Sunday, July 03, 2022

Handshakes, legacies and divorces

Deputy President William Ruto has done much to draw a line between his role in the Government of Uhuru Kenyatta and his role as the United Democratic Alliance and Kenya Kwanza coalition flag-bearer. It rings a bit hollow when one remembers that scarcely five years ago, he rattled off a string of promises, in the presence of his running mate, that have not been fulfilled - and the ones that have been fulfilled have resulted in economic catastrophe for millions of Kenyans. The most outlandish promise, in my estimation, contained the following sentence: "the stadium in Kamariny, which is historic". So it isn't that far-fetched for many voters to tie him to the promises of his running mate in the 2017 general election, never mind his protestations that he is his own man with his own agenda. He said what he said.

The Deputy President has a long history in elective politics at the national level. He has been assistant minister, minister, and deputy president. He has stood on the wrong side of history on many issues of consequence, including the efforts to sabotage the Ghai Draft constitution in 2005 to actively campaigning against the Harmonised Draft Constitution published by Nzamba Kitonga's Committee of Experts in 2010. Though he has not been convicted of corruption-related offences, few are persuaded that his dealings in the land on which the Weston Hotel stands point to a high level of probity. It is immaterial that senior members of the Government he serves have been accused, by the president no less, of aiding, abetting and participating in the theft, loss, misappropriation or mismanagement of two billion shillings every day.

The attempts by the deputy president to lay the blame for the current national economic woes at the feet of the Handshake ring hollow when every economist worth his salt can trace the selfsame woes to the policies of the Jubilee Alliance from as far back as 2013. He cannot, on one hand, claim credit for the apparent success of the "10,000km roads' programme" while at the same time distancing himself from the consequences of that programme on the cost of credit in the domestic market.

A leopard doesn't change his spots and the same is largely true of the Kenyan politician. He may flit from one party to the next, but at his core, he remains largely unchanged. His values and principles, such as they are, carry through the several political parties he hops to, and they are reflected in the kinds of policies he adopts, the language he uses to sell his manifesto - and the suspicion, warranted or not, he arouses in the people whose votes he seeks. The deputy president is no different. He is quite good at saying persuasive things about his plans. He has a good propaganda machine that has done a good job of whitewashing is political history. But even in the battle of the opinion polls, it is still a toss-up whether or not he will ride to victory or slink away from the national political plane in disgrace.

Uhuru Kenyatta is not on the ballot in 2022, but his intimate involvement in the stitching together of the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Alliance has given the deputy president a wedge with which to pry himself away from the political record of the Jubilee government. After the acrimonious way in which the Jubilee leaders have dissolved their political alliance, it is not surprising that the deputy president has every intention of politically putting the president on the ballot, linking him (and his apparent failures) to the Azimio flag-bearer, Raila Odinga. If the deputy president can paint The Handshake as the true Government, and himself as the maligned party, and if the voters agree with him, then his chances at the hustings are better than even.

It is now moot that the presidential ballot will be fought with the shadow of the incumbent president looming large over the decision of the voter. Many voters are apathetic, at best, but they may vote one way or the other on the strength of their feelings towards the president. If they credit him with positive political and economic outcomes, they may vote for his preferred candidate (or against his former partner whom they may see as an unprepared and ungrateful menace). If they blame him for their current economic woes, they will ignore the dozens of praise-singing billboards about roads, bridges, electricity and healthcare, and cast their votes for the deputy president, whom they will see as unfairly targeted for simply seeking that which he was promised in 2013 aka "Kumi ya Uhuru na Kumi ya Ruto".

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