Why William Ruto is totally unfit to be President of Kenya

UDA Willam Ruto

Deputy President William Ruto addressing delegates at Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi on March 15, 2022 during the UDA National Delegates’ Conference.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • There are a gazillion reasons why Mr Ruto must never be entrusted with power.
  • A gazillion more reasons why Mr Odinga is the antidote to our stubborn problems.

The 2022 presidential poll is the most critical – consequential – election since the republic was founded in 1964. It’s a once-in-a-generation contest that could make, or break, Kenya. In political parlance, it’s an inflection point in the construction of the state. While the public is caught up in the petty hoopla of the campaign, a deeper and darker danger – an existential threat to Kenya as we know it – lurks ominously underneath.

All the country’s demons are primed to collide on August 9, and the consequences could be damning for us all. The fate of the country hangs in the balance. Four men – Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga, William Ruto and Kalonzo Musyoka – could decide if we go to heaven, or hell.

While partisans on both sides of the political aisle are focused on the shiny objects – rallies, fiery speeches, gaffes and personality quirks – the leviathan awaits. Shall we feed the beast, or slay it, for the sake of the country? The leviathan isn’t any one thing. It’s an atomic collection of all our psychoses as a country – our haphazard concoction as a state by the British imperialists, the inability of our elite to cohere us as one nation, the myopia of our looting and abject leadership, our failure to germinate the seed of democracy and economic opportunity for all, and the scandalous international order. All these debilitating maladies, and our infestation to the bone marrow by corruption, have retarded us. 

Based on the monumental task ahead of us as country, I ask that we quit focusing on the minutiae of politics and treat the August 9 elections as a live bullet aimed at our collective head. It’s akin to Russian roulette. One wrong move and we are done for. That’s why I have concluded – after my deepest introspection – that Mr William Ruto is totally unfit to be President of the Republic of Kenya. Kenyans from all walks of life must overwhelmingly reject him at the ballot to send the clear message to the world that the country has chosen renaissance over decay, pessimism and damnation. Kenyans must say loudly and clearly – we choose light over darkness. 

We stand on the cusp of history. We will make history, one way or the other. The two key horses in the race – Mr Odinga and Mr Ruto – are as starkly different as night and day. The former represents our better angels, the latter our worst proclivities. Never before have two people, who were on the polar opposites of the ethical and moral worlds, run for the highest office in Kenya. There are a gazillion reasons why Mr Ruto must never be entrusted with power, and a gazillion more reasons why Mr Odinga is the antidote to our stubborn problems. Let me tell you why Mr Ruto will be a nightmare for Kenya. Don’t be hoodwinked by slimy slogans.

First, what’s Mr Ruto’s vision for Kenya? Truth be told, Mr Ruto doesn’t have a clue as to why he wants to be President. His politics is completely transactional and devoid of any philosophy or ideology. The man is visionless and to the extent he has a vision, you’d be better advised not to buy it. Let me tell you why.

Two important symbols have emerged from what Mr Ruto and the United Democratic Alliance, his party, want us to believe is a vision. The first is something he’s called a bottom-up approach to development. The second is the wheelbarrow. The first is so general as to be useless while the second is a symbol of the pre-industrial age. 

In organisational – or economic – lingo, the term bottom-up is so mundane as to warrant no serious discussion. Every company, or government, pays it lip service and homage but it’s usually a feel-good slogan – a type of Kool-Aid – fed to hapless masses, or a tired company line meant to boost worker morale.

Mr Ruto’s acolytes have cited US President Joe Biden’s use of the term in feckless attempts to legitimise their starry-eyed use of it. But that falls like a dud. As used by President Biden, the term means no more than his administration’s policies to marginally lift up the middle class. However, that’s been the song of all Democratic and Republican administrations since the Great Society of the 1960s.

Bottom-up approach

The Great Society programmes was a set of policies meant to reduce poverty, stem racial inequities, bring down crime and care for the environment. They were a project of a “thicker” welfare state. There’s nothing radical, or eye-popping, about them today. It’s the minimalist grist of the mill for every responsible democratic state today. It doesn’t actually address the needs of the poorest of the poor, the “hustlers” that Mr Ruto’s campaign is banked on.

To transform the penury of the “mama mboga” , Kenya would need a more radical economic model premised on zero corruption, massive deliberate investment in health, education, agriculture, infrastructure and small businesses. These must be targeted at the poorest. The philosophy of government would’ve to change.

Mr Ruto talks about the bottom-up approach as though it was a eureka moment. Someone should tell him that’s old hat. In fact, it’s part of Vision 2030 and many of the policies of previous Kenyan governments. He should tell us something new if he wants to put forth a compelling reason for his bid for State House, not regurgitating policies that are passé, and which have been tried before. Beyond the empty slogan, Mr Ruto has nothing else to offer. He hasn’t articulated coherent, or believable, policies to deal with corruption, Kenya’s premier development problem. He has many reasons to leave corruption alone. 

Mr Ruto isn’t the person to slay the dragon of corruption. He should never – ever – open his mouth to address the issue, unless it’s to clarify the many scandals that have dogged his political career. I know he’s never been convicted of these scandals, although for once the court found him liable for grabbing a 100-acre plot belonging to one Adrian Muteshi in Uasin Gishu County at the height of the 2008 of post-election pogroms. Mr Ruto was fined and ordered to restore the land to Muteshi. But Mr Ruto’s scandal sheet stretches from Kisumu to Mombasa. One must wonder how these scandals relate to public reports of the sources of his reputed massive – and unexplained – wealth. 

One of the best-known blots on Mr Ruto is the saga of the attempt to grab the playground of Langata Primary School. In that dastardly affair, Mr Ruto’s name was implicated in the attempt by “faceless” businesspeople to take over the land. After a public hue and cry, the matter receded.

The images of limp and bloodied schoolchildren under a military-style assault by heavily armed policemen will forever be etched in our minds. More prominent, however, is Mr Ruto’s alleged land grab of land owned by the Kenya Civil Aviation on which he built Weston Hotel. The matter is in court. It’s instructive Mr Ruto first denied, then admitted, owning Weston Hotel. 

Mr Ruto’s other prominent blots include the maize scandal when he served in the Grand Coalition Government. He was sacked as minister at the recommendation of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga over corruption allegations. The 2013 “Hustler Jet” scandal embroiled Mr Ruto in a Sh100 million jet hire to gallivant in West Africa as the country struggled financially.

Other reported scandals include the Kimwarer and Arror dams mess and the heist of the Kenya Pipeline land. The list is long. It’s fair to say that no major political figure in Kenya today has been accused of as many scandals involving the theft of public resources. It’s notable Mr Ruto has never cleared the air on most of these scandals. 

How do Mr Ruto’s allegations of corruption relate to the sources of his unexplained wealth? Mr Ruto has spent all his adult life in government. Early in his life, he joined the violent state-sponsored group Youth for Kanu ’92. The group sought to zone the country for the Moi-Kanu regime from the opposition to fight the push for democracy. It was an ignominious way for Mr Ruto to cut his political teeth.

Lack of public morals

From there, Mr Ruto was elected MP and thus began his long tenure in government. Where did Mr Ruto acquire his riches, millions of which he’s dished out to churches and other groups over the past five years in his not-so-stealthy campaign for State House?

Unlike other wealthy politicians, Mr Ruto can’t point to family wealth to explain his largesse. Even if he’s made money in business, which businesses are those, and can he explain how they were started and funded? He’s never been audited and has never publicly declared his wealth and its sources.

These huge and unanswered questions make him ineligible for election as president in a country where corruption is a disease. Unless the next administration tames corruption – and publicly stigmatises corrupt officials – Kenyans will slide deeper into abject poverty. A person whose public record is closely linked to corruption – and can’t explain his wealth – shouldn’t be put in office at a critical moment in the life of the nation. 

Mr Ruto’s unfitness for election to State House goes beyond his scandals. The man doesn’t have a democratic bone in his body. He was a key cog in the Kanu dictatorship under Moi. He was among the Kanu and state officials who suppressed the fight for democracy and the Second Liberation. He fought tooth and nail against the realisation of the 2010 Constitution.

He even led the campaign against the referendum to ratify it. Kenyans should fear that if elected president, Mr Ruto’s true undemocratic colours would come out. Would he abolish term limits? Very likely. Would he persecute, exile and do even worse to critics, opponents and the press? His political history and philosophy strongly suggest so.

Then there’s the dark cloud of the International Criminal Court that continues to hang over Mr Ruto’s head. Mr Ruto was indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity for his role in the near genocidal brutalities that followed the 2007 elections. His case – and those of other co-accused – was terminated. But his case was withdrawn with a caveat.

The ICC poignantly ruled that his discharge did not amount to an acquittal, or an absolution. It was due to state interference and tampering with witnesses. The Prosecutor left open the probability of re-prosecution. The Prosecutor stated that the scheme to defeat justice was carried out at the behest of, and in collaboration with, Mr Ruto. Definitely not presidential material.

Finally let me address Mr Ruto’s lack of public morals. Mr Ruto has a penchant for lies. He’s a man who appears to be incapable of saying what he means and meaning what he says. A good example is his doublespeak on Jubilee’s record and his relationship with Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, his estranged boss.

For the longest time, Mr Ruto lied to the nation that his relationship with Mr Kenyatta was solid when it was clear to everyone their political marriage was irretrievably broken. Mr Ruto has consistently lied about Mr Odinga for the failures in Jubilee. Jubilee was broken by Mr Ruto’s insatiable political greed to inherit Mr Kenyatta even before Mr Kenyatta started his second term. 

Absent without leave 

Does Kenya want to elect a leader who can’t tell basic truths, even when they are obvious to the whole country? Does Kenya want to elect a leader who will take public resources for his aggrandisement and not spend a single day in the office? For the past five years, Mr Ruto has been AWOL (Absent Without Leave) from his office.

Yet he’s continued to plunder public resources for his campaign. He eats at the expense of the state. Sleeps in a government house. Is driven in fleets of state vehicles. Uses all of this and the massive state security apparatus to campaign. Yet he does absolutely nothing as Deputy President. This is a window into Mr Ruto’s morals.

An honourable person would’ve resigned and stopped living large on taxpayers’ money. This is nothing short of theft of public resources. Theft is taking money, a resource, or some other benefit you don’t deserve, and have not earned, without fulfilling your requisite obligations. Nothing is more important than the treasury of a country.

Yet Mr Ruto’s time in government and his own casual relationship with the truth about the state’s resources suggest a man who shouldn’t be entrusted with the public purse. During his time in government – especially the first term – the county borrowed heavily and was plunged into deep debt. Yet much of that debt was looted for personal gain. Does Mr Ruto know who stole our future?

Finally, I want to close with a fact that epitomises Mr Ruto’s character. He calls himself Dr Ruto. But as a person who has supervised doctoral candidates, I can attest to the fact that no one with Mr Ruto’s schedule has the time to do the demanding academic work that’s required for such a serious undertaking.

Did Mr Ruto really earn his doctoral degree? He – and those who supervised him – owe the country an explanation. Mr Ruto’s claim of such a dubious academic pedigree is a metaphor for his entire life – mysterious wealth, unexplained scandals, greed for power and fame, and nefarious attempts to defeat justice and the rule of law, including at the ICC. He’s unfit to be president.

Yet Mr Ruto and three other political heavyweights – Mr Kenyatta, Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka hold the key to who will govern Kenya after August 9. The latter three owe Kenya a duty to make sure – within the strictures of the Constitution – that Mr Ruto does not ascend to power.

He must be defeated at the ballot box fairly and squarely if he’s declared eligible to run. Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka will have an outsize role to play in that matrix. They must come together one more time, as they have in the past, to save Kenya from Mr Ruto. 

Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School. He’s also Chair of KHRC and Spokesperson of the Raila Odinga Presidential Campaign Secretariat and head of its think tank. @makaumutua.

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