another to parade your vanquished opponent in the family compound. Once you’ve laid waste to your enemy, you sheathe your sword and walk away like a hero. You don’t rub it in, and bare your chest in false bravado and braggadocio. That’s politically stupid and tone deaf. You must be gracious in victory. But again, it’s that little matter of testosterone. My mother told me not to be a sour loser, or an ungracious victor. Do not dance on your opponent’s grave. Don’t!

Running mate

Mr Ruto’s second fatal mistake, also borne of impunity and crude virility, was the choice of Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua as his running mate. By all accounts, Mr Rigathi was completely rejected by virtually all Mt Kenya legislators. They told him the former district officer was toxic, uncouth and dictatorial. However, it seems either Mr Gachagua had Mr Ruto by his “fundamentals”, or he wanted a deputy who’s just like him. After several days of a political soap opera at his Karen government house, Mr Ruto told the world he’d chosen Mr Gachagua. The televised event resembled the funeral of a Mafia capo. And it was. Mr Ruto had decapitated Prof Kithure Kindiki, the overwhelming favourite to deputise him.

Kindiki, the law professor, had three strikes against him in Mr Ruto’s eyes. First, he’s Meru. So, Mr Ruto calculated the Agikuyu would wobble if he chose Prof Kindiki. After all, the Meru are supposed to escort the girl to the dance, but not actually dance with her. Secondly, Prof Kindiki, unlike the obscenely wealthy Mr Gachagua, is a modest man. He lacks Mr Gachagua’s financial muscle. Thirdly, Prof Kindiki is formless. With his erudition and priestly mien, he’s not cut out for the fiendish combat Mr Ruto relishes. Mr Gachagua does. He thought the soft spoken professor would be eaten alive by Azimio. He may have been right. Prof Kindiki took a back seat on politics after he was rejected.

Finally, the choice of Senior Counsel Martha Karua by Azimio’s Raila Odinga as his running mate put the stake in Mr Ruto’s Mountain strategy. Ms Karua had previously been named the spokesperson of the Mountain and the heir apparent to Mr Kenyatta. Her choice put asunder Mr Ruto’s work in the Mountain for the last 10 years. She’s methodically peeled off the region from Mr Ruto. Mr Ruto’s shabby treatment of Prof Kindiki has turned the Ameru against him. Polls show Mr Odinga gaining incredible mileage in the Mountain. Mr Gachagua puts his foot in the mouth every time he opens it. Key Mt Kenya leaders are in full rebellion against him and Mr Ruto.


Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School, The State University of New York. @makaumutua

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