Crossing the Rubicon: Morning in Kenya as William Ruto takes charge of the country

President Dr William Ruto takes the oath of office at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani in Nairobi, on Tuesday, September 13, 2022. With him is First Lady Rachael Ruto.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

On 10 January 49 BC, General Julius Caesar reached the Rubicon, the river that separated Gaul from Italy. At the time, the cunning Caesar seemed to have it all — sophisticated funk, boldness and a heedless, reckless daring. He was then governor of Gaul but wanted to capture Italy (Rome was its capital). A revered, tough-as-nails strategist, he knew how to outmanoeuvre his enemies.

Crossing the Rubicon with a legion of troops would be a clear declaration of war against Rome. He is said to have asked his army to wait as he agonised over the decision. Marching towards Rome would pit him against Pompey, the iconic Roman general and statesman. Caesar, arguably one of the finest minds of his time, knew that he would be locked in a decisive duel with Pompey.

Finally, Caesar is said to have embraced his fate and uttered the words — iacta alea est (The die is cast). He crossed the Rubicon, marched against Rome and conquered it.

As President William Ruto takes over the reins after his swearing-in on Tuesday, September 13, the die is cast. Iacta alea est. Lady Macbeth, in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth equally says, “What’s done, is done”. Dr Ruto’s presidency is no longer a dream. Like Caesar, he has now crossed the Rubicon to take over the reins of the “empire” called Kenya.

Like Caesar, driven and ambitious, Dr Ruto has just come out of a relentless and brutal campaign. The ragtag army that made the “hustler campaign”, fearsome in its effectiveness, was a triumph of organization that delivered; it was nimble, dynamic and fast-paced.

The campaign’s military precision was like Julius Caesar’s hordes of revered Roman legions with their squads, platoons, companies and battalions. Like a big Lego set, each foot soldier played his part and fit neatly.

Presidential gravitas

On the day of his inauguration, the transition was swift to presidential gravitas from the rolling motorcade in logistical symphony, the SUV vehicles ablaze in flashing lights to the crowd of photographers — each angling for a perfect shot. It has been said that “history has no miracles: only causes and consequences” but maybe Dr Ruto’s presidency is a miracle in some ways.

At Kasarani, the weather seemed perfect for the day. It was an afternoon that the Afghani poet Shakila Azizzada would have agreed was “for the slow step of summer noons, siestas in my father’s house which, heavy with mid-day sleep, still weighs on my ribs”. As the Tanzanian choir Zabron Singers crooned the plaintive melody, Nimeuona Mkono wa Bwana (I have seen the hand of the Lord), the music echoed, floating in falsetto, moaning low and soaring high.

President Ruto’s face as he stood listening to the song expressed sombreness that almost carried the same promise as the song: that life, lifted into divine melody and framed by harmony, never has to be unforgiving or harsh. As the sun blazed the field, it engulfed it in a sweep of white brightness. Either dazzled or startled by the bright Nairobi sunshine, President Ruto occasionally looked up over the wildly exuberant crowd in awe.

The President’s inauguration speech was a narrative act with wistful reminiscences. Speaking in his signature vigour, he made supporters swoon and critics cringe as his promises probably sounded to them like pie-in-the-sky. He was measured, though there were a few flashes of anger as he railed against the forces that had bitterly resisted his ascent. There were snapshots of his swaggering, tough-guy personality.

Past events

In tones defiant and at once wistful, he painted a graphic summation of past events while paying tribute to the “Hustler movement for tirelessly mobilizing for the campaign and executing a historic revolutionary feat, perhaps as great as the daring exploits of our legendary freedom fighters”.

President Ruto’s work is cut out before him. Alexander Maclaren once wrote that, “Responsibility, or the prospect of it, makes lads into men very quickly. Graver meditations, humbler consciousness of weakness… would do in days the work of years”. We hope that the President matures quickly into the leader he has promised Kenyans he will be. Some critics have made it clear that Ruto’s administration will most likely be immoral, childish (if not adolescent) and dangerous.

Nevertheless, whatever our political persuasions, Dr Ruto is now our president. He has promised a sweeter, tangier version of Kenya that critics probably consider utopian, escapist or even hot air. However, we cannot hope that he fails as that will be like betting against ourselves. We hope that he succeeds and that he makes Kenya a better place than he found it. Iacta alea est (The die is cast).