The new Gaddafi? Ruto’s bold statements on de-dollarisation and a united Africa attract attention

President William Ruto

President William Ruto. Analysis of his speeches, since he assumed office last year, portrays Dr Ruto as a leader seeking to unite the continent.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

A standing ovation for President William Ruto at the recent Pan-African Parliament Summit captured an increasing projection of himself as a champion for the continent, fighting against perceived mistreatment of its leaders by the developed countries.

In his appearances in regional conferences, President Ruto is emerging as a fierce critic of how the West has unfairly treated the continent, including “loading its leaders in buses like school children.”

Dr Ruto has also called out global financial institutions for classifying African countries as high-risk borrowers, thereby charging them higher interest rates compared to developed nations that get cheap loans from the same lenders.

Analysis of his speeches since he assumed office last year portrays Ruto as a leader seeking to unite the continent and lead the countries in dealing with the excesses of their Western counterparts.

Dr Ruto has asked his fellow leaders to address disparities in currencies that he described as a major impediment to intra-African trade.

Prof Gilbert Khadiagala, who teaches international relations at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, says President Ruto has raised legitimate and profound concerns about how Africa is treated by the West, but noted that championing for Pan-African causes is an ‘expensive and futile exercise.”

Prof Khadiagala says convincing 54 African countries to agree on common positions requires significant energies and resources that may not be available to President Ruto.

He says Ruto’s remarks in the regional summits ‘sound like the previous maximalist Pan-Africanists such as Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Libya’s Gaddaffi, who proposed a United States of Africa (USA) with one government, military, and currency to reverse Africa’s asymmetrical position in the global order.’

“President Ruto understandably seeks to make a mark on the Africa and the global stage. What better way than to lurch onto such populist and radical Pan-Africanist platforms to announce his entry into international affairs,” says Prof Khadiagala, who is also the director of Wits University-based Africa Centre for the Study of the United States.

The de-dollarisation campaign, Prof Khadiagala says, is a challenging one as most of Kenya’s debts are denominated in dollars.

“If President Ruto is serious about de-dollarisation, he should speak to these countries about forging a common voice. I'm, however, not convinced that this should be a priority of Kenya’s foreign policy in large part because the de-dollarisation debates are being proposed by countries who may not ultimately implement them,” says Prof Khadiagala.

On May 17, while addressing the Pan-African Parliament Summit in South Africa, President Ruto made a passionate pitch for the continent, protesting against ill-treatment of the continent in a speech that saw leaders give him a standing ovation.

In the speech, Dr Ruto spoke of how the presence of African presidents at some global conferences has been reduced to a mere photo session.

"We want to be effective, not just taking pictures, having dinner and then we go home. Good people, we have food in our countries. While we are invited to those summits, we are given limited time, then aligned, all 50 of us, for photos, and unfortunately that is the only thing we go back home with," protested Dr Ruto.

He said, "When others want to engage with us, they don't want to deal with a tray card, what kind of outcome do you expect where 50 heads of State are sitting, with limited time to speak, what kind of engagement will one get?"

Analysts believe that Dr Ruto has potential of filling the gap left by the late South African President Nelson Mandela if he plays his cards well without antagonising key players in the global scene.

Mr Mandela was widely celebrated for his role in championing reconciliation. The late Libyan strongman Col Muammar Gaddafi and the late Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe had also tried to unite the continent. Col Gaddafi was a key player in the formation of the African Union (AU). He also pushed for a United States of Africa to rival the United States and the European Union.

Prof Macharia Munene, a professor of History and International Relations, says President Ruto is actively looking for relevance and to establish himself as the spokesman for Africa.

Prof Munene says Dr Ruto is not the first African head of State to pursue the unity of the continent.

“It is clear that he has intention and ability, but his efforts are being undermined by reckless statements by some of his ministers. His good efforts are undermined by domestic challenges,” said Prof Munene, in reference to remarks by some CSs that have potential of triggering diplomatic tiffs with Kenya.

Machakos Deputy Governor Francis Mwangangi, an expert in international relations, says Kenya stands to benefit more from Dr Ruto’s ambition to present the continent as having equal potential as the West.

He says the continent has been looked down upon for a long time by Western countries and it would be in the interests of all African Presidents to demand fairness in the global stage.

“We had people like the late Mandela. Right now the content has no unifying figure. He has taken the mandate of projecting a positive image of the continent,” says Mr Mwangangi.

University of Nairobi Lecturer XN Iraki says Dr Ruto’s chances of succeeding in this quest will largely depend on how he takes care of strategic interests of some of the world super power nations.

“The death of Nelson Mandela left a vacuum no one has filled in the continent. Remember the founding pan -Africanists? Who succeeded them? Dr Ruto is filling a vacuum hinging on the perception that African leaders are mistreated because they have no one to advance their cause.

“He can (succeed) by not antagonising the key global stakeholders like the West and lately China and Russia, and not threatening their strategic interests.”

In yet another conference – Mo Ibrahim Governance Weekend held on April 29 at the Kenya International Convention Centre (KICC), Dr Ruto ranted about how he and his counterparts from other African countries are sometimes treated like school children, in reference to an instance in September last year when African heads of State where transported in a bus to Buckingham Palace in the United Kingdom for the funeral service of the late Queen Elizabeth II.

The UK government had issued travel guidelines to the heads of State attending the Monday event, where they were asked to park their vehicles at a site in west London. Leaders from developed countries, among them US President Joe Biden, however, used their official vehicles.

Dr Ruto described the experience as demeaning to African leaders.

“Sometimes we are mistreated. We are loaded into buses like school children and it is not right," he said during the meeting held in Nairobi.

“I am persuaded that our generation of African leadership has the historic mandate to retire this unhelpful profile and in its place articulate a more accurate and compelling portrait of Africa that is both faithful to fact, yet also developmentally aspirational,” he appealed to African leaders.

In the same conference, President Ruto appealed for fair interest rates from global lenders, asking them to focus on Africa’s underlying potential and not seeing them as high risk borrowers.

“We are asking for a win-win financial architecture that brings everyone on board,” he said.

The President challenged the global financial system to charge developing countries just interest rates on loans.

“Developed countries enjoy interest rates of as low as 0.5 per cent as compared to more than 10 per cent rates levied on developing countries.

In his speech while attending the 22nd Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Summit of Heads of State and Government in Zambia last week, the President pushed for a unified payment system.

He said that although there has been introduction of several regional payment infrastructures in the continent, it still lacks a single system that ‘seamlessly facilitates trade among our nations, eliminating the obstacles posed by varying currencies.”

“Without a single payment platform, payment instructions from one African country to another typically passes through several intermediary financial institutions leading to increased costs,” he said.