Mutahi Ngunyi

Political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi gestures in his office in Nairobi on August 10, 2023. 

| Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

Uhuru insider Mutahi Ngunyi reveals Raila, Ruto secrets

What you need to know:

  • A new class of bourgeoisie will emerge around William Ruto, a class that's completely disengaged from the past.
  • Ruto has always been an outsider. When he was recruited by (former President) Daniel Moi as a protege, he was an outsider.

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s technical advisor Mutahi Ngunyi has opened up on never-told-before secrets of the Jubilee administration and what he describes as deep dysfunction at State House that saw the government’s preferred successor, Raila Odinga, lose the 2022 General Election.

Prof Ngunyi, the controversial political scientist who coined the phrase “tyranny of numbers” in the lead up to the 2013 General Election, in a tell-all interview claims that he repeatedly warned Mr Kenyatta that Mr Odinga was facing possible defeat, but his concerns were dismissed.

He claims senior government officials in the security apparatus who were supposed to provide intelligence and logistical support to President Kenyatta’s preferred Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition took a casual approach to the campaign “as they had no skin in the game,” letting the Kenya Kwanza team win.

On Monday, just two days shy of the first anniversary of last year’s August 9 elections, Prof Ngunyi announced on social media his ‘defection’ to President William Ruto’s government, opening yet another controversial chapter in his public life.

Amid puffs of tobacco during the interview with the Sunday Nation at his plush private office in Nairobi’s Gigiri neighbourhood, he reveals how a private dinner with then Deputy President Ruto got his bank accounts frozen by both the Kenya Revenue Authority and the Assets Recovery agency while he was still working for President Kenyatta.

Mutahi Ngunyi spills the beans on Ruto, Raila

Why did he not go public with projections of Mr Odinga’s defeat or the freezing of his bank accounts? Was he all along a double-agent working in the interest of the Ruto campaign from Mr Kenyatta’s State House? What does he bring to the table in the Kenya Kwanza government, and how does he plan to win over sceptics like President Ruto’s Economic advisor David Ndii and lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi who have publicly opposed his ‘defection’?

Is Prof Ngunyi an ideological academic with a consistent public track record or a ‘dog for hire’ — a political mercenary?

“Yes, I’m a dog for hire… for public good,” he answers during the interview.

The former political science lecturer at the University of Nairobi is not afraid of ruffling feathers. When he came up with the ‘tyranny of numbers’ slogan to refer to the political domination of the populous Mount Kenya and Rift Valley communities over the rest of the country, many accused him of whipping up raw ethnic emotions to sway the presidential contest.

In that election, the Jubilee candidate, Mr Kenyatta, with Dr Ruto as his running mate, won the poll against the Cord Coalition flag bearer Mr Odinga and prospective deputy Mr Kalonzo Musyoka, in an outcome that served to silence his critics.

Less than a decade later, he threw his weight behind opposition leader Mr Odinga’s presidential run, attracting a barrage of political vitriol from many of his 2.2 million ardent followers on the social media site X (previously known as Twitter) who hang onto every word that he posts.

Then came the Monday bombshell: “Public notice: I have defected to (President) William Ruto. I mis-judged him using the dynasty lens. But if the facts change, you must change your mind. And only a fool does not change his mind. I started project #HustlerNation. Now I must complete it. Iko swali? (any question?)” he tweeted.

Nation Managing Editor for Planning and News Desk, Washington Gikunju, had a sit-down with Prof Ngunyi.

You have just announced your ‘defection’ to President Ruto’s administration. Isn’t that an act of betrayal of your former boss, Mr Kenyatta?

The person who actually defected from the original idea of Jubilee (the former ruling party) was Uhuru Kenyatta when he decided to support Raila Odinga. I was supporting both Uhuru and Ruto from 2013. Uhuru actually surprised me when he chose Raila.

I told him I had a problem with the way he was trying to sell Raila in Central Kenya. However, I agreed with him that if he could sell Ruto to Central Kenya after the 2007 clashes, surely he could sell Raila to Central Kenya.

But for that to happen, he needed two things. One, to get to the ground himself (to campaign). And number two, to use the ‘Deep State’ to ensure that Raila wins. Unfortunately, none of these two things quite happened. So, uh, who is the one who defected? He did. And after his defection from the original idea, some of us had no option because we were working for him.

So, what I called a defection (in the Monday tweet) was actually a return to my original idea, which is the idea of the Hustler Nation (a slogan popularised by Dr Ruto and UDA during the 2022 election campaign). And I’d like to confirm that I have the biological DNA for this particular movement because I created it.

Why did you just decide to follow Mr Kenyatta even though you had the option of resigning?

I was an officer at State House, and I had to move with him. At some point I wanted to reveal that my accounts had been frozen two times because I was really irked by this. My personal and even company accounts were frozen by KRA and the Assets Recovery Agency on extremely flimsy basis. I had absolutely no choice but to toe the line.

But you did not make this public…

No, I did not. What happened was that I had visited the then Deputy President at his Karen home for dinner and it was just the two of us. I had gone to tell him that I was going to support him in the election.

Immediately I left his house, I received a call inviting me to a meeting. In the meeting I was told, ‘You know, you were paid Sh50 million to support this man (Dr Ruto)’. I asked them to confirm if it is true, and they came back and said, ‘Well, it is not true. Those were just people trying to create stories’.

I missed my daughter’s graduation from the University of London, King's College, because I could not travel. I did not have access to my money!

Did you ask for the President’s intervention regarding your bank accounts?

I did not call him because I knew some people on the inside wanted them frozen so that I could change my position.

Who called you into the meeting and where did it happen?

I was called by insiders. By the owners of things. The meeting happened inside the former Jacaranda Hotel.

But weren’t you also an insider who worked from State House?

They were agents I was working with. I can’t reveal their names. After that, I toed the line and was very happy to support Babaman (Mr Odinga) because I thought he had one or two things that were going right for him. The only thing is that he was really lethargic, you know, he believed that if Uhuru would support him, he would definitely get the presidency, so he did not put as much effort as I thought he would.

Did you ever raise the issue of lethargy with Mr Odinga?

Yes I did. I went to see him and told him two things. One, that if Uhuru wouldn't come to campaign for him in Central, he would lose. Two, I told him that if he was relying on the ‘Deep State’ to deliver the election for him, he was going to lose because the ‘Deep State’ at that time was completely incompetent.

When the votes were being counted, I called him and said, ‘if Ruto croses the 50 per cent plus one mark, consider the presidency gone’. And I told him, ‘remember, I had informed you that the Deep State will not help you. They have no skin in the game at all’. He said to me, ‘Say no more’.

And I think that's when he brought in a lot of people on the floor of Bomas (the electoral commission’s national tallying centre). A good number of them were previously not there. They had already abandoned the process nationally… (Governor) Orengo was in Siaya and (Governor) Gladys Wanga was in Homa Bay doing her thing. Basically, we got very, very negligent. And three, they were very disorganised. I've never seen a more disorganised political machine.

What exactly was your role in the Azimio campaign?

I just wrote speeches occasionally. But when it came to issues of strategy and all that, I was never part of that. Remember, I was technical assistant to President Uhuru Kenyatta. The government operates in silos and the different institutions don’t speak to each other.

I was head of what he called the aggregation unit, to aggregate and try to capture his legacy. I spoke politics only twice for the three years I was there (at State House).

You sometimes post very controversial tweets…

When I go on Twitter, I consider myself a healer. That is why I say very provocative things. So that anybody who has a problem with his wife and those who have not been able to pay their loans can come and release their steam on me. So, the persona on Twitter is totally different from the academic and private man I am.

You have been tweeting about a class war…

What we have now is a total regime change. Patterns of doing things have completely changed, and so have the players. A new class of bourgeoisie will emerge around William Ruto, a class that's completely disengaged from the past. If Raila had come to power, I think the actors would have remained the same in many ways, at least in terms of class.

Ruto has always been an outsider. When he was recruited by (former President) Daniel Moi as a protege, he was an outsider. He came to the King's court and would listen to the conversations of the courtiers, but he was never really an insider. In fact, he was seen a lot of the time as a tea server to the bourgeoisie.

I can give you a very good example because I interacted with him at State House numerous times. The thing that used to disturb me most was the fact that at some point as deputy president, he used the same washroom as the rest of us.

Some people had the privilege of using different facilities. The Chief of Staff and the Head of Public Service had a reserved washroom that was red-carpeted, with gold-coloured taps. I used to ask myself, ‘why wouldn't Ruto be allowed to use at least that facility instead of coming to ours?’

What does your defection mean, have you met President Ruto?

I've talked to him. We had a long conversation a few weeks ago, and I basically apologised for being very rough on him during the election campaign. I was not a good person. In my tweets and YouTube channel, we really went hard on him, so I felt it was important that I mend fences.

I told him, if you could forgive General Francis Ogolla (current Chief of Defence Forces) who wanted to overturn your win, then it’s nothing personal, just business.

What was his response?

Oh, he blasted me, and I took it graciously. But that's the nature of politics. He asked me, ‘Okay, now that we have patched things up, what do you want?’ I told him, one, I don't want a position. I'm not interested in any position. I want a function. Give me a function, something I can do for you from my office or wherever I am in the world.

In particular, a function that propagates the idea of the Hustler Nation. His response was, ‘Okay, I will see about it.’ We have not spoken since.

So, are you doing this just for the money?

I have a lot of work as a consultant. But if business opportunities open up, why not? I'll take them.

Have you defected to his government, or to the Kenya Kwanza coalition or to UDA?

You know, I'm not a politician. I am a political scientist. I'm a man of thoughts, not a man of political action. So I have defected to the idea of the Hustler Nation, especially because I started it.

So, what do you bring to the table?

I think after KK (Kenya Kwanza) came to power, they abandoned the whole ideology and the movement of the ‘Hustler Nation’ that drove them into power. I have come to drive it.

Again, what gives you claim to the ‘hustler’ narrative?

Just check history and where that idea came from. Check my YouTube channel. It’s a matter of public record.

The defection is to my friend William Ruto and to the idea of the Hustler Nation. And that's what I want to support and grow.

What are your political beliefs?

I'm a leftist — or let's say, I'm a former leftist, or a reforming one. It is partly from my leftist training in academia. I believe pretty much in the idea of class struggle as the only way to change things.

So, what do you expect your 2.2 million followers on Twitter and the general public to make of you after declaring your defection?

Personally, I have never asked anyone to follow me or my ideas. I don't know why they follow me. I follow only 20 people and there is a reason for it. So, you follow me at your own peril. Because when the facts change, I'll change my mind.

How about your credibility?

The only credibility that I care for is the one of ideas, much more than the credibility of the stationary position. If ideas change because the facts have changed, I change my mind.

You have called yourself a dog of war…

Yes. I am a mercenary for public good. I think it's people who called me a dog of war when I made that defection.

 Do you support former president’s stay in active politics?

William Ruto has been in power for almost one year now, but Uhuru has refused to exit the stage. What Uhuru is doing is not right.

Have you talked to him (Mr Kenyatta) about it?

I have tried to reconcile him with William Ruto, and I can reveal that we have had conversations with (Prime Cabinet Secretary) Musalia Mudavadi about it. I have told him he was better off with William Ruto. You see, currently, Uhuru is only interested in protecting whatever his family owns. He gave Raila Odinga everything. There's nothing else he can give him.

What would you advise President Ruto to do differently, given a chance?

I think the cost of living is a big problem). What I would advise is that he subsidise consumption until he completely sorts out the production.

The President said he would bring the cost of living down, and the first thing he did when he got in is to increase prices. That contradiction is probably the one that's creating acidic pessimism on the ground.