By MAKAU MUTUA
Posted Saturday, August 3 2013 at 20:00
Let me whisper a secret in your ear – there’s trouble in the Rift Valley. Kill that thought – it’s not what you think.
The world is “upside down” because brother has turned against brother. Bomet County Governor Isaac Ruto has unsheathed his sword against Deputy President William Ruto.
But I could be wrong – perhaps it’s William Ruto who struck the first blow. This much is undeniable – the two Kalenjin titans are separated by a “growing rift”.
We know the “Great Rift” hasn’t been “Happy Valley” for decades. But the protagonists have never been so fraternal.
Which begs the question – does Governor Ruto see a soft underbelly in Jubilee? Why is he rattling the snake?
Let’s peel this political onion. That Governor Ruto is a political maverick is without doubt. Though less famous than his namesake – DP Ruto – the Bomet Governor is an intriguing personality.
He dabbled in Marxism at the University of Nairobi. A former Kanu hawk under the Moi regime, Mr Ruto has often displayed a defiant independent streak.
The former Chepalungu ODM MP is one of the few politicians who read actual books. This explains why he speaks in highly intelligent complete sentences. He’s witty and fun loving.
But there’s a paradox – he’s been a long-time Kalenjin parochialist – until now. He’s morphing into a Kenyan – a nationalist – as Chairman of the National Council of Governors. He’s emerged as the key and unapologetic advocate of devolution.
Let me tell you why the two Rutos are on a collision course. Devolution – once known as majimboism – has been near and dear to the Kalenjin for decades. It was part of the raison d’être of Kadu, the settler-supported party led by former President Daniel arap Moi.
Majimboism – or federalism – was supported by the Kalenjin, Luhya, and the Coastal peoples to counter Kanu, then dominated by Kikuyu, Luo, and Kamba.
But majimbo held a special place in the Kalenjin Rift Valley. The Kalenjin saw it as a defence against “internal colonialism” by “outsider” groups – especially the Kikuyu – who had “settled” in vast chunks of the Rift Valley.
There’s deep historical resentment against so-called “foreigners” in the Rift Valley. Although most Kalenjin voted against the new Constitution, they have fully embraced devolution – one of its central tenets. This is one of the key points of divergence between the two Rutos.
It’s an open secret that the Jubilee regime is perceived as opposed to devolution. Some argue that President Uhuru Kenyatta is hostile to devolution. That’s why – the argument goes – he has retained the provincial administration, the innocuous and duplicative county commissioners, and even the despised vestige of local colonial chiefs. There’s no doubt these structures undermine – and sabotage – county governments.
Even worse, the central government seems bent on curbing and constricting revenues to the counties. DP Ruto is seen as marching step lock with Mr Kenyatta in opposing devolution.
Mr Kenyatta is caught between a rock and a hard place. The Kikuyu – from which he comes – have never been enamoured of devolution. They believe it will “marginalise” them as “settlers” in the Rift Valley and the Coast.
Yet President Kenyatta is under the fiat of the Constitution to fully implement devolution. What is DP Ruto to do? Will he support Mr Kenyatta’s tepid view of devolution, or break ranks with Jubilee’s TNA and throw his weight behind Governor Ruto’s crusade for complete devolution?
Like Mr Kenyatta, DP Ruto is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. He’ll be damned if he doesn’t back Mr Kenyatta, but he’ll also be damned if he supports Governor Ruto.
This is how Governor Ruto may put DP Ruto in a chokehold. Governor Ruto is likely to emerge as the champion of devolution among the Kalenjin. DP Ruto, on the other hand, could easily be painted into a corner – as a “sellout” to the Kikuyu position on devolution. This is a quandary DP Ruto can’t afford.
He “destooled” former President Moi as the “paramount chief” of the Kalenjin by posing as their new saviour.
They say “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander”. Governor Ruto seems eager to use the same sword against DP Ruto that the latter used against Mr Moi. It’s called poetic justice. DP Ruto risks being “destooled” by Governor Ruto among the Kalenjin.
This narrative explains the intrigues and war of words between the proxies of DP Ruto and those of Governor Ruto. DP Ruto’s Kalenjin allies haven’t taken kindly to Governor Ruto’s naked attack on Jubilee for its failure to support devolution. They have threatened to either impeach the governor or kick him out of URP.
But his Kalenjin cohorts and fellow governors – across the political divide – have come to Governor Ruto’s defence. They have called DP Ruto’s bluff and dared his cronies to make the first move. An old African saying is that “two rats can’t live in one hole”. Can the Kalenjin Rift Valley be “ruled” by two “kings” – both of them named Ruto? Or will one vanquish the other?
Methinks Governor Ruto smells blood, and sees an opening to dethrone DP Ruto. It’s a slight window, a crack.
Governor Ruto is a strategic thinker, and knows that The Hague trials are looming. That’s why it’s a perfect opportunity to position himself as the alternative to DP Ruto among the Kalenjin.
These may be the first shots in the struggle for succession among the Kalenjin. This may explain why one Ruto is after the other.
Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC. Twitter @makaumutua