In an article on this forum on 15 July 2022 titled Why Ruto is Unlikely to Succeed Uhuru, I strongly argued that given historical precedent in Kenya and the dictates of the laws of the dialectics, William Ruto was unlikely to win the presidency in the August 2022 elections. I nevertheless concluded that whereas historical precedent and dialectical odds dictated that Ruto was absolutely destined to lose the election, there was the slim chance that he could win, but that a Ruto victory “would be such an extraordinary accomplishment given historical precedent and dialectical dictates, that it would lead us to rethink and re-theorise our political realities and possibilities”.
Since the announcement of the election results and the declaration of William Ruto as winner of the presidency, I have received many messages asking when I am going to “rethink and retheorize” Kenyan electoral politics in light of my strong arguments of 15 July 2022 that did not come to pass as anticipated. This article is a brief attempt at a response to these inquiries. A substantive coverage of Kenya’s experience with electoral politics under the multiparty system, complete with the shenanigans that go with it is contained in a full chapter in my forthcoming monograph, Kenya and the Politics of a Postcolony. In this article, I frame my rethinking of the 2022 presidential election results in terms of four factors as follows.
First, I clearly misinterpreted the law of the negation of the negation with reference to the fallout between then President Uhuru and his Deputy Ruto with which, I argued, the country seemed to have spiralled back to the fallout between President Jomo Kenyatta and Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Despite Kenya’s democratic advance, I concluded that, “Just like Jaramogi before him, it is highly unlikely that Ruto will succeed Uhuru come 9 August 2022, the new political dispensation notwithstanding.” Yet in the same paragraph, I noted that despite the fallout between Uhuru and Ruto, given the democratization process in the country, we are at a higher level of social and political development, complete with a new constitutional dispensation: “Indeed, had it not been for the new constitution – born of this process – Deputy President William Ruto would long have been sacked and rendered into political oblivion.” This is what should have informed my conclusion.
Given the authoritarian political dispensation of his time, President Jomo Kenyatta orchestrated the marginalization of his vice president, Jaramogi, from power once they fell out over matters of policy and ideology in 1966. Jomo went so far as to put Jaramogi under house arrest in 1969 following the riot by Jaramogi’s supporters on the occasion of Jomo’s official opening of the “Russia” (New Nyanza) Hospital in Kisumu. In other words, Jomo completely neutralized Jaramogi, politically speaking, for the rest of his presidency.
For his part, given the new political dispensation of Kenya’s Second Republic, Uhuru could not sack Ruto even after they fell out following the Uhuru-Raila “Handshake” of March 2018. All President Uhuru could do was to be heard in public rallies pleading with his deputy to resign his untenable position so as to allow him pick someone who could help him execute his political agenda. In other words, although the country seemed to have spiralled back to the days of Jomo and Odinga, given the political developments occasioned by the democratic reform movement, we were at a higher level of social development, which rendered President Uhuru incapable of neutralizing Deputy President Ruto.
This leads to the second factor, which Deputy President William Ruto fully exploited to advance his way to the presidency. Despite the return to multiparty politics, the Kenyan electoral process is structurally rigged to the advantage of the incumbent president and political party through the use of public resources, mass media, and control of social disinformation. Ruto took great advantage of this reality. Once he was marginalized by the “handshake”, and given the constitutional context in which the president could not sack him, Ruto ended up having a field day campaigning for the presidency for the entire second term of Jubilee’s tenure in power. Utilizing state resources and largesse, Ruto began traversing the country as early as March 2018, campaigning for the presidency, taking credit for the positives of the Jubilee government and blaming its failings on the “Handshake”. His presence and recognition in every nook and cranny of Kenya was a function of this factor, which served him to great advantage.
Despite the return to multiparty politics, the Kenyan electoral process is structurally rigged to the advantage of the incumbent president.
Third, and as a corollary to the foregoing, the Azimio grouping succumbed to what one could call the “mantra of politics as usual”, at least in the Kenyan context. Their erstwhile thinking was that their figurehead, Raila, had been rigged out at the previous three elections by incumbent heads of state. Now that he had partnered with the incumbent government (the so-called deep state), and secured the president’s support, his victory was assured. Accordingly, the Azimio people did not bother to aggressively campaign and even secure their vote in “hostile” territory, imagining that the “deep state” had already done it for them. Meanwhile, Ruto and Kenya Kwanza propagated the populist myth of Hustlers vs. Dynasties, which was music to the ears of the majority voters whose generation, born in the age of democracy, has no idea of the sacrifices of blood, sweat, and tears that went into enacting political reform in Kenya, and who the main political activists were.
The fourth factor that secured victory for the “hustler nation” was ballot rigging at the grassroots, particularly in the Kenya Kwanza strongholds of the North Rift Valley and Central Kenya. During the elections, the Azimio people ran off to secure the votes in their own strongholds, without caring about the votes in their disadvantaged areas. There were literally no Azimio agents in the entire Central Kenya voting region and nor was there a strong presence of Kenya Kwanza agents in Azimio’s Nyanza region. As Zaccheaus Chesoni, then Chair of the Electoral Commission of Kenya once quipped following the 1992 multiparty elections in response to a question by Nation Media’s Kamau Ngotho, “Look at it this way, the opposition had no agents in many of the far-flung Kanu zones. Neither were there election observers in many areas where Kanu had support. So, what could have stopped Kanu from exaggerating its figures?” In acknowledging this in 1995, Chesoni inadvertently indicted the Electoral Commission of which he was Chair. There is no way KANU agents could have exaggerated their votes without the collusion of the ECK personnel who were in charge of the electoral process.
The disagreement within the IEBC in the run-up to the declaration of presidential results in 2022 that saw four commissioners – Juliana Cherera, Irene Masit, Justus Nyang’aya, and Francis Wanderi – disown the eventual results is ample testimony of the shenanigans that are usually perpetrated at the electoral management board in the name of processing election results. The great question here, perhaps, is why, after the nullification of the 2017 presidential election on account of the IEBC having “failed, neglected, or refused to conduct the presidential election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the Constitution”, the incumbent Chair of the IEBC was left in his position and once again presided over the 2022 elections whose results were disowned by four of his commissioners.
One big lesson can be drawn from Kenya’s electoral experience. This is that as a country, we may have accepted democracy, but we are no believers in democratic elections, particularly our political actors. The latter are committed to winning elections by hook or crook. The blatant last-minute theft of the 2007 presidential election; the manipulation of the 2013 presidential election in which the ICT systems deployed by the IEBC to tally results “failed”, forcing a return to manual tallying that gave Uhuru a slim victory of 50.52%; the assassination of the IEBC’s ICT Manager, Chris Msando, and the subsequent manipulation of computer algorithms that kept President Uhuru 10 percentage points ahead of Raila in the 2017 elections irrespective of where the vote tallies were coming in from; and the fallout within the IEBC in the run-up to the announcement of the 2022 results are ample testimonies of this reality of democracy without democrats. Indeed, the manipulation of the results in 2017 was so blatant that the Supreme Court under Chief Justice David Maraga nullified the outcome and ordered a repeat, the first in Africa.
In the final analysis, just like those who took power at Kenya’s independence were mainly home guards and sons of colonial chiefs and not the real freedom fighters, the election of President William Ruto and his Deputy, Rigathi Gachagua illustrates this unfortunate reality in the history of Kenya’s politics that those who fight for political liberation never directly benefit by ascending to power. Whereas Azimio’s Raila and Martha Karua are icons of the struggle for Kenya’s second liberation, Ruto and Gachagua were strong supporters of KANU’s authoritarian system who fought against multiparty political activists. There are already signs that their tenure in office may portend a return to the old authoritarian days of the 1980s. Herein lies the paradox of Kenya’s political development, characterized by advances and self-inflicted retreats.
This publication was funded/co-funded by the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of The Elephant and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.