The Star (Kenya)
Future alliances: Lessons from Uhuruto to Uhuru and Ruto
It’s now clear to all that there is no love lost in the ruling Jubilee Party.
The once promising outfit with nearly two thirds of legislators in both Houses of Parliament is on its deathbed, just three years after its formation. Many such juggernauts that have swept to power end up collapsing between one to three years later.
At independence, Kanu, whose leadership produced the first government led by President Jomo Kenyatta and Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga collapsed nearly three years later owing to amongst others, personality clashes of the two protagonists due to differing political ideologies, and foreign interference emanating from the then Cold War between communism and capitalism.
Political ideology is based on economic model of extraction, thus leading to social stratification. While Kenyatta favoured capitalism, Oginga preferred communism, which he thought was much closer to the African way of doing things.
Their catastrophic fallout not only divided the country, but bore the seeds of political competition and animosity between their two tribes, the Kikuyu and the Luo, to date.
Kenyatta and Jaramogi were two very strong-willed individuals, who started out with a ‘bromance’, wearing the same type of headgears and suits. When they eventually fell out and Jaramogi became the doyen of opposition politics, the two seem to have conferred upon their communities the very tag of their ideological leanings. The Kikuyus are seen as more capitalist, while the Luo as socialist, thus fusing tribe and ideology to define Kenya’s political divide and landscape.
Many years later in 2002, when Kenya had its first real free and fair elections, Raila Odinga, the son of Jaramogi, teamed up with Mwai Kibaki, to form the NARC government. Soon after coming to power, they fell out due to failure to implement an MOU that had given Raila a non-existent prime minister position, sharing of Cabinet slots and a commitment to promulgate a new constitution in 100 days.
In terms of personality traits, while Kibaki was a laid back, laissez faire kind of person, Raila, whose political symbol was a tractor, was a forceful rabble-rouser, using sheer force of personality to emerge behind the shadows of his father to become the undisputed leader of official opposition.
The two clashed on how to run government but to their credit, the economy grew to a record seven per cent. While Kibaki ran the economy, Raila ran the politics. However, their fall out three years later led to the 2007-08 post-election violence largely targeting the Kikuyu community. The negotiated National Accord forced them to work together again, this time as President and Prime Minister.
Uhuru and Ruto were perceived [suspected] to be the powers behind Kibaki and Raila’s electoral dispute and violence, ending up as suspects at the ICC. This situation made them work together, first to exonerate themselves, and second to self-protect by together running for office. Earlier on, they had also worked together in 2002, when Moi appointed Uhuru as his successor, though the bid failed.
In their first term as President and Deputy President, Uhuru and Ruto — popularly referred as Uhuruto — , just like Jomo and Jaramogi, wore similar ties and shirts, with the President mostly having left the running of government to the DP as his ‘mtu wa mkono’. The media nicknamed them the Dynamic Duo.
They had learnt lessons, it was said, from the mistakes of the Kibaki-raila partnership. In terms of personality, while Ruto is seen as an aggressive go-getter, Uhuru, on the other hand, is seen as kind hearted and easy going, demystifying the presidency and bringing it closer to the people. Others have described him as a prince at the same time.
In the second term though, Uhuruto has since degenerated into Uhuru and Ruto, thereby demonstrating that even when a co-principal such as a Deputy President is given unfettered latitude to exercise authority, still the centre may not hold for long.
So while Oginga and Jomo fell out due to strong personalities and political ideologies, Kibaki and Raila fell out due to the latter’s sheer force of personality, threatening the former’s laid back persona. Ruto, it appears, ended up taking more than kazi ya mkono to the chagrin of his boss or those around him.
On the other hand, Moi was able to survive as the longest-serving Vice President — though at the expense of socio-economic development — and the only one to have succeeded his boss as President, even though the inner circle never wanted him.
In the US President Barack Obama and VP Joe Biden worked fairly well, despite the latter being senior and more experienced than the former. Even though Biden never became the automatic candidate to succeed Obama, he is currently leading in opinion polls to torpedo President Donald Trump.
In the foreseeable future, there will always be at least two protagonists coming together to win power, either through a single party or by coalition, due to our ethnically divided and polarised country.
The lingering question remains: What formula can future political partners use to ensure the centre holds for political stability and effective state building?