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The meaning of Ruto’s victory

Ruto addresses the nation. PHOTO RUTO TEAM MEDIA

Why being vilified as being the most corrupt politician in Kenya did not undermine but facilitated his victory

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | This week, the Supreme Court confirmed the election of William Ruto as the fifth president of Kenya. The election poses a dilemma for many African “intellectuals” and other global elites who vend democracy as a cure to corruption. In the last ten years, Ruto has been presented in the mass media as the most corrupt politician in Kenya’s checkered history. Stories and documentaries abound claiming that as deputy president, he would stoop as low as calling junior bureaucrats in charge of procurement and instruct them on whom to award a government tender.

It is claimed that it is because of this abuse of office that former president Uhuru Kenyatta fell out with his deputy and decided to back Rail Odinga. Of course, some said, Uhuru and Raila are clean either. It is also said it is very difficult to find an honest politician in Kenya. The issue with Ruto was not that he was corrupt. Rather it was said he indulged in it on an unmatched scale and scope.

Ruto campaigned as the champion of the dispossessed masses of Kenya against a deeply entrenched political class, sons and daughters of the founding fathers who have dominated that country’s politics for 60 years. Ruto positioned himself as a hustler who rose from grass to grace through ingenuity. He convinced a large section of underprivileged Kenyans that he was one of them. They agreed and saw electing him as a triumph of democracy over privilege – never mind that he is extremely rich himself.

Indeed, Ruto’s election should not be surprising. In 2016 and 2020, the least educated and most underprivileged white Americans voted in overwhelming numbers for Donald Trump, a privileged billionaire who claimed to represent their interests. Trump, like most white American politicians, both Republican and Democratic, exploited white fears using Hispanics, Muslims, Blacks etc. as bogeymen to rally the Republican base. Ruto based less to tribe. He campaigned on class and status.

So why have poor Kenyans selected the most corrupt politician as their champion? Why have clean and honest politicians not found traction among Kenyan masses?

In the 1990s, Kenyans were angry at President Daniel arap Moi for the corruption. They voted in huge numbers for Mwai Kibaki who came to power determined to clean the country. To prove his credentials, he appointed Kenya’s leading anticorruption crusader, the indefatigable John Githongo, as ombudsmen. Kibaki’s government turned out to be more corrupt than Moi’s. Githongo fled to exile claiming Kibaki’s people wanted to kill him because of his efforts to expose their corruption.

When Kibaki left office an alliance of Uhuru and Ruto took charge. Kenyan intellectuals were shocked by the degree to which corruption expanded. Many said they had never seen corruption on the scale that the Uhuru-Ruto administration had taken it. Yet Kenyan voters gave the ticket a second term. Why?

The story of Kenya is actually the story of Africa, except for a few rare and exceptional cases like Rwanda. Every government in postcolonial Africa has been accused of corruption only to leave and be replaced by one that has turned out to be more corrupt.

Why has corruption been so persistent in spite of many changes of government? Why has it remained the standard operating procedure of all forms of government in Africa – democratic or authoritarian, one man or collegial governments, socialist or capitalist, multiparty or single party, military or civilian, revolutionary or reactionary, populist or conservative, or whether the head of state was male or female, young or old?

Most commentary on corruption in Africa tends to moralise instead of analyse. Yet you do not need to be a student of philosophy and mathematical probability to see the obvious. What we call corruption, the use or abuse of public funds for private gain, is the glue that holds the flabby and heterogenous coalition of African’s multi ethnic nations together. It is the grease that turns the wheels of the state and the currency through which the trade in the business of politics takes place.

I believe that without corruption, most (if not all) the states of Africa would descend into civil war and break-up.

Ruto won not just in spite of being very corrupt but precisely because of being so. The American philosopher and historian, Will Durant, said there are only three forms of government known to man: aristocracy, rule by birth; theocracy, rule by religion, and democracy, rule by money. In a democracy, politicians need to market themselves before voters. Except in very rare circumstances, this requires money.

In rich countries, politicians raise money from well-organised vested interests on whom they bestow favours once in government. These favours may include policies such as tax cuts or subsidies. In America, for example, politicians and through them, the state, are captured by these powerful corporate interests. These include the arms, oil, high tech, financial industries and big pharma. This form of corruption is wholesale: the vested interests are organised along industrial lines to get state patronage. For the arms industry, it has to ensure that America fights wars across the world because it has one big client, the American state.

In Kenya, like in many other poor countries, most corruption is retail. True, powerful constituencies do get benefits through state policy. But voters get their share through personal patronage. Why? The state is too poor to provide them with a large basket of public goods and services. So, politicians cultivate a following by giving voters benefits directly and from their pockets – pay fees for their children, medical bills for constituents, contribute generously to social and cultural events like weddings and funerals etc. It is expensive to finance these activities using personal funds. Successful politicians in government use public funds.

Most of the stolen money is not used for personal aggrandisement, even though this is the most visible form. It is rather used to build and sustain political constituencies. In other words, it is not necessarily use of public funds for personal gain. It is use of public funds for largely broader social aims. In legislating against many of these acts, we have actually criminalised the ways in which politics is organised, exercised and sustained. The result is that now we live as hypocrites: criticise “corruption” as bad during the day and practice it at night, including loving our corrupt politicians and electing them as presidents, mayors and legislators. Congratulations Ruto!




  1. I have also realised the most corrupt in our societies are “born again”(AKA savedees”) Ruto is “saved”. It’s a very sad fact!!

    • depends on your understanding of corruption. the denominator is however constant, “accumulating gains using wrong methods and often at the expense of others”. That includes murder, slavery, racism, etc. The last time i checked, Osama bin Laden, ADF, Hezbollah, Kony, racist Arabs killing our sisters in the middle east coupled with forced slavery – these weren’t born again.

  2. 1.Leaders of this era have been elected as a result of the changing social dimensions that naturally favors them. Like the high Youth population and the poor economic state most nations are in.
    2. The past leaders laid the foundation stone for the economic prosperity of their nations. Now days people struggle to identify what their leaders have added to the economic scene.
    3.The political terrain in this era seems to work in favour of leaders who are dramatic in their thoughts at times their reforms works and at times they backfire; Just look at Boris Johnson and his Brexit he was actually shown the exit instead, Trump ‘s Immigration reforms like controlling the influx of the Mexicans and Arabs into USA, economic reforms that saw him negotiate trade deals with China,Turkey and Japan , environmental reforms, the foreign reforms that saw him expel some Russians and Chinese for espionage and the cooperation he created with Isarael and the Arab World when you compare his performance to that of Obama ;Trumps’s was more outstanding.
    4. The political leaders in Kenya are in a comfort zone because of what their past leaders did. Actually, overstaying in power in Africa is now a political game changer; Moi’s over stay in power
    has led Kenya to where she is now;;The next leader who will take over from M7 will have a smooth ride in power as a result of the structures and facilities that he has put in place. When you begin mentioning them, you need to catch your breath.
    5.Every nation has her own style of politics that works for her. For Uganda; you need to keep your fingers crossed because our brothers in the opposition are so toxic its a risk to hand over power to them; The opposition in Kenya control their supporters unlike in Uganda where their members are also under siege. The government Will not take chances with such characters for the sake of keeping up democratic appearances.

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