Why the Rift Valley may reject Ruto

William Ruto

Deputy President William Ruto addresses a Kenya Kwanza campaign rally at Kithimu trading centre in Embu county on July 1, 2022.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • In Kenya’s 60-year history as a republic, presidents from only two communities have resided at State House. 
  • However, Kalenjinland may have a deeper relationship with the state than any other Kenyan nation.

I don’t like to essentialise nations, races, or ethnic groups. It’s ahistorical and simply indefensible as a matter of philosophy and the intellect. It’s also bigoted. That said, there’s something known as group psychology, or psychosis.

Usually, this is a product of history, culture and environment. I won’t drag you through intellectual extrapolation, but suffice it to note that cultures – political, anthropological and social – can develop something akin to a genetic fingerprint. So much so that you can recognise it upon sight, the way you can pornography. For example, in America, White people are more likely to suffer a complex of racial superiority than Black people.

In Kenya, people from Central Kenya and parts of the Rift Valley generally suffer complexes of entitlement and incumbency. 

Let me unpack that loaded statement. Today, I will focus on Kalenjinland, not Central Kenya. Complexes of entitlement and incumbency can be one and the same thing. 

Entitlement refers to the impulse, or psychology, of expecting something of value whether or not you’ve worked for it, or deserve it. 

A child, for example, will snatch another’s toy or start demanding and crying for the toy although it belongs to another. That’s bratty behaviour. 

We saw it with the man-child former President of the US Donald Trump and his White supporters. They attempted a coup, although they had lost the election, because they believed it was their “right” to rule America. Only they could rule!

Darling of the British 

Some communities believe it’s their right to rule Kenya above all others. Conversely, there are groups that have accepted a defeatist psychology about their proximity to State House. They’ve given up. 

Apart from the so-called Big Five – Agikuyu, Luo, Akamba, Kalenjin and the Abaluhya – no other group feels that they truly have a chance of standing within shouting distance from State House. They are complete outsiders to the state. Kenya’s political stepchildren. 

A woman in Garissa once told me that the region wasn’t part of Kenya, which according to her starts at Mwingi. I was floored. 

Such deep exclusion and marginalisation is the diametric opposition of the complexes of entitlement and incumbency. 

In Kenya’s 60-year history as a republic, presidents from only two communities have resided at State House. 

Central Kenya has produced three Presidents – Jomo Kenyattta and his scion Uhuru Kenyatta and Mwai Kibaki. Kalenjinland has produced only one – Daniel Moi – but he ruled for 24 of those 60 years. 

However, Kalenjinland may have a deeper relationship with the state than any other Kenyan nation. They have truly never been completely out of power, even in the colonial period. That’s why Mr Moi was the darling of the British, who orchestrated the formation of the collaborationist Kenya African Democratic Union (Kadu) as the counterpoint to the nationalist Kenya African National Union (Kanu). 

Mr Moi was the choice of the White settlers to rule an “independent” Kenya. After Kanu thoroughly trounced Kadu at independence, Mr Moi led his Rift Valley region into the government when he agreed for his party to be swallowed up by Kanu.

Power and incumbency

Soon thereafter, Mr Moi became the long-serving Vice President under Mzee Kenyatta. He then inherited the “Burning Spear” in 1978, after the founding president’s death. Mr Moi ruled until multipartyism drove him out in 2002. In the early Narc-Kibaki state, the Kalenjinland elite appeared to be out, but then a rapprochement between Mr Kibaki and Mr Moi spared them a purge.

After the 2007/2008 electoral pogroms, the region was brought fully into government. The 2002-2007 interregnum was the only period since independence when they have arguably ever been outsiders to state power and incumbency.

What’s my point? Communities that are used to the largesse of the state don’t like being in the political cold. They will do anything to get back in there to suckle at the breast of the state. That’s why you hear different ethnic kingpins telling their people they can’t afford to be out of the next government. That’s akin to saying they will go to bed with any political leader who appears to be the winning horse, even if they don’t have much in common in terms of political ideology, or philosophy. 

Bottom line – it isn’t about core political beliefs, but about sitting at the feeding trough. This, by the way, is true of all ethnic kingpins. 

However, for Kalenjinland, being out of power is akin to an existential threat. That’s why UDA’s William Ruto – the undisputed “king” of the Kalenjin Nation – may be in for a rude shock between now and August 9. He may lose a large share of his region’s elite – as well as a large percentage of the electorate – if it senses Azimio La Umoja’s Raila Odinga will win. 

We’ve already seen defections of several leading leaders from Kalenjinland. More may follow. The region does not know how to be in opposition, and may not let Mr Ruto lead them into the political wilderness. It’s hard to relinquish incumbency.

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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