Connect with us


Why Ruto is Unlikely to Succeed Uhuru

13 min read.

Deputy President William Ruto has been the greatest political beneficiary of the 2010 constitution. However, historical precedent and dialectical odds are stacked against him, argues Wanjala Nasong’o, and he is unlikely to succeed Uhuru Kenyatta come 9 August 2022.



Why Ruto is Unlikely to Succeed Uhuru
Download PDFPrint Article

More than three years ago, on 1 November 2018, I wrote an article on this forum titled Man in the Mirror: Echoes of Jomo in Uhuru. In that article I concluded that, just like Oginga Odinga helped facilitate Jomo Kenyatta’s ascendancy to the presidency but he himself never became president, William Ruto may have helped Uhuru Kenyatta win the presidency but he himself was unlikely to become president. Developments in the country in the countdown to the 9 August 2022 elections seem to buttress my argument of three years ago that kingmakers never become kings themselves, or, more precisely, they never succeed the kings they make. In my public lecture at Kenyatta University on 23 June 2022, entitled “The Uhuru-Ruto Administration and Electoral Politics in Kenya: A Dialectical Perspective”, I developed my argument further and buttressed my conclusions of three years ago using the three laws of dialectics.

The fallout between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto is so complete that the incumbent president has thrown all his weight behind the de facto opposition leader instead of supporting his second-in-command to succeed him. This is a most rare development in the practice of democracy anywhere in the world. It, however, is not new to Uhuru. In the 2007 election, Uhuru was the official leader of the opposition. But instead of rallying the opposition forces against the incumbent, President Mwai Kibaki, Uhuru chose to cast his lot with Kibaki in a case wherein, perhaps, ethnic loyalty trumped democratic sensibilities. This time round, he is the incumbent casting his lot with the opposition and working hard to ensure his deputy does not succeed him. The six-million-dollar question is: why? Why did the UhuRuto duo fall out so badly given their brotherly closeness following their 2013 electoral victory?

If you ask Deputy President Ruto and those close to him, the issue lies in the Hustler vs. Dynasty saga. The argument is that those who belong to the dynasty – Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga, and Gideon Moi – have regrouped to ensure a Hustler – William Ruto – does not ascend to the highest seat in the land. This narrative has garnered quite some movement in the country, but it does not actually explain the fallout between the president and his deputy, nor the fact that the deputy president is unlikely to succeed the president. The explanation lies squarely at the feet of the deputy president – his hubris, raw ambition, lack of humility, and generally taking his succession to the presidency for granted.

Whereas the 2010 constitution secured the office of the deputy president from the arbitrariness of serving at the pleasure of the president, still the occupant of that office needs to demonstrate some level of humility and deference to the president. Indeed, the current institutional arrangement in Kenya is modelled on the American system. Yet even in the latter system, vice presidents tend to demonstrate utmost loyalty and deference to the president and are always keen never to be seen to upstage the president or hog the limelight. Hubert Humphrey, the vice president to Lyndon Johnson noted, “You are his choice in a political marriage, and he expects your absolute loyalty.” Nelson Rockefeller, vice president to Gerald Ford said of his duties: “I go to funerals, I go to earthquakes.” John Adams, the first vice president of the United States, said, “I am vice president. In this I am nothing, but I may be everything.” Indeed, he became “everything” when he was elected the second president of the Unites States in 1796. Similarly, Woodrow Wilson’s vice president, Thomas Marshall said, “Being vice president is comparable to a man in a cataleptic fit; he cannot speak; he cannot move; he suffers no pain; he is perfectly conscious of all that goes on but has no part in it.” Mike Pence, vice president to Donald Trump quipped: “You shut the door; you tell the boss exactly what you think. But when the door opens, the job of the vice president is to stand right next to the president and implement the policy that he’s decided.”

This level of loyalty and humility has completely been missing on the part of Deputy President Ruto. Indeed, Ruto failed to learn from Moi, who loyally served as Jomo Kenyatta’s vice president for a decade and endured many humiliating moments but eventually acceded to the presidency after the death of Jomo Kenyatta in 1978. Instead, Ruto has demonstrated raw ambition, acted as if he was co-president with Uhuru, and began campaigning as soon as the 2017 elections were over. At public events with the president, Ruto has tended to hog the limelight, enunciating government plans and policies even before calling upon the president to speak, a practice oddly inconsistent with all other vice presidents in the country and elsewhere in the democratic world.

A dialectical perspective

In my public lecture at Kenyatta University on 23 June 2022, I sought to demonstrate why Ruto is unlikely to succeed Uhuru in 2022 using the three laws of dialectics. These laws include the law of the unity and conflict of opposites; the law of the passage of quantitative changes into qualitative change; and the law of the negation of the negation. In the following sections, I discuss each law and how it applies to Kenya’s electoral politics, with particular focus on the August 2022 presidential election outcome.

The law of the unity and conflict of opposites

According to Vladimir Lenin and Friedrich Engels, the law of contradiction (the unity and conflict of opposites) in phenomena is the basic law of materialist dialectics. Our world is a paradoxical terrain characterized by a unity of contradictions, a unity of opposites. We have birth vs. death; above vs. below; wealth vs. poverty; capital vs. labour; sale vs. purchase; boom vs. bust; Light vs. darkness; rulers vs. ruled, etc. These contradictions are universal in all intellectual disciplines. In mathematics, there is the integral and the differential (plus and minus). In mechanics, there is action and reaction. In physics, there is positive and negative electricity (by which we can boil water and freeze it). In chemistry, there is fusion and fission of atoms (combination and dissociation). In social science, there are the haves and the have-nots (the foundation of class struggle and the basis of the apparent popularity of the “hustler-dynasty” narrative in the current electoral politics in Kenya). In war, there is defence and offense, advance and retreat, victory and defeat. Even the human individual is made up of opposites, the spirit and the flesh which, the Bible notes in Galatians 5: 17, are always at odds with one another – “For the desires of the flesh are against the spirit, and the desires of the spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

Ruto has tended to hog the limelight, enunciating government plans and policies even before calling upon the president to speak.

The essence of the dialectics is that gradual changes in either of the contradictory forces create crises within phenomena. These crises reach turning points in which one force quantitatively grows in strength and overcomes its opposing force, resulting in qualitative change. How does this law apply to the Uhuru-Ruto saga in light of the political history of Kenya?

First, prior to rising to power, Jomo and five others were imprisoned by the colonialists, allegedly for masterminding the Mau Mau rebellion. These are now popularly known as “The Kapenguria Six”. Similarly, prior to assuming the presidency, Uhuru and five others were indicted by the ICC, allegedly for masterminding and financing post-election violence. They have since come to be known as “The Ocampo Six”.

Second, Jomo and Jaramogi found common ground in the fight for independence, Jaramogi arguing the case for “uhuru na Kenyatta” and refusing to form government while Jomo was till imprisoned. Yet the two fell out over ideology and policy differences soon after independence. On the other hand, Uhuru and Ruto started off on opposite sides of the 2008 post-election violence, but found common cause once indicted by the ICC and partnered to save themselves by acquiring political power. Yet the two have now fallen out and become sworn enemies.

Third, whereas Jomo and Jaramogi were icons of the anticolonial nationalist struggle, Uhuru and Ruto are protégés of former President Moi, created, perhaps, in the image of the latter, Ruto particularly more so than Uhuru. Ruto is a natural politician who has perfected the ruthlessness of his political mentor. Uhuru, on the other hand, is a reluctant politician who seems more at ease in private social life than in the hustle and bustle of the political world. In essence, the initial UhuRuto bromance that propelled the duo to power and the final fallout that spells doom for Ruto’s presidential ambition is an exemplification of the law of the unity and conflict of opposites that is constantly at play both in the physical and social worlds.

The law of the transformation of quantitative change to qualitative change

According to Engels (1973) and Trotsky (1994), for us to fully understand the essence of change, both social and physical, we have to grasp the law of the transformation of quantitative change to qualitative change. Change, development, or evolution is not unidirectional, unilinear, and nor does it occur gradually in a straight, smooth line. There are long periods of time when nothing seems to be taking place with regard to change, development, or evolution. Then, out of the blue, something seemingly miraculous happens: a major social revolution, a physical catastrophe, a breakthrough in scientific discovery, an innovative discovery. The point here is that at moments when nothing seems to be happening, there are small quantitative changes taking place that eventually add up to a major qualitative change that we then view as a major leap forward.

According to Trotsky, this law of the transformation of quantitative change into qualitative change, from quantity to quality, has an extremely wide range of applications, from the smallest particles of matter at the subatomic level in chemistry to the largest physical and social phenomena known to humans. Note the quantitative changes that lead to baldness: Does loss of one hair lead to baldness? No. How about loss of two, three, four hairs? The answer remains no. But constant loss of one hair at a time (quantitative change) leads to baldness (a qualitative change).

The notion that under certain conditions even small things can cause big changes finds expression in all kinds of sayings and proverbs: “The straw that broke the camel’s back”, “Many hands make light work”, and “Constant dripping wears away the stone”.

How does this law of the passage of quantitative changes to qualitative change apply to the case of Kenya? This law’s implication is that, at the social level, change, development, or progress is not unidirectional and unilinear, nor does it occur gradually in a smooth straight line. Sometimes one step forward is followed by two steps backwards and vice versa. Note the convoluted and messy decades-long process of democratization in Kenya: the concerted struggles that led to the repeal of Section 2(A) of the constitution to return the country to multiparty politics in 1992; the “No Reforms, No Elections” movement in the run-up to the 1997 elections that led to the Inter-Parliamentary Parties Group compromise on expanding representation to the electoral commission; opposition unity and victory in 2002 followed by constitutional reform acrobatics; the 2008 post-election violence and the momentum towards a new constitutional order in 2010 that created a devolved system of governance and established the Supreme Court of Kenya, among many other democratic achievements.

At moments when nothing seems to be happening, there are small quantitative changes taking place that eventually add up to a major qualitative change that we then view as a major leap forward.

Even when nothing seems to be happening, small quantitative changes are usually taking place that eventually add up to a major qualitative change. Note here the seismic ruling of the Supreme Court of Kenya that nullified the August 2017 presidential election. This was preceded by periodic changes in the personnel of the Supreme Court: the retirement of Chief Justice Willy Mutunga brought in Chief Justice David Maraga; the dismissal of Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Barasa brought in Kalpana Rawal whose retirement brought in Philomena Mwilu; the retirement of Phillip Tunoi brought in Isaac Lenaola.

Without these little quantitative changes (not to mention the protracted changes that led to the new constitution that provided for a Supreme Court), it is impossible to expect that the celebrated landmark ruling nullifying the presidential election, the first in Africa, would have come to pass. Remarkably, the Supreme Court has emerged as the most important countervailing power to the executive and the anchor for rule of law and democratic governance in the country. The role of the legislature in this regard remains dismal, the democratic gains of the country notwithstanding.

The law of the negation of the negation

According to Engels (1973), Hegel (1991), and Marx (2002), the law of the negation of the negation explains the repetition at a higher level of certain features and properties of the lower level and the apparent return of past features. In the development of social and physical phenomena, there is a constant struggle between form and content and between content and form, resulting in the eventual shattering of the old form and the transformation of the content. This whole process, according to the three dialecticians, can best be pictured as a spiral, where the movement comes back to the position it started, but at a higher level. For instance, when a grain of maize is planted, it germinates into a plant. The original maize grain is negated. The plant grows, flowers, and produces even more and better grains, which are harvested and processed in the making of flour; the negation is thereby also negated!

At the social level, historical progress is achieved through a similar series of contradictions. Where the previous stage is negated, this does not represent its total elimination. The new stage does not completely wipe out the stage that it supplants.

The UhuRuto fall out represents an interesting case of the negation of the negation, dialectically speaking. First, the two are protégés of President Daniel arap Moi – Ruto a natural politician, Uhuru a reluctant one. Note here Uhuru’s apparent “absence” during his first term compared to Ruto’s robust presence, scheming, and political strategizing. Indeed, as demonstrated by the audio now doing the rounds on social media, and confirmed by Deputy President Ruto himself in a KTN interview on 7 July 2022, President Uhuru Kenyatta was willing to leave office and retire to his Ichaweri village after the nullification of the August 2017 elections, but Ruto wouldn’t countenance it, going so far as to think of slapping the president for suggesting that they quit the presidency!

Remarkably, the Supreme Court has emerged as the most important countervailing power to the executive and the anchor for rule of law and democratic governance in the country.

Second, Uhuru and Ruto were on the same side of the political divide in the 2002 elections. Uhuru ran for president while Ruto supported him to succeed Moi. They, however, soon fell out and, in the post-election violence of 2008, Uhuru and Ruto were on opposite sides of the divide. Third, when the two were indicted by the ICC, they found common ground and became bosom friends. They successfully campaigned to acquire power to save their skins. However, the two fell out immediately after their second-term inauguration in 2017. By March 2018, Uhuru was with his “enemy” Raila and not with his “bosom friend” Deputy President Ruto.

In so doing, Uhuru emerges as a very strange political animal, perhaps an exemplification of the law of the negation of the negation. As pointed out above, as Official Leader of the Opposition in 2007, he cast his lot with the incumbent President Kibaki instead of teaming up with fellow oppositionists to run for the presidency. Apparently, the force of ethnic ties trumped political principle. Now, as the incumbent president in 2022, he has cast his lot with the opposition instead of mobilizing his ruling party to retain power under his deputy, as political norms would dictate.

What are the implications of the Uhuru-Ruto saga for the 2022 electoral politics and for democratization in Kenya more generally?

Three implications

Three implications can be drawn from the Uhuru—Ruto saga from a dialectical perspective. First, every individual is a bundle of contradictions imbued with positive and negative forces, forces of both good and evil. It is what force is in ascendancy within us that determines whether we are called good or bad. Hence, no one political actor is inherently bad or inherently good. Ruto may have been stringently against the enactment of the 2010 constitution, yet he stood against the BBI that sought to amend the constitution even before its full implementation. This is a plus for constitutionalism in the country. Similarly, Uhuru may have won an illegitimate second term in October 2017 and promised to “revisit” the judiciary that nullified his August 2017 “victory”, yet his current support for Raila may open up the presidency to another Kenyan community beyond the Kikuyu and Kalenjin who have occupied the presidency since independence. This is a plus in the overall democratization of the country.

The second implication is related to the popular saying that there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics, only permanent interests. Political enemies can easily become political friends and vice versa, another exemplification of the law of the unity and conflict of opposites. Uhuru and Ruto were on opposite sides of the bitter post-election election violence of 2008. They soon became bosom friends after their indictment and partnered to win power in a close relationship described by the media as a “bromance”. They have since fallen out so bitterly that they no longer shake hands that they once clasped in a show of tuko pamoja, we are together. Similarly, in 2002 Raila became a Njamba in Mount Kenya for his Kibaki Tosha declaration in the elections of that year. By 2005, to Mount Kenya, Raila had become “a hyena from the West” because of his opposition to the 2005 constitutional referendum. Raila is now “climbing the mountain” with the firm support of Uhuru and Martha.

The two are protégés of President Daniel arap Moi – Ruto a natural politician, Uhuru a reluctant one.

The third and final implication of the Uhuru-Ruto fallout is that kingmakers never succeed the kings they create. The Kenyan political scene is replete with evidence of this reality. Jaramogi may have contributed to making Jomo president, by refusing to form a government while Kenyatta was still in prison when KANU won the internal self-government elections of 1961. Jaramogi insisted on demanding for “uhuru na Kenyatta”. Although he became vice president to Jomo, Jaramogi never succeeded Jomo. Barely two years after independence, they fell out with each other over matters of policy and ideology and Jaramogi was marginalized from power never to recover. Similarly, Charles Njonjo contributed to making Moi president back in 1978, but he was himself soon hounded out of politics ignominiously. Even Raila contributed to making Mwai Kibaki president, but they soon fell out and became bitter enemies. Raila did not succeed Kibaki.

Deputy President William Ruto repeatedly says he made Raila Prime Minister and, more particularly, that he made Uhuru president. Will he succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta in the 9 August 2022 elections? As the foregoing exposition illustrates, historical precedent and dialectical odds are stacked against Ruto. Raila is favoured to succeed the son of Jomo. In any event, the choice between the Azimio and Kenya Kwanza presidential tickets could not be more stark, even dialectically speaking. Even as the Azimio duo of Raila and Martha were on the forefront of the second liberation that yielded multipartyism in 1992, the Kenya Kwanza duo of Ruto and Gachagua were deeply ensconced in the bosom of the authoritarian Moi regime – Ruto as a prominent member of the Youth for KANU ’92 and Gachagua as the system’s favourite District Officer in Molo chasing around and harassing pro-democracy advocates.

Uhuru emerges as a very strange political animal, perhaps an exemplification of the law of the negation of the negation.

In the final analysis, the Uhuru-Ruto fall out perfectly captures the dialectical law of the negation of the negation in matters of social development. With it, the country seems to have spiralled back to the fallout between Jomo and Jaramogi. However, given the democratization process in the country, we are at a higher level of social and political development. 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. He is the greatest political beneficiary of the 2010 constitution even though he was its chief opponent. Nevertheless, just like Jaramogi before him, it is highly unlikely that Ruto will succeed Uhuru come 9 August 2022, the new political dispensation notwithstanding.

Does this mean William Ruto is absolutely destined to lose the August 2022 elections? Historical precedent and the dialectical odds dictate so. However, as Thomas Kuhn demonstrates in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), there are moments of anomalies where the established paradigm is shuttered leading to a methodological and theoretical rethinking within the scientific community. In other words, a Ruto win in August 2022 is possible, but it 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.

Support The Elephant.

The Elephant is helping to build a truly public platform, while producing consistent, quality investigations, opinions and analysis. The Elephant cannot survive and grow without your participation. Now, more than ever, it is vital for The Elephant to reach as many people as possible.

Your support helps protect The Elephant's independence and it means we can continue keeping the democratic space free, open and robust. Every contribution, however big or small, is so valuable for our collective future.


Wanjala S. Nasong’o is Professor of International Studies, Rhodes College, Memphis, and Fellow of the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa.


Is Somalia’s Quest for Membership of the EAC Premature?

Somalia must first ensure sustained progress in stability, infrastructure development, governance, and economic growth before considering full membership of the East African Community.



Is Somalia’s Quest for Membership of the EAC Premature?
Download PDFPrint Article

The current members of the East African Community (EAC) are Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan. The Somali Federal Government, under the leadership of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, has expressed a strong interest in joining the EAC, sparking questions among Somali citizens as to whether the country is ready to join such a large and complex regional bloc.

During President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud initiated Somalia’s pursuit of EAC membership during his previous term as a president from 2012 to 2017. However, little progress was made during his first term and, following his re-election, President Hassan reignited his pursuit of EAC membership without consulting essential stakeholders such as the parliament, the opposition, and civil society. This unilateral decision has raised doubts about the president’s dedication to establishing a government based on consensus. Moreover, his decision to pursue EAC membership has evoked mixed responses within Somalia. While some Somalis perceive joining the EAC as advantageous for the country, others express concerns about potential risks to Somalia’s economic and social development. President Hassan has defended his decision, emphasising that Somalia’s best interests lie in becoming a member of the EAC.

To assess Somalia’s readiness to join the EAC, the regional bloc undertook a comprehensive verification mission. A team of experts well versed in politics, economics, and social systems, was tasked with evaluating Somalia’s progress. The evaluation included a thorough review of economic performance, trade policies, and potential contributions to the EAC’s integration efforts. During this process, the team engaged with various government institutions and private organisations, conducting comprehensive assessments and discussions to gauge Somalia’s preparedness.

One of the key requirements for Somalia is demonstrating an unwavering commitment to upholding principles such as good governance, democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Somalia must also showcase a vibrant market economy that fosters regional trade and collaboration.

Successful integration into the EAC would not only elevate Somalia’s regional stature but would also foster deeper bonds of cooperation and shared prosperity among the East African nations. While this is a positive step towards regional integration and economic development, there are several reasons for pessimism about the potential success of Somalia’s membership in the EAC.

Somalia must also showcase a vibrant market economy that fosters regional trade and collaboration.

Somalia has faced significant challenges due to prolonged conflict and instability. The decades-long civil war, coupled with the persistent threat of terrorism, has had a devastating impact on the country’s infrastructure, economy, governance systems, and overall stability.

The following fundamental factors raise valid concerns about Somalia’s readiness to effectively participate in the EAC.

Infrastructure development

Infrastructure plays a critical role in regional integration and economic growth. However, Somalia’s infrastructure has been severely damaged and neglected due to years of conflict. The country lacks adequate transportation networks, reliable energy systems, and while communications infrastructure has improved, internet penetration rates remain low and mobile networks – which are crucial for seamless integration with the EAC – can be unavailable outside of urban centres. Rebuilding such infrastructure requires substantial investments, technical expertise, and stability, all of which remain significant challenges for Somalia.

Political stability and governance

The EAC places emphasis on good governance, democracy, and the rule of law as prerequisites for membership. Somalia’s journey towards political stability and effective governance has been arduous, with numerous setbacks and ongoing power struggles. The lack of a unified government, coupled with weak state institutions and a history of corruption, raises doubts about Somalia’s ability to meet the EAC’s standards. Without a stable and inclusive political environment, Somalia may struggle to effectively contribute to the decision-making processes within the regional bloc.

Economic development and trade

Somalia’s economy has been heavily dependent on the informal sector and faces substantial economic disparities. The country needs to demonstrate a vibrant market economy that fosters regional trade and collaboration, as required by the EAC. However, the challenges of rebuilding a war-torn economy, tackling high poverty rates, and addressing widespread unemployment hinder Somalia’s ability to fully participate in regional trade and reap the benefits of integration.

Security Concerns

Somalia continues to grapple with security challenges, including the presence of extremist groups and maritime piracy. These issues have not only hindered the country’s development but also pose potential risks to the stability and security of the entire EAC region. It is crucial for Somalia to address these security concerns comprehensively and to establish effective mechanisms to contribute to the EAC’s collective security efforts.

Economic Disparity and Compatibility

Somalia’s economy primarily relies on livestock, agriculture, and fishing, which may not align well with the more quasi-industralised economies of the other EAC member states. This mismatch could result in trade imbalances and pose challenges for integrating Somalia into the regional economy. For instance, according to the World Bank, Somalia’s GDP per capita was US$447 in 2021 whereas it is US$2081 for Kenya, US$1099 for Tanzania, and US$883 for Uganda. Furthermore, Somalia faces significant economic challenges, including capital flight that drains resources from the country, contributing to its status as a consumer-based economy.

This divergence in economic structures could lead to trade imbalances and impede the seamless integration of Somalia into the regional economy. The substantial economic gap between Somalia and other EAC member states suggests a significant disparity that may hinder Somalia’s ability to fully participate in the EAC’s economic activities. Additionally, Somalia has yet to demonstrate fiscal or economic discipline that would make it eligible for EAC membership. While Somalia has a functioning Central Bank and the US dollar remains the primary mode of financial transactions, the risk of integration lies with the other EAC members; cross-border trade would occur in an environment of instability, posing potential risks to the other member state.

Somalia faces significant economic challenges, including capital flight that drains resources from the country, contributing to its status as a consumer-based economy.

While these fundamental challenges remain, it is important to acknowledge the progress Somalia has made in recent years. This includes the gradual improvement in security conditions, the establishment of key governmental institutions, and the peaceful transfer of power. One can also argue that many of these fundamental economic, infrastructure, political instability, and security concerns exist across the East African Community. However, what makes Somalia unique is the scale of the challenges it faces today. Somalia has adopted a federal political structure, which has not worked well so far. This level of fragmentation and civil political distrust makes Somalia’s case unique. More than ever, Somalia needs meaningful political and social reconciliation before it can embark on a new regional journey.

The absence of an impact assessment by the relevant ministries in Somalia is alarming. Without this assessment, it becomes challenging to make informed decisions about the potential benefits of joining the EAC and the impact on our economy and society. Conducting this assessment should be a priority for Somalia’s ministries to ensure a comprehensive evaluation of the potential benefits and risks involved in EAC membership. Furthermore, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s decision to pursue Somalia’s integration into the EAC lacks political legitimacy as a decision of this nature would normally require ratification through a popular vote and other legal means through parliament. The failure to achieve this could potentially allow another president in the future to unilaterally announce withdrawal from the EAC.

Fragile state of Affairs and internal disputes

The recent reopening of the Gatunda border post between Uganda and Rwanda after a three-year period of strained relations indicates a fragile state of affairs. The East African Court of Justice has ruled that Rwanda’s initial closure of the border was illegal, highlighting the contentious nature of inter-country disputes. Furthermore, Tanzania and Uganda have formally lodged complaints against Kenya, alleging unfair advantages in trade relations, and have even gone as far as threatening Kenya with export bans. These grievances underscore the underlying tensions and competition between member states, which could potentially hinder the harmonious functioning of the East African Community. These political and economic disagreements among member states increase the risks associated with Somalia’s membership. Somalia must carefully evaluate whether it is entering a united and cohesive bloc or one plagued by internal divisions. Joining the East African Community at this juncture carries the risk of being drawn into ongoing disputes and potentially being caught in the crossfire of inter-country rivalries.

Conflict in South Sudan

The prolonged conflict in South Sudan, which has been ongoing since its admission to the East African Community (EAC) in 2016, serves as a cautionary tale for Somalia. Despite the EAC’s efforts to mediate and foster peace in the region, the outcomes have been mixed, resulting in an unsustainable peace. This lack of success highlights the challenges faced by member states in resolving conflicts and maintaining stability within the community. Somalia must carefully evaluate whether its participation in the EAC will genuinely contribute to its stability, economic growth, and development, or if it risks exacerbating existing internal conflicts. Joining the community without a solid foundation of political stability, institutions, and peace could potentially divert resources and attention away from domestic issues, hindering Somalia’s progress towards resolving its own challenges. South Sudan’s admission to the EAC in 2016 was seen as a major step towards regional integration and stability. However, the country has been mired in conflict ever since, with two civil wars breaking out in 2013 and 2016. The EAC has been involved in mediation efforts, with mixed results.

Assessing Readiness

Somalia must evaluate the readiness of its institutions, infrastructure, and economy to effectively engage with the East African Community. Comprehensive preparations are crucial to ensure that joining the community is a well thought-out and strategic decision, rather than a hasty move that could further destabilise the nation. Somalia needs to assess whether its infrastructure, institutions, and economy are sufficiently developed to cope with the challenges and demands of integration. Premature membership could strain Somalia’s resources, impede its growth, and leave it at a disadvantage compared to more established member states.

Somalia must carefully evaluate whether it is entering a united and cohesive bloc or one plagued by internal divisions.

Somalia must ensure sustained progress in stability, infrastructure development, governance, and economic growth before considering full membership of the EAC. A phased approach that prioritises capacity building, institution-strengthening, and inclusive governance would enable Somalia to lay a solid foundation for successful integration and reap the maximum benefits from EAC membership in the long term. Failure to address these concerns would make Somalia vulnerable to exploitation and market monopolies by stronger economies, and could also risk a lack of seamless convergence for Somalia’s membership. While there is political will from EAC leaders to support Somalia’s membership, it is vitally important that they make the right decision for Somalia and the EAC bloc as a whole to ensure a successful integration. I believe that, at this juncture, the disadvantages of Somalia joining the EAC outweigh the benefits.

Continue Reading


2023 Marks 110 Years Since the Maasai Case 1913: Does it Still Matter?

It was a landmark case for its time, a first for East Africa and possibly for the continent. A group of Africans challenged a colonial power in a colonial court to appeal a major land grab and demand reparations. They lost on a technicality but the ripple effects of the Maasai Case continue to be felt.



2023 Marks 110 Years Since the Maasai Case 1913: Does it Still Matter?
Download PDFPrint Article

In the name Parsaloi Ole Gilisho there lies an irony. It was spelled Legalishu by the colonial British. Say it out loud. He gave them a legal issue, all right. And a 110-year-old headache.

This extraordinary age-set spokesman (a traditional leader called ol-aiguenani, pl. il-aiguenak) led non-violent resistance to the British, in what was then British East Africa, that culminated in the Maasai Case 1913. Ole Gilisho was then a senior warrior, who was probably in his mid- to late thirties. In bringing the case before the High Court of British East Africa, he was not only challenging the British but also the Maasai elders who had signed away thousands of acres of community land via a 1904 Maasai Agreement or Treaty with the British. This and the 1911 Agreement – which effectively rendered the first void – are often wrongly called the Anglo-Maasai Agreements. In Ole Gilisho’s view, and those of his fellow plaintiffs, these elders had sold out. The suit accused them of having had no authority to make this decision on behalf of the community. This represented a very serious challenge by warriors to traditional authority, including that of the late laibon (prophet) Olonana, who had signed in 1904, and died in 1911.

The British had expected the Maasai to violently rebel in response to these issues and to colonial rule in general. But contrary to modern-day myths that the Maasai fought their colonisers, here they resisted peacefully via legal means. They hired British lawyers and took the British to their own cleaners. Spoiler: they lost, went to appeal, and lost again. But archival research reveals that the British government was so convinced it would eventually lose, if the Maasai appealed to the Privy Council in London (they didn’t), that officials began discussing how much compensation to pay.

The facts are these. The lawsuit was launched in 1912. There were four plaintiffs, Ole Gilisho and three fellow Purko (one of the 16 Maasai territorial sections) Maasai. In Civil Case No. 91 they claimed that the 1911 Maasai Agreement was not binding on them and other Laikipia Maasai, that the 1904 Agreement remained in force, and they contested the legality of the second move. They demanded the return of Laikipia, and £5,000 in damages for loss of livestock during the second move (explained below). Ole Gilisho was illiterate and had never been to school. But he and his fellow plaintiffs were assisted by sympathetic Europeans who were angered by the injustice they saw being perpetrated against a “tribe” that British administrators conceded had never given them any trouble. These sympathisers included people who worked for the colonial government, notably medical Dr Norman Leys and some district officials, lawyers, a few missionaries, the odd settler, and a wider group of left-wing MPs and anti-colonial agitators in Britain.

What had led up to this? After the 1904 Agreement, certain groups or sections of Maasai had been forcibly moved from their grazing grounds in the central Rift Valley around Naivasha into two reserves – one in Laikipia, the other in the south on the border with German East Africa. The British had pledged that this arrangement was permanent, that it would last “so long as the Maasai as a race shall exist”. But just seven years later, the British went back on their word and moved the “northern” Maasai again, forcing them at gunpoint to vacate Laikipia and move to the Southern Reserve. In all, it is estimated that the Maasai lost at least 50 per cent of their land, but that figure could be nearer 70 per cent. The ostensible reason for moving them was to “free up” land for white settlement – largely for British settlers but also for South Africans fleeing the Boer War (also called the South African War).

But just seven years later, the British went back on their word and moved the ‘northern’ Maasai again, forcing them at gunpoint to vacate Laikipia and move to the Southern Reserve.

By the time the case came to court, Ole Gilisho had become a defendant, even though he was in favour of the plaint. So were at least eight other defendants. He had signed the 1904 Agreement, and now stood accused with 17 other Maasai of having no authority to enter into such a contract. The first defendant was the Attorney General. Ole Gilisho’s son-in-law Murket Ole Nchoko, misspelled Ol le Njogo by the British, and described as a leading moran (il-murran or warrior) of the Purko section, was now the lead plaintiff. The plaint was called Ol le Njogo and others v. The Attorney General and others.

Challenges facing the plaintiffs

Most Maasai were illiterate in those days, and this obviously placed them at a major disadvantage. They could not write down their version of events. They were forced to rely, in their dealings with officials and their own lawyers, upon translators and semiliterate mediators whose reliability was questionable. But it is evident, from the archival record which includes verbatim accounts of meetings between Maasai leaders and British officials in the run-up to the moves and case, that the level of verbal discourse was highly sophisticated. This comes as no surprise; verbal debate is a cornerstone of Maasai society and customary justice. Unfortunately, that alone could not help them here. They knew they needed lawyers, and asked their friends for help. Leys, who was later sacked from the colonial service for his activism, admitted in a private letter: “I procured the best one in the country for them.” This was more than he ever admitted openly.

Local administrators used intimidation and all kinds of devious means to try and stop the case. (I didn’t come across any evidence that the Colonial Office in London sanctioned this; in fact, it ordered the Governor not to obstruct the main lawyer or his clients.) They allegedly threatened Ole Gilisho with flogging and deportation. They threatened and cross-questioned suspected European sympathisers, including Leys and the lawyers. They banned Maasai from selling cattle to raise the legal fees, and placed the Southern Reserve in continuous quarantine. It was hard for the plaintiffs, confined to a reserve, to meet their lawyers at all. At one point, lawyers were refused passes to enter the reserve, and their clients were prevented from leaving it.

We hear Ole Gilisho’s voice in the archival record. Forced to give a statement explaining his actions to officials at Enderit River on 21 June 1912, when asked if he had called Europeans to his boma, he replied: “Is it possible for a black man to call a white man?” He denied having called the Europeans (probably lawyers or go-betweens), saying they had come to him. Leys later explained to a friend that Ole Gilisho had probably been “terrified out of his wits”, and hadn’t meant what he said.

What happened in court

The case was thrown out when it first came before the High Court in Mombasa in May 1913. The Maasai appealed, and that is when the legal arguments were fully aired by both sides – lawyers for the Crown and the Maasai. The appeal was dismissed in December on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ claims were not cognisable in municipal courts. The two agreements were ruled not to be agreements but treaties, which were Acts of State. They could not, therefore, be challenged in a local court. It was impossible for the plaintiffs to seek to enforce the provisions of a treaty, said the judges – “The paramount chief himself could not bring such an action, still less can his people”. Claims for damages were also dismissed.

The Court of Appeal’s judgement centred on the status of a protectorate, in which the King was said to exercise powers granted to him under the Foreign Jurisdiction Act of 1890. Irrational as it sounds, the Crown claimed that British East Africa was not British territory, and the Maasai were not British subjects with any rights of access to British law, but “protected foreigners, who, in return for that protection, owe obedience” to the Crown. As Yash Pal Ghai and Patrick McAuslan later put it, when discussing the case in a 1970 book: “A British protected person is protected against everyone except the British.” On the plus side, the judges ruled that the Maasai still retained some “vestige” of sovereignty. (The Maasai’s lawyer argued that they did not.) This triggered later moves by Maasai politicians, in the 1960s, to float the idea of secession from Kenya and the possible creation of a sovereign Maasai state. John Keen had threatened this in 1962 at the second Lancaster House Conference in London, attended by a Maasai delegation.

Alexander Morrison, lawyer for the Maasai, argued that British rule and courts were established in the protectorate, which had not been the case 30 years earlier. The Maasai were not foreigners but equal to other British subjects in every way. The agreements were civil contracts, enforceable in the courts, and not unenforceable treaties. If one took the Crown’s claim about Acts of State to its logical conclusion, he argued, a squatter refusing to leave land reserved for the Maasai could only be removed by an Act of State. None of his arguments washed with the judges. (See my 2006 book Moving the Maasai for a fuller account.)

Morrison advised his clients to appeal. It seems they couldn’t raise the funds. However, oral testimony from elders reveals a different story: Ole Gilisho had planned to sail to England to appeal to the Privy Council, but he was threatened with drowning at sea. This is impossible to verify, but it rings true.

In an interview carried out on my behalf in 2008 by Michael Tiampati, my old friend John Keen had this to say about the outcome of the case: “If the hyena was the magistrate and the accused was a goat, you should probably know that the goat would not get any form of justice. So this is exactly how it was that the Maasai could not get any fair justice from British courts.”

Contemporary African resistance

Unbeknown to the Maasai, there was growing anti-colonial resistance in the same period in other parts of Africa. All these acts of resistance have inspired African activists in their continuing struggles. To mention a few: the Chilembwe rebellion in Nyasaland, now Malawi (1915); the Herero revolt in German South West Africa, now Namibia (1904–1908); resistance in present-day Kenya by Mekatilili wa Menza (largely 1913-14); the First Chimurenga or First War of Independence in what is now Zimbabwe (1896–1897); and the Maji Maji rebellion in German East Africa, now Tanzania (1905–1907). But none of these rebellions involved lawsuits. The closest precedent may have been R vs Earl of Crewe, Ex-parte Sekgoma in 1910. Chief Sekgoma, who had been jailed by the British in the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana) after many attempts to remove him as chief, instructed his lawyer to bring a writ of habeus corpus against the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Crewe. He demanded to be tried in an English court, refusing an offer of release on condition that he agrees to live in a restricted area of the Transvaal. The suit was dismissed, the court ruling that the King had unfettered jurisdiction in a protectorate, and his right to detain Sekgoma was upheld. Sekgoma apparently said: “I would rather be killed than go to the Transvaal. I will not go because I have committed no crime – I wish to have my case tried before the courts in England or else be killed.” Freed in 1912, he died two years later.

Enduring myths

The case, and other key events in early twentieth century Maasai history, have given rise to several myths. They include the idea that the stolen land should “revert” to the Maasai after 100 years, but that was not stated in the 1904 Agreement, which was not limited in time, was not a land lease, and has not “expired” as many people claim. Neither agreement has. Keen knew this, but nonetheless called for the land to “revert”. Other myths include the idea that Olonana’s thumbprint was placed on the 1911 Agreement posthumously, and it must therefore be invalid. But neither his thumbprint nor name are on the document, which was “signed” by his son Seggi. Anyhow, Olonana was a key ally of the British, who had no reason to kill him (which is another myth).

The original of the 1904 Agreement has never been found, which has led some Maasai to believe that it never existed and therefore all the land must be restored and compensation paid for its use to date. There may be sound legal arguments for restorative justice, but this is not one of them. These myths are ahistorical and unhelpful, but may be understood as attempts to rationalise and make sense of what happened. Some activists may wish that the Maasai had resisted violently, rather than taken the legal route. Hence the insistence by some that there was a seamless history of armed resistance from the start of colonial rule. Not true. There are much better arguments to be made, by professional lawyers with an understanding of international treaty rights and aboriginal title, which could possibly produce results.

Ole Gilisho had planned to sail to England to appeal to the Privy Council, but he was threatened with drowning at sea.

Where does all this leave the Maasai today? Over the years, there has been much talk of revisiting the case and bringing a claim against Britain (or Kenya) for the return of land or reparations for its loss. None of this has resulted in concrete action. I attended a planning workshop in Nairobi in 2006 when plans were laid for a lawsuit. VIPs present included the late Ole Ntimama, scholar Ben Kantai and John Keen. Keen declared, with his customary flourish, that he would stump up a million shillings to get the ball rolling. I don’t know how much money was raised in total, but it disappeared into thin air. As did the lawyers.

Leading lawyers have advised that too much time has passed, and (unlike the successful Mau Mau veterans’ suit) there are no living witnesses who could give evidence in court. It is unclear whether the agreements still have any legal validity. The British government might argue, as it previously has, including in response to my questions, that it handed over all responsibility for its pre-1963 actions to the Kenyan government at independence. This is a ludicrous argument, which is also morally wrong. Former colonial powers such as Germany have accepted responsibility for historical injustices in their former colonies, notably Namibia. Has the time come for Ole Gilisho’s descendants to call a white man to court?

Continue Reading


Who Is Hustling Who?

In Kenya, political elites across the spectrum are trying to sell off the country for themselves—capitulation is inevitable.



Who Is Hustling Who?
Photo: bennett tobias on Unsplash.
Download PDFPrint Article
There should be no doubt that Kenya is in an intractable economic crisis. Filling up gas for a drive from Nairobi to my hometown in Limuru cost 10,000 ksh (about USD70). As a result of the high gas costs prices for everything else have gone up, including public transportation. And those who cannot hike up operating costs, such as the hordes of boda boda motorcycle taxis, are hardly making anything or operating at a loss.Tax hikes mean those who are employed are taking less money home. And no point in kidding ourselves, in a corrupt country some of that money being generated from the higher taxes is going to the politicians. As will the promised 1 billion USD loan from the IMF on whose behest the new austerity measures are being implemented. It is a form of madness to think that a corrupt government will only steal money generated by taxes and do public good with the IMF loan. In short, in a country where close to half the population lives on less than USD2 a day, Kenya is simply unaffordable and the promise of relief is a lie—certainly a convenient lie for the government and IMF officials but a devastating one for Kenya’s majority poor.

My drive to Limuru happened on the first Wednesday (July 19) of the protests. Everything was eerily quiet, Nairobi, renowned for its traffic jams, was quiet. Matatus and buses were parked in their hubs. Shops and stalls were closed. Even the hawkers that dot the roads and highways stayed home. Save for the heavy police presence everywhere, it felt like the country had come to a standstill.

We got to Kangemi shortly after the police had shot and wounded two protestors—the road was strewn with stones and armed riot police huddled by the side of the road waiting for the next wave of attacks that never came. In the end, six people would be shot to death throughout the country, and countless were injured and arrested. Coming from the US, where police arrest protestors and shoot black people, there were no surprises here. The US can hardly be the standard of good policing or democratic practices, but the lives lost simply for asking the government to center the people in its economic planning seemed especially cruel.

But it was the emptiness of the roads that made the whole drive eerie. Perhaps I was refracting what was happening in Kenya through what followed the 1982 coup in which 240 people were killed; or the ethnic clashes of the 1990s that culminated in the 2007 post-election violence. Yet, there was a general agreement among people that there was something different about the Kenya of today—that something was already broken and the nightmares to come were slowly but surely revealing themselves—like a bus carrying passengers and the driver realizing the brakes were out just as it was about to descend a steep hill.

Voting with the middle finger

But all this was predictable. President Ruto has been a known quantity since the 1990s when he led the violent Moi youth wingers. He and his running mate and later president, Uhuru Kenyatta, were brought in front of the ICC to face charges of crimes against humanity following the post-election violence in 2007. Some key witnesses disappeared and others were intimidated into silence. Who in their right mind gives evidence against those in control of the state? The ICC was already discredited as being Western-crimes-against-humanity friendly (the US has never been a signatory rightly afraid its former presidents, such as George Bush, would be hauled before the court). The ICC eventually withdrew the case in March 2015.

I kept asking everyone I met, why was Ruto voted in spite of his history? The answers varied: He rigged the elections; he did not rig and if he did, he only managed to be better at it than Raila Odinga; he appealed to the youth with the idea of building a hustler nation (what a telling term); the Kikuyus have vowed never to have a Luo president and therefore opted for Ruto who is Kalenjin as opposed to Odinga who is Luo.

I sat with older Kikuyu men in the little Nyama Choma spot in Limuru Market and they talked about a generational divide between the Kikuyu and youth (Ruto) and the elderly Kikuyus (Odinga). But the one I heard over and over again was that Kenyans are tired of the Kenyatta and Odinga political dynasties. As one Trump supporter was to say, they voted for him with the middle finger. And so, the Kenyans who voted for Ruto were giving a middle finger to the Kenyatta, Moi and Odinga political dynasties. But no one had really expected buyer’s remorse to kick in one year into the Ruto presidency.

I also asked about Odinga’s protests: what was the end game? One theory is that he was looking at power-sharing, having done it once before, following the 2007 elections. In our shorthand political language, he was looking for another handshake. Some said the people have a right to protest their government, and he is simply asking the government to repeal the tax hikes and reinstate the fuel subsidies. Others believed that he wants to be a genuine and useful voice of opposition for the good of the country and its poor.

My own theory is that he is attempting a people-powered, centered, democratic, and largely peaceful takeover—where people take to the streets to overthrow an unpopular government. We saw this in Latin America in the 2000s. In response to Odinga’s absence during the three days of protests (he was sick), some leaders in his Azimio party have started using this language. The only problem with this strategy is that the sitting government has to be wildly unpopular. Ruto still has a lot of support, meaning that he does not have to compromise or give up power. It was to my mind turning into a stalemate and I was worried that the state would respond with more state-sponsored violence.

But real economics broke the stalemate. In a country where people are barely surviving and the majority are poor without savings to rely on, or relatives to reach out to for help, the hawkers, small stall and shop owners simply went back to work. In other words, those that would have been hurt the most by three days of protests (a day at home literally means a day without food for the family) simply went back to work, and the matatus and buses hummed back to life, slowly on Thursday and full throttle by Friday.

Saturday around Westlands might as well have been as busy as a Monday as people overcompensated for lost time to either sell or shop. If the protests were going to succeed the opposition (composed of some of the wealthiest families in Kenya, including Odinga’s) really should have thought about how best to protect those who would be the most affected. They should find legal and innovative ways to put their money where their political mouths are.

Cuba as Kenya’s north star

Odinga had to change tactics and called for a day of protest against police violence instead of three-day weekly protests in perpetuity. He is now in danger of turning into a caricature of his old revolutionary self and becoming an Al Sharpton, who instead of protesting the American government for the police killings of black people, protests the police themselves leaving the government feeling sanctimonious. Obama or Biden could weigh in, in righteous indignation without offering any real change (remember Obama’s emotional pleas over gun shootings and police shootings as if he was not the one occupying the most powerful office in the US)?

The one question that keeps eating at me is this: why is the most apparent outcome at the time a surprise later? Ruto was always going to sell off Kenya with a percentage for himself and his friends. Odinga was always going to capitulate. The end result is that the Kenyan bus will continue to careen on without brakes. So, what is to be done?

I was in Cuba earlier this year. I got a sense of the same desperation I felt in Kenya but the difference is Cubans have free access to healthcare, education, housing, and food security. They have free access to all the things that make basic survival possible. Before calling for the tax hikes and cutting fuel subsidies might it not have been more prudent to have a safety net for Kenyans? Would that not have been the most logical thing? But of course not, Ruto is acting at the behest of the IMF and big money. Ruto has learned the art of pan-African political rhetoric. Abroad he can call for a different non-US-centered economic system and castigate the French president over paternalism but at home, his politics are hustler politics.

Life in Cuba is difficult, as a result of relentless sanctions from the US,  but it is far from impossible. It remains the north star for those who understand discussions around fundamental change as the only starting point. We can have arguments about the nature of those fundamental changes, but we can all agree we should not be a country where one family, say the Kenyatta family, owns more than half a million acres of land. Or where, as Oxfam reported, four individuals hold more wealth than that held by 22 million Kenyans. The kind of politics that begin with a necessity for fundamental change will obviously not come from Ruto.

But one hopes it can still come from the Odinga camp.  Or even better, from a genuinely progressive people-powered movement that has inbuilt questions of fundamental change in its political, economic, and cultural platform.

In spite of the empty roads, Limuru Market was thriving and Wakari Bar kept its reputation as one of the best places for Nyama Choma and for lively political conversations. People are paying attention, after all, it is their lives and livelihoods on the line. Politicians, especially those in the opposition and the political left should listen as well.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site every week.

Continue Reading