Why Africa Needs Stronger Opposition: Kenya’s 2022 General Election

Dr. William Ruto.

When President Barack Obama failed to have Hillary Clinton succeed him, he led a spirited opposition to his successor’s regime.

What the president failed to achieve while in office, he did it while in opposition.

Years after his enthusiasm played a pivotal role in President Biden’s victory, President Obama seems to have finally retired in peace.

The death of opposition politics in Africa is disappointing and costly to the poor nations.

Unlike in the United States, political parties in Africa move where the money is, not where the need is.

For his entire second term, for example, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta who is concluding his constitutional term limit later this year has run the country without active opposition.

In what could pass as a democratic dictatorship, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s handshake with the official opposition leader saw the pair run the country as a team.

The President disrobed his deputy while at the same time holding the hand of his erstwhile foe.

This way, President Uhuru Kenyatta transformed the limited president’s power to a completely new level.

While the president has a portfolio of awe-inspiring projects to brag about, such as in transport and communication, the people lost the voice of the opposition.

Natural justice bestows power to organized opposition to check the public system’s excesses. Without such opposition, public resources are jeopardized.

The epitome of freedom is the right to oppose or support without fear of retribution.

However, with the examples of Somalia and Libya, when the opposition itself is divided it may fail to liberate the people.

Unlike in President Obama’s case then, President Uhuru Kenyatta cannot afford to lose.

First, if he loses, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s influence after his presidency will fizzle out within days.

Unlike President Obama, opposition politics is too expensive for Uhuru Kenyatta’s business sense.

In any case, while Kenyatta’s background is in business, Obama was a community organizer. These backgrounds count their costs differently.

Secondly, if President Kenyatta’s candidate loses he will lead a fragmented opposition made up of a loose election-focused coalition of parties called Azimio.

A fragmented opposition will lead to a repeat of what is happening today, where the opposition conspires with the public system.

Thirdly and perhaps interesting, in the event that the president’s candidate wins, Kenya is likely to get the best opposition since independence in 1963.

While the first real opposition experienced in the early 1990s came with bloodshed, this time it will come with bottom-up ideology.

Led by the current Deputy President William Ruto, the bottom-up aims at providing incentives to the majority poor.

William Ruto’s shrewdness is evident in his cross-cutting demographic and ethnic appeal.

Even if he loses the election, Dr. William Ruto’s charisma coupled with the supporter’s base will be a major challenge to any system in power.

However, William Ruto’s rise to power is riddled with controversy. As a fresh graduate, he was a protégé of an autocratic regime president.

His first and most infamous political project was called YK92.

Although their task was to mobilize young voters, they were accused of acting as conduits of cleaning paper money that the then government printed to raise campaign funds.

While the effects of printed money have transcended generations, Ruto came out a wealthy man.

Although the public is not privy to William Ruto’s real estate portfolio, random media stories paint him as the richest among his peers.

Although he claims to be rags to riches, William Ruto is a product of ethnic patronage that was endemic in his time.

His prominence during YK92 can be attributed to his ethnic kinship to the then-president. People like him who belonged to the wrong tribes could not access the resources availed to him.

William Ruto is famous for right-wing political mobilization, Ph.D. in Botany, and background in Christian evangelism. He is a deft man who knows how to maneuver his way into privilege.

President Uhuru must have realized this when he chose William Ruto as his running mate two times.

However, President Uhuru only loses when he has to. His loss in 2002 enabled him to found a relatively stronger opposition that championed constitutional reforms.

His 2007 stepping down for President Mwai Kibaki enabled him to inherit Kibaki’s constituency, which he used to win in 2012 and 2017.

This time around, if the opposition is to survive, Uhuru Kenyatta may not have the luxury of losing.


Pray, Whatever Happened Between the President and His Deputy?

L-R: Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto

A decade ago, an unlikely but successful alliance between two Kenyan politicians – Uhuru Kenyatta, from the government side, and William Ruto, from the opposition side – happened. The two ended up forming the Kenyan government, headed by the former.

The two had been entangled in ongoing criminal cases at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The criminal case had resulted from the results of a contested election in which they supported opposing sides.

The two had borne the brunt of the contested election’s aftermath that left over one thousand dead and hundreds of thousands internally displaced in the East African Nation that is bordered by Somalia to the east.

The main thrust of the violence was a ‘stolen’ election. William Ruto’s supporters were part of the opposition that claimed election foul play. They literally took the law into their arms and initiated a mass eviction of government supporters who had homes in their strongholds.

One lingering image of the opposition mayhem – that sticks to William Ruto’s image like a tick and which his detractors use as a political weapon – was the killing of alleged government supporters who had sought refuge in a church.

The victims, comprising women and children, were torched inside the church, after being surrounded to prevent them from escaping.

The government supporters would retaliate by organizing tribal militias, accused of, among other atrocities, forcing the circumcision of opposition male supporters.

The two politicians ended up enduring most of the responsibility. William Ruto ICC indictment was based on his alleged support of opposition chaos. Uhuru Kenyatta’s ICC indictment was based on alleged support for the retaliatory attacks.

The eventual international-community-led arbitration led by the late United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, painstakingly managed to call a truce between the opposing camps. William Ruto played a key role, some would say ‘hard line’ one, as part of the opposition negotiators.

The resulting coalition government incorporated the opposition. Notable among the beneficiaries were Uhuru Kenyatta, who became the Deputy Prime Minister, and William Ruto, who was allocated a major government department as a minister.

It is notable that none of the politicians ever apologized to the mourning families or the hundreds of thousands of the internally displaced.

As unlikely as it would have initially appeared, the coming together of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto a decade ago has defined the Kenyan political, social, and economic trajectory.

William Ruto’s supporters believed or were made to believe that by supporting Uhuru Kenyatta’s candidature, the other camp would reciprocate after the expiry of the latter’s constitutional term.

Halfway through Uhuru Kenyatta’s constitutionally possible 10-year-term and the cracks began to appear within the alliance. It all began with a successful, albeit contested re-election campaign.

As if history was repeating itself, Uhuru Kenyatta embraced the opposition chief and, amidst William Ruto’s protests, developed a working arrangement (a.k.a. the handshake) with the hitherto political rival, Raila Amolo Odinga.

The original reciprocity expectations by William Ruto’s supporters evaporated, with Uhuru Kenyatta covertly and overtly indicating a lack of faith in his deputy.

One would be forgiven for saying that both of their current words and actions leave no doubt that their alliance was solely for their own political expediency.

The two are now leading rival political camps, and boy, none of them seems to have any good words or deeds for the other. Is there something – besides their obvious and covert political rhetoric – they are hiding from everyone?