Why Raila must be the man to handle Ruto
In 1988, Robert Wangila gave Kenya its first, and so far only, Olympic gold medal in boxing. As a black man from Africa, he had made history. In an interview with the press he said something very interesting: that if as a black man you hope to win against a white opponent on points, you are dreaming; that the only way to win is to put your man on the floor; that the referee must count to 10 without any response from the white man on the floor. That was the only way an African could hope to win against a white opponent in the Olympics. Mr Wangila won that gold medal on a knockout. And the 2022 presidential election must be won in a similar manner.
In Kenya, the past three and a half presidential elections have been a two-horse race. Of course there has been a sprinkling of a third force referred to as punda (donkey) by Raila Odinga: Kalonzo Musyoka’s katikati or “watermelon” attempt of 2007, and Musalia Mudavadi’s feeble attempt of 2013. Then 2017 produced one and a half elections, with Raila and Uhuru Kenyatta squaring it out in August, and Uhuru running against himself in October. I believe 2022 will follow the same two-horse trend.
The next elections are already playing out before our eyes. The presidential race is clearly one between the supporters of the “handshake” (that took place between Raila and Uhuru in March 2018) and those who support Deputy President William Ruto; aka a contest between Team Kieleweke and Team Tangatanga. Some have gone so far as to say it is a contest between the dynasties and the hustlers, or between old money and new money, nouveau riche.
The question is which specific candidate will be set up to face Dr Ruto at the ballot. This is not a simple question, nor is it an idle question. It must therefore occupy the handshake team because the DP is by no means a wish-away candidate. In fact, the handshake team must spend sleepless nights working around this question because Ruto is like a stubborn weed that gives the farmer nightmares due to its tendency to sprout again and again. This is a man who has refused to bend or melt under the pressure he is facing from his opponents.
Up until March 9, 2018, Ruto’s ascent to the presidency was under wraps. But the handshake shattered all that – it was like an earthquake that changed, and continues to change, the Kenyan political landscape. But Ruto’s plane continues to fly despite the severe turbulence, which is why Uhuru and Raila need to be awake to the reality of his strength as they consider who should face him in 2020.
Many names have been floated: Fred Matiang’i, Gideon Moi, Mudavadi, Kalonzo and Raila. And although the Mt Kenya region has not featured prominently, Peter Kenneth’s name has come from some handshake lips. But from this list, only one man stands out – Raila Amollo Odinga – as the person who can stop Ruto.
The 2022 elections will not be a picnic; neither will it be a wedding where the groom may be selected merely on the basis of his looks. Ruto has weathered many storms and it will take the steady and experienced hands of a five-star general to defeat him. Such a general can be found in the person of Raila. His insignia is not mere decoration – most of his achievements have come from struggle, and in the trenches no less.
Ruto has weathered many storms and it will take the steady and experienced hands of a five-star general to defeat him. Such a general can be found in the person of Raila.
For Raila, the struggle has been long, hard, bruising and life-sapping. He has fought ruthless people. He has fought power. There isn’t a single war in the political context of this country that Raila has not fought. That is why he is the man the handshake team will have to pick if they hope to beat Ruto fair and square. And Ruto must be beaten fair and square if it is the intention of Uhuru to throw his deputy under the bus.
Beating Ruto should not, and must not, be left as a too-close-to-call affair. For Team Handshake, victory must be a Wangila moment. It must be definitive and conclusive because of the poisoned political climate in the country. Victory against Ruto cannot be a fluke. And this cuts both ways: the loser must be vanquished; he must be on the canvass and remain there beyond count 10. But Ruto can only win under circumstances that can produce nothing but a landslide victory for him.
Raila has come close to winning the last three presidential elections. In fact, some have argued that he has been the victor in those elections, especially in 2007, when the disputed results led to violence that almost pushed us down a cliff. These near-victories are what put him way ahead of the other potentials on the list; they are either untested or have attempted with disastrous results.
In addition, the past three elections have shown that not only are our elections two-horse affairs but that the two contestants are always even. This is why one can argue that Raila needs little assistance to capture the presidency in a free and fair election. He does not need state machinery or support to win in 2022. Neither does he need to rig an election. All he needs is state neutrality. Indeed, Uhuru’s support would be nothing more than a top-up bonus.
I hope the handshake team is listening. I hope they know that Kanu would have won in 2002 against a weak Mwai Kibaki. If Moi had fielded his long-serving vice-president, George Saitoti. Or Musalia Mudavadi, the then blue-eyed chap.