Why William Ruto’s Brand of Politics is Dangerous for Kenya


In a period of two months last year, VP William Ruto contributed Ksh 17 million  at various harambees without disclosing the source of his huge sums of money

William Samoei Ruto is gradually reviving former Dictator Daniel arap Moi’s retrogressive politics of corruption, manipulation, intimidation and bribery/vote buying. A clear example is the recent strategy of meeting politicians from the Luhya and Kisii ethnic communities at his Sugoi home in the Rift Valley, and giving handouts. It is claimed the meetings were for promoting the new Jubilee Party, which will be Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta’s vehicle for re-election in 2017. According to the STAR newspaper of January 9, 2016: “Deputy President William Ruto so far has spent an estimated Sh100 million hosting more than 12,000 delegates at his Sugoi home in Uasin Gishu to campaign for the Jubilee Party.”

On the surface, there is no doubt William Ruto is a canny politician who worked his way from a poor chicken seller at a railroad in the Rift Valley, to a cabinet minister both in Moi and Kibaki’s governments. In reality, Ruto is a pathological land grabber, political gangster, ruthless opportunist and mass murderer, who is facing criminal charges at the ICC. He is currently the deputy president with access to vast government resources and authority to act with impunity. However, it is his earlier criminal activities in the defunct Youth for Kanu ’92 (YK’92) lobby group formed to campaign for Moi’s stay in power in the run up to the 1992 General Election, that initiated Ruto into the politics of opportunism and deception, treachery, manipulation and patronage, through the Big Man syndrome that he currently puts into practice. Most of the younger generation Kenyans do not understand how his dirty background has implications for the current and future politics, since he is aspiring to be president in 2022. To some Christians, Ruto is a pious teetotaler and Bible-carrying convert who worships in church every Sunday, and generously contributes huge sums of money to build or renovate churches across the country. To Jubilee sycophants, he is the hero who felled former Prime Minister Raila Odinga in the 2013 elections, by creating the fake “fixing” label regarding the ICC case that faces him in The Hague. On the contrary, Kenyans are now aware that Ruto was fixed by Kibaki-era government officials from the Kikuyu ethnic group, some of whom still work under Uhuru Kenyatta. His own slogan: “Don’t be vague, let’s go to The Hague” or “Don’t be vague, we want The Hague” is not lost to many.

Wikipedia’s unflattering description of the YK’92 is: “Youth for Kanu ’92 was a lobby group of politicians from the Kenya African National Union that was consolidated with the stated aim of rallying support and funding for the, then incumbent president of Kenya Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, in Kenya’s first multiparty elections since the end of the Cold war. It was widely accused of being complicit in ethnic violence directed at Kikuyu residents in southern and central parts of Rift Valley Province up to and after that elections under the guise of Majimbo. Politicians who were involved with Youth for Kanu include William Ruto and Cyrus Jirongo.”

Political patronage

uhuru profile

Uhuru Kenyatta: Has perfected tribalism through appointment by tribe as opposed to appointment by merit.

In his book, ‘Taxation, Responsiveness, and Accountability in Sub-Saharan Africa’ (2015), Wilson Prichard illustrates the political implications of Daniel arap Moi’s ascendency to power in 1978 after Jomo Kenyatta’s death. Having come from the then ethnically and economically marginalized Kalenjin group, “he was consequently committed to redistributing economic resources towards the less developed areas of the country, and particularly the Kalenjin areas of the Rift Valley. This necessitated the dismantling of Kenyatta’s elaborate patronage network, and the creation of a political environment more firmly centred on himself and his allies” (p. 123). Prichard argues that although similar patronage networks and corruption later engulfed Moi’s government, his earlier administration had an effective tax policy.

Just as Moi had frustrated the Kikuyu, Luo and other ethnic groups he perceived as opposing his leadership from the mid-1980s to early 1990s before the restoration of multiparty politics in Kenya, Uhuru and Ruto have perfected the art of ignoring the so-called “non-Jubilee zones”, which are the strongholds of CORD, the main Opposition party. This strategy is not accidental.

According to Britannica.com, political patronage, also known as the spoils system, is a “practice in which the political party winning an election rewards its campaign workers and other active supporters by appointment to government posts and by other favours. The spoils system involves political activity by public employees in support of their party and the employees’ removal from office if their party loses the election. A change in party control of government necessarily brings new officials to high positions carrying political responsibility, but the spoils system extends personnel turnover down to routine or subordinate governmental positions.” Since the corrupt Jubilee administration came to power through a rigged election, political patronage and tribalism in the appointment of top government officials is a confirmation of the duplication of the Moi-Kibaki retrogressive political tactics.

On October 11, 2013 Andrew Mwenda, a Ugandan journalist, founder and owner of The Independent, a current affairs news magazine, published an article at independent.co.org titled ‘Inside Africa’s Politics of Patronage’, illustrating the nature of political patronage under the dictatorship of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, that is “characterised by a trade in private goods.” For instance, by luring the Kalenjin bloc to support Uhuru’s ascent to the presidency in 2013 (election rigging notwithstanding), Ruto’s sycophants have been rewarded with high positions and lucrative contracts in the fragile Jubilee government. Indeed, ideological bankruptcy of political parties continues to sustain tribalism in national politics unabated.

Mwenda asserted that “the person so appointed will have access to official salary and allowances and unofficial opportunities to profit through corruption. Indeed, corruption becomes the way the system works, not the way it fails. In exchange, this powerful individual will deliver a significant block vote of his/her co-ethnics for the president and his party. How does a man like Ruto sustain his pre-eminent position among the Kalenjin? He must be able to leverage his position to also provide private goods; jobs and lucrative government tenders and contracts to other members of his community. This way he cultivates a large clientele of influential supporters. Meanwhile, each of these persons appointed also uses their influence to secure jobs and contracts for the political operators in their community. It cascades downwards in a reciprocal arrangement, eroding the principle of merit from the center to the lowest unit of local government.” Mwenda could not have put it better!

Lack of national identity

julius nyerere

Julius Nyerere: Successfully vanquished tribalism in Tanzania through political ideology

In Chapter 22 of his book, ‘Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy’ (2014), American political scientist, political economist, and author, Francis Fukuyama, compares ideological preferences in Kenya and Tanzania during the Cold War and post-independence period. He cites Joel D. Barkan, Professor of Political Science at the University of Iowa, who indicated that during the Cold War, Kenya adopted “patron-client capitalism” while Tanzania espoused “one-party socialism.” As a result, “Kenya by contrast has been racked, particularly since the presidential election of 2007, by violence among its ethnic groups. GDP growth has been lower and much more volatile during the 2000s, reflecting ongoing political conflict. Tanzania has remained much more stable.” Sadly, the ethnic divide fueled by tribalism and which Fukuyama alludes to, is the very force that continues to glue the Uhuru-Ruto joint in national politics.

Fukuyama states that while Tanzania has around 120 ethnic groups, they are not large enough to form strong alliances to dominate politics, unlike in Kenya where five major groups of the Kikuyu, Luhya, Luo, Kalenjin and Kamba, comprise 70 percent of the population. Two of them can easily dominate politics as has been the case of the Kikuyu and Kalenjin since independence. He also puts a strong case for the nation-wide usage of Kiswahili language in Tanzania that the German colonists supported during their rule in the 19th century, compared to the British in Kenya. Later after independence, Tanzania’s first President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, made Kiswahili a central part of national identity. While the linguistic unity instituted by “Nyerere’s socialism” has kept tribalism at bay in Tanzania, the adoption of Kiswahili as a national language in Kenya has failed to achieve a similar objective, due to lack of ideological direction at the dawn of independence.

Commenting further on Nyerere’s ideological strategy, Fukuyama notes that “he explicitly built national identity around socialism rather than ethnicity with his doctrine of ujamaa or African socialism, articulated clearly and at great length in his writings and in documents like the 1967 Arusha Declaration. He argued that ethnic fractionalization was a grave threat to the socialist project and therefore made efforts to suppress what he labeled “tribalism.” The then ruling party, Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), which later evolved into the current Chama Cha Mapinduzi, aimed to maintain Leninist discipline and morals throughout the country. “In the process, Nyerere’s government made a much stronger effort than did Jomo Kenyatta to turn Swahili into a national language, making it compulsory in all secondary schools in 1965.”

In Kenya, the Kikuyu ethnic group dominated the political and economic landscape after independence. Fukuyama argues that, while Jomo Kenyatta ruled using the Kenya African National Union (KANU) that was a nationalist party, it was not conceived “as an ideologically based Leninist organization but as a patronage-distribution system. The state was not seen as a neutral arbiter standing above different ethnic groups; it was a price to be captured. Thus when Kenyatta was succeeded by Daniel arap Moi in 1978, patronage shifted abruptly from the Kikuyu to the Kalenjin and other ethnic groups supporting Moi. While TANU sought to redistribute resources from rich to poor, the Kenyan government redistributed from one ethnicity to another. The open exploitation of patronage by ethnic groups arriving at political power was captured by Michela Wrong in the phrase ‘It is our turn to eat’.”

Fukuyama traces Kenya’s economic decline to Moi’s leadership that promoted high levels of patronage and corruption. “Since that time, much of Kenyan politics has revolved around a zero-sum game between the country’s ethnic groups to grab the presidency and state resources. This culminated in mass killings in the wake of the 2007 presidential election between Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, and Raila Odinga, a Luo.”

Moi’s last laugh


Moi: Responsible for Kenya’s decline and now having a last laugh


In an op-ed by Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o titled ‘A Dictator’s Last Laugh’, published on March 14, 2013 at nytimes.com, he mentioned that the real winner of the 2013 elections “was a man who wasn’t on the ballot: Daniel arap Moi, the country’s leader from 1978 to 2002, who terrorized it for 24 years and destroyed all credible institutions, including political parties.” He averred that Moi’s sycophancy and corrupt activities were still intact and would be personified by the rise of his allies. Ngugi noted that Jomo Kenyatta introduced the de facto one-party rule and Moi had developed it into a complete dictatorial system. The current trend under Uhuru Kenyatta’s troubled presidency (marked by tribalism, political marginalization, the destruction of key institutions, political sycophancy and corruption), is a duplication of tactics used by all former presidents of the Republic of Kenya.

When the multi-party system was re-introduced in 1992, Moi originally recruited Ruto to act as a spanner-boy within the emergent strategy of political gangsterism and anarchy within KANU in the run-up to the 1992 elections. “Mr. Ruto distinguished himself as a lieutenant for Youth for Kanu ’92, which conducted a campaign of violence and intimidation in the Rift Valley Province, home to Mr. Moi. Thousands of residents were forced to flee. Some returned, only to have to flee again around the next election, in 1997. The Rift Valley was also the epicenter of the 2007 violence, which displaced hundreds of thousands of people. In almost all the election cycles, the incitement to violence has come from members of the political class — not the Kenyans trying to simply lead their lives”, wrote Ngugi. Both Uhuru and Ruto cut their political teeth during Moi’s era of terror.

In conclusion, Ngugi asked: “Will Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto, two of Kenya’s wealthiest men, revive the economy, reduce poverty and corruption, resettle displaced persons and prioritize the interests of ordinary Kenyans? I am skeptical.”

Assertions that Ruto might have had knowledge of previous violent ethnic cleansing in the Rift Valley are not therefore accidental. He has a well documented history of bloody and violent campaigns against the Kikuyu (madoadoa) in the Rift Valley, dating back to 1992. He is facing charges at the ICC because of mass murder. Given his overt crusade to try and buy opportunist leaders across the country using stolen taxpayer’s money, Ruto is seeking to introduce a dangerous brand of politics in Kenya that is unacceptable. Ruto must not just be   opposed at the propaganda level. He must be stopped for real, if Kenya is to be saved from plunging into the abyss.

Jared Odero

This article is part of an on-going series called “Kenya Freedom Writers: Serializing the history of political struggles in Kenya“. The project is open to all writers who can send their contributions to be considered for publication to kenyastockholm(at)gmail.com. For clarity, the Editors running the Series reserve the right to edit articles submitted.



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