Why the Uhuru-Ruto alliance is a ticket to nowhere

What you need to know:

  • There’s no love lost between Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Eldoret North MP William Ruto
  • If you believe the International Criminal Court, the two went at each other hammer and tongs in 2008
  • How can you have a “political union” where there’s no master and servant?
  • Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto must contend with “their respective tribal constituencies”. There’s growing evidence that Mr Ruto may not hold onto the Kalenjin, especially if he plays second fiddle to Mr Kenyatta
  • I can see why Mr Kenyatta sees a Uhuru-Ruto ticket as a plausible strategy out of the ICC and a roadblock against an Odinga presidency

A “political merger” of TNA and URP is nonsense on stilts. It won’t take a step without collapsing into a heap. That’s because oil and vinegar don’t mix. Let’s call a spade by its name.

There’s no love lost between Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Eldoret North MP William Ruto.

If you believe the International Criminal Court, the two went at each other hammer and tongs in 2008.

Don’t be fooled that the wily and cunning Mr Ruto will be Mr Kenyatta’s bride.

Nor should you expect the brash Mr Kenyatta to prostrate himself before Mr Ruto.

Which begs the question – how can you have a “political union” where there’s no master and servant? That because you can’t.

The weird courtship between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto is grounded on two mortal “fears” – the fear of the ICC and the fear of PM Raila Odinga.

A paradox

They’ve formed a pact because the ICC accuses them of masterminding the violence targeting “each other’s people” in 2008.

This is a paradox – but one I can explain. The violence wasn’t personal to either Mr Kenyatta or Mr Ruto.

The true objective wasn’t to attack people but to capture, or retain power. That’s how poor people are sacrificed by political elites every election cycle. It’s nothing personal. That’s how Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto can still come together to seek the highest office in the land.

For Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto, the fear of the ICC looms larger than the fate of the 1,300 dead, the IDPs, and the survivors.

The prospect of spending decades in a cold prison in Europe is a horrifying probability. Misery loves company. That’s why Mr Ruto and Mr Kenyatta are locked in an uncomfortable embrace.

They are probably the only two people who truly understand each other’s pain. They must spend sleepless nights – breaking out in cold sweats – in terrible nightmares.

They’ll do anything to save elves, including probably refusing to show up for trial at The Hague. That’s why they must win the election if they want to defy the ICC – like Sudan President Omar al-Bashir.

Mr Odinga is the second “fear” which unites Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto. This is a fear of “payback”. The Kenyattas and the Odingas have had a long running political feud.

Mzee Kenyatta turned on Jaramogi, Mr Odinga’s father, even though the latter refused a British offer to become Prime Minister in place of the former. Mzee Kenyatta later detained Mr Odinga.

In 2002, Mr Odinga led a rebellion in Kanu that denied Mr Kenyatta the presidency. In 2007, Mr Kenyatta joined President Kibaki to deny Mr Odinga the State House.

Mr Ruto fell out with Mr Odinga and left ODM. The two – Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto – have vowed to end Mr Odinga’s quest for the State House.

Mr Kenyatta isn’t just driven by vanity to seek the presidency. He’s now the head of an ideological faction – political conservatives – that’s ruled Kenya since independence. He – and this elite – want to safeguard their patrimony.

Many of them fear that Mr Odinga would scrutinise how their wealth – including land – was acquired.

There should be no doubt that many of those who plundered the country under Mzee Kenyatta, Mr Moi, and President Kibaki should be held to account.

Who knows whether Mr Odinga would do it, but they don’t want to wait and find out.

They’ve demonised Mr Odinga by falsely claiming he orchestrated the ICC against them. But fear isn’t enough to unite Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto.

Tribal constituencies

Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto must contend with “their respective tribal constituencies”. There’s growing evidence that Mr Ruto may not hold onto the Kalenjin, especially if he plays second fiddle to Mr Kenyatta.

The Kalenjin wonder why the Kikuyu can’t support “their son” instead. Perhaps the Kalenjin are aware of one important historical fact – the House of Mumbi has never supported a non-Kikuyu presidential candidate.

The Kalenjin can take this to the bank – Mr Ruto won’t be the first “outsider” candidate to win Kikuyu support.

Mr Ruto can only join Mr Kenyatta as the subordinate, not the other way round. And the Kikuyu will completely desert Mr Kenyatta in droves if he subordinates himself to Mr Ruto.

The risk for Mr Ruto – if he becomes Mr Kenyatta’s sidekick – is loss of face among the Kalenjin. This opens the door wide for Mr Odinga to scoop up Kalenjin voters.

It will also strengthen the hand of two key regional players – Industrialisation minister Henry Kosgey and Agriculture minister Sally Kosgei – against Mr Ruto. Mr Odinga may even pick one of the two his running mate.

This could likely doom Mr Ruto’s political career. So, this is the question – is Mr Ruto willing to become Mr Kenyatta’s sacrificial lamb? Can his hatred for Mr Odinga trump his instincts for political survival? Or will his mortal fear of The Hague drive him irrevocably into Mr Kenyatta’s vice-like iron grip?

I can see why Mr Kenyatta sees a Uhuru-Ruto ticket as a plausible strategy out of the ICC and a roadblock against an Odinga presidency.

Except it isn’t. I think it’s more like a suicide pact. Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto shouldn’t act as though they are guilty of crimes against humanity unless they believe they are.

That’s why the better strategy is to drop their presidential bids and first clear their names at the ICC. A strategy driven by fear suggests less faith in their innocence. It smacks of a desperate all-or-nothing strategy for survival.

Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC.

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