The Star (Nairobi)

4 January 2014

Kenya: Will Ruto's Fate Vindicate Rift Valley Elite?

In 2014 two dynamics of Ruto's career and fate will be worked out: The true nature of his political union with President Kenyatta and the culmination of his trial on crimes against humanity charges at The Hague.

Deputy President William Samoei Ruto enters 2014 on a political and judicial knife edge.

This is the year that will be the culmination, for better or otherwise, of a number of crucial factors in his public career.

As Deputy President, he occupies the second highest public office created by the Kenyan constitution and is first in line in the presidential succession. Unlike the 10 Vice Presidents who occupied the old constitution's second highest position (with the exception of Daniel arap Moi in 1978), Deputy President Ruto would ascend to the presidency upon the death, resignation, or removal of the President and complete his term without having to go through an election.

In his crimes against humanity case at the International Criminal Court, Ruto is referred to, in all seriousness, as "exercising extraordinary public duties at the highest national level". It is on this basis that he now awaits the judges' ruling on his request to be excused from being present in court throughout the hearings and be represented by counsel only.

Preeminence and predicament:

He did not arrive at his present preeminence and predicament easily. The man who sometimes styles himself, only half in jest, as a "hustler" in 2012 and 2013 pulled off one of the most remarkable feats of Kenya politics - the coming together behind one presidential ticket of the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin.

It was such a shocker that it had the element of total surprise, including inside the Mt Kenya and the Rift Valley communities themselves. And it caught the rivals of both Ruto and Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta completely flatfooted.

In 2014, two dynamics of Ruto's career and fate will be worked out: The true nature of his political union with President Kenyatta and the culmination of his trial on crimes against humanity charges at The Hague.

Although both men strenuously deny it, the power pact between Kenyatta's The National Party (TNA) and Ruto's United Republican Party (URP) is not really a 50-50 arrangement. Perhaps it is time that the political fiction of equitable power-sharing was retired in Kenya and all players entering such cohabitations begun to do so with clear eyes and no illusions: More about this shortly.

Among Ruto's achievements on his way to Kenya's first deputy presidency was his orchestration of a huge generational change in Rift Valley politics, the biggest such shift in Kenyan electoral politics at the grassroots. But also remarkable was the resistance to Ruto by the older-generation Rift Valley power elite. Ruto took the Rift by storm, yes, but not the Daniel arap Moi era elite.

Operatives like Nicholas Biwott, Gideon Moi, Franklin Bett, Henry Kosgey, Sally Kosgei, Hosea Kiplagat, Mark Too and many others remained studiously outside Ruto's URP orbit, even when it was clear that this spelt the end of being electable in Rift Valley. It was almost as if they knew something that Ruto did not. It was also almost as if they are biding their time to reenter the scene decisively with we-told-you-so vindication.

And although Moi, the patriarch of Rift Valley power politics and the second President of Kenya, viewed the coming to power of Kenyatta as Fourth President with unalloyed pride, having preferred him as a successor 11 years ago, the same cannot be said of him and the rise of Ruto.

Ruto took the Rift Valley grassroots with him as the patriarch looked on, not once but in two consecutive presidential polls and in diametrically opposed directions - in the 2007 poll behind Raila Amolo Odinga and in 2013 behind Uhuru.

Unlike Ruto, Uhuru had multiple-generation support throughout his own political backyard, including the then outgoing Kibaki's power elite. Key political power players and financiers who had risen to prominence during the first presidency like Njenga Karume and John Michuki went to their graves endorsing Uhuru as Kibaki's successor and political monarch of the Mt Kenyans and all their diasporas. Uhuru's advent as fourth president was a revival of the Kenyatta political brand.

The Deputy President has risen at the expense of Moi's own immediate family and old inner circle in a process that begun as long ago as 2007, when Ruto led the Kalenjin into the most concentrated effort yet in Kenyan electoral history to shut the Kikuyu out of the presidency. That fateful contest, between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, ended in the national catastrophe of the post-election violence of December 2007 and January 2008, Kenya's most acute post-Independence political crisis.

The Rift Valley was on fire in the crisis in which 1,400 people perished and 650,000 were displaced. Ruto spent a lot of 2013 seated patiently in court at the ICC listening to gruesome testimony regarding some of the worst atrocities perpetrated during the period.

The question of Ruto's 'fixers'

In fact, it was in the theatre of the ICC's Chamber V (b) that the first chinks in the TNA/URP armor that produced the political miracle of the Kikuyu-Kalenjin Jubilee machine and "Tyranny of Numbers" factor became evident. The evidence piling up in court against Ruto and radio broadcaster Joshua arap Sang regarding post-election violence atrocities in Rift Valley was collected by experts, including Intelligence officers. And it was first gathered long before it became apparent that Ruto and Uhuru would unite, and unite their large communities behind them, for the purposes of the Kibaki succession.

When Ruto's British lawyer Karim Khan declared in court that his client had been fixed by national security bureaucrats, at least 10 of whom were not only in government but in and around the presidency, he detonated the first phase of a multistage political time bomb.

Later, Kericho Senator Charles Keter, a Ruto confidant, confirmed Khan's courtroom comments and named names, among them those of Internal Security Principal Secretary Mutea Iringo and Presidential Political Adviser Nancy Gitau.

Keter even went as far as to call for the immediate resignation of all 10 operatives, saying URP were finding it increasingly intolerable to coexist in the same ruling coalition with the Deputy President's "fixers".

And then Ruto's side let slip one of the clinchers of 2013: the National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS) has yet to show the Deputy President their full file on him as collected during the post-election violence. This was a remarkable piece of news, particularly considering that Ruto is now faced with the court battle of his life and is second in command to the President and Commander-in-Chief himself.

Ruto's predicament despite his elevated circumstances resonated all the more when considered alongside former Prime Minister Raila's own disclosure earlier in the year when he was launching his autobiography, entitled Flame of Freedom, written with veteran editor Sarah Elderkin. Raila told a Daily Nation interviewer that the intelligence service had taken him on an elaborate runaround regarding the manuscript of a book he had written in detention and other key details of his three stints in detention without trial adding up to a total of nine years behind bars. And this despite his having risen to Prime Minister and Co-Principal of the Grand Coalition Government, another 50-50 political cohabitation in which some partners were ultimately more equal than others.

Although no love whatever is now lost between them, Ruto and Raila separately bear powerful testimony to the grip the Kikuyu power elite exert on the key levers of Kenya's national-security State.

Another Keter, Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter, a first-termer in Parliament, came out with his dramatic allegations that the URP grassroots in the Rift Valley were unhappy with the manner the Jubilee regime was sharing power. Claiming to speak for the Deputy President and the Kalenjin community, the young Keter, who is still in his 30s, sparked off a mini crisis that saw Kenyatta and Ruto camp in Rift Valley for two consecutive days trying to calm the grassroots.

Realities of power politics

Ruto ended 2013 furiously fighting a rearguard political battle, insisting that he is happy in the Jubilee Alliance and in the power pact on which it is grounded. But the truth of the matter remains that presidential power is indivisible and Ruto, like the 10 VPs from December 1964 to February 2013, is effectively the President's errand boy in terms of power politics.

Like the old VPs, Ruto finds himself in the awkward position of defending his President even when the issue in question is patently indefensible - for instance the state corporation chairmanships that Uhuru gazetted during the Christmas break that elicited cries of pain and protest even from within Jubilee itself. The old posture of unity at the top is still in use in the new era and the latest presidency and still as unconvincing and politically ritualistic as ever.

The choicest positions will still go to the Mt Kenyans, however restive Ruto's grassroots get, just as they did through two Presidential administrations across a total of 25 years (Jomo Kenyatta's 1964-1978 tenure and Kibaki's decade, 2003-2013).

Power play and its impacts on policy in Kenya and access to the national pie of the economy and its opportunities have a template that not even the UhuRuto administration can easily alter, however fine their rhetoric. This was amply demonstrated by Moi's 24 consecutive years at the helm, a period during which the Rift Valley power elite bestrode Kenya like there was no tomorrow.

The fate of the Jubilee Alliance, and particularly Ruto's own fate, will determine where political power pacts and alliances created for the purpose of capturing the State go next. A variety of outcomes is on the cards, among them the fall of Ruto and a reconsideration of the Rift Valley grassroots' stake in Jubilee. This would be no big deal, provided that the Kikuyu power elite can partner with other large ethnic vote bloc battalions and maintain its "Tyranny of Numbers" factor.

However, how Mt Kenya and Rift Valley part ways, if it ever happens, would matter very greatly indeed for the future of the Kikuyu factor in the presidency. If a falling out takes the shape of demonstrable complaints and grievances from the Rift to the effect that partnering with the Mountain is a lost cause because the Kikuyu power elite will simply not share the spoils of office meaningfully, there would be hell to pay for the Mountain in future presidential contests.

Other complex scenarios could emerge in the course of 2014 that might result in not dissimilar dire consequences. For instance, what happens at the ICC is crucial to what happens inside Jubilee. Say, for instance, that the case against President Kenyatta collapses completely, as it ended 2013 showing every sign of doing, but the case against Ruto drags on. The scenario will change drastically from one in which both members of the Kenyan Presidency were crimes-against-humanity ICC indictees to one where only the Deputy President is still in court. Kenyans will watch their Presidency with hawk eyes for any sign that Uhuru is not treating Ruto right, including taking some responsibilities from him as the case races towards a judgment climax.

SIDE BAR 1:

IF RUTO WINS IN COURT

One of two things could happen and either has far-reaching consequences. Ruto could win his case in court. And Ruto could lose his case in court. The prospect of the Ruto case collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions in the manner that the Uhuru case is doing does not seem to exist just now. In fact, the peremptory manner in which the Trial Chamber has summoned him to be present in court on January 9 speaks volumes about their determination to take the case all the way to a ruling and sentencing. And this is happening despite the fact that the ICC Assembly of Parties' new rule of procedure (the so-called Rule 134quarter), adopted in November, allows persons of Ruto's national preeminence to be absent for long periods of their trials. If the Trial Chamber begins 2014 by denying Ruto this device, the year will start with a truly portentous thunderclap.

Nonetheless, an ultimate win in court would produce such a resurgent Ruto that his hardest hard-core supporters would urge him to press for more room in the power-sharing stakes. The UhuRuto Presidential duo has taken to talking of itself in terms of ruling Kenya for the next 19 years, a rhetorical posture that greatly upsets the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) of Raila, former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and Senate Minority Leader Moses Wetang'ula. Uhuru is particularly fond of saying that he wants a full two terms in office of five years each as Ruto stands, by for a decade, to make his own bid for another full two-term stint.

This tag team Presidency would be in office until 2032, when Uhuru would be aged 71 and Ruto 66.

Cord goes into a paroxysm of protest every time UhuRuto presses the two-consecutive-full-terms-at State-House propaganda button. However, on Saturday December 28, 2013, the Kiminini MP, Dr Chris Wamalwa, shifted these ambitious goalposts somewhat. Wamalwa, a Cord member, asked his audience at a political rally why Ruto should wait for 10 years to stake his claim on State House. Instead, Wamalwa opined, Ruto should exercise his perfectly democratic right to do so and go for the Presidency in 2017, at which point Uhuru should also wait five years before making another bid.

Wamalwa's remarks did not come from thin air. There has been such speculative talk deep inside Ruto's URP. A Ruto who finds himself victorious in court through the grueling ICC process would be so resurgent that he could be emboldened to rewrite the 'tyranny of numbers' factor on his own terms. A brand-new narrative would insinuate itself into the Mt Kenya-Rift Valley scenario: A world court, using world-class investigators, prosecutors and judges and relying on evidence collected by, among others, the Kenyan secret police under Mt Kenyan direction, command and control, would have absolved the Rift's political kingpin of the post-election violence, an event that in that region targeted mostly Kikuyu in terms of sheer numbers and scales of atrocity.

In other words, the single most compelling factor that fused the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin into the Jubilee political machine and victory would have been adjudged by experts at the world level to have been organized by unknown others who are, as the phrase goes in Kenya itself, "not before the court".

There would be many voices, both from within URP and without, urging a Ruto who was victorious and resurgent through the ICC process to drive a much harder bargain with the Mt Kenya power elite. And the subtext of remarks like Dr Wamalwa's would increasingly be that it will never be easier to take the prize of the Presidency from the Kikuyu for a number of electoral cycles than at the precise point at which the UhuRuto pact is perceived to begin to unravel.

A not dissimilar dilemma could well befall Cord, particularly if either of the second-tier principals - Kalonzo and Wetang'ula - were to insist that Raila has had too many bids for President (three; 1997, 2007 and 2013) and it is high time he tried backing someone from another of the big ethnic vote blocs.

However, the big unspoken serial strategy of the multiparty era Presidential elections is that, with the exception of the 2002 event that saw Kibaki succeed Moi by beating Uhuru, all these contests have involved trying to prevent the ascendancy of the Kikuyu. Moi did it in the first two restoration-of-multiparty contests (1992 and 1997) and Raila tried mightily in the latest two (2007 and 2013). On all four occasions, there were widespread allegations of a stolen poll, with the 2007 event producing the post-election violence..

If TNA and URP fell out just in time for the 2017 race, there would most likely be no implosion inside Cord, which in Raila has the country's second-highest collector of presidential vote tallies ever.

SIDEBAR 2:

IF RUTO LOSES IN COURT

On the other hand, if the ICC finds Ruto guilty even on the merest technicality and hands him the lightest sentence that it can under the circumstances, Uhuru still has a massive problem on his hands and Kenya would enter truly uncharted territory. The UhuRuto pair would enter a phase whereby the President is freed of all ICC accusations but the Deputy President graduates from indictee to convictee. Even assuming that there is a decent interval for an appeal process and that the ICC still allows Ruto to be at large several hard questions arise - among the most pressing of them being whether Ruto could continue to be in office and representing Kenya on the global stage with an ICC conviction pending appeal.

In the Rift Valley and inside both URP and Cord, the Keters, Wamalwas and allied voices would kick up a political storm about Ruto's "crucifixion" and virtual "martyrdom". President Kenyatta would be scrutinized with politically-tinted binoculars for how shabbily he and the power elite were treating Ruto in his hour of need. In a state of such heightened tensions and sensitivities, anything would seem like a slight, even the most routine delegation of responsibilities, for instance the choice between sending the Deputy President or Chief of Staff Joseph Kinyua to a Western capital on official business).

But the real test for UhuRuto would come in the form of whether the grip Ruto has on the Rift Valley grassroots can be effectively transferred, or whether he goes down alone. Power abhors a vacuum. Where would Ruto's power go - elsewhere within URP or back, even if in fragmented form, to elements of the Moi era power elite? Above all, how cohesive would the Rift Valley vote bloc remain in a scenario without Ruto and where would this leave the "Tyranny of Numbers" factor?

No Kenyan Presidential campaign and poll repeats the exact patterns of another, including consecutive events. There will be other dynamics at play during the next presidential poll campaign, even if UhuRuto remains intact through every challenge between now and then and grows from strength to strength. This Presidential pair could still deliver a first term like none other and take everyone's breath away, both friend and foe.

On the other hand, they could come under so much pressure, both from within and without, that they put in a far less-than-salubrious first term. As 2013 amply demonstrated, certain old habits die hard, particularly bad habits. It was historian and biographer Isaac Deutscher who noted, in his classic study Russia after Stalin (1953):

"In later years, when economic reconstruction was under way and the ruling group might have met with more popular support, its members were already fixed in undemocratic habits of government and had a stake in persisting in those habits. It is as a rule easier for any government or party to move away from a democratic principle a thousand miles than to go back to it a single yard".

That single yard is already evident in Kenya today in the matter of the Kenyatta regime's recent head-on collisions with the multimedia journalism sector, and this administration is not yet a year old.

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