Wycliffe Muga - Ruto now plays n the big league - The Star

As concerns the recent referendum on the proposed new constitution, I would say that there was no greater winner, at the purely political level, than Higher Education Minister William Ruto.

For the fact that he was able to unite behind him virtually all the voters from the Kalenjin community leaves no doubt that his leadership has been massively endorsed at the grassroots level within that community.

And so he now joins the handful of political leaders in our country's history who have been able to personify the political aspirations of a major ethnic community.

But what does this all mean?

Well, first let me outline the limits of Ruto's newly affirmed political clout. And on this I would quote the English political philosopher, Francis Bacon. His most famous saying is "Knowledge is Power". But he also pointed out, more specifically, that "The rising unto place is laborious; and by pains men come to greater pains;.... All rising to great place is by a winding stair."

This translated from Bacon's 15th century vocabulary into modern English, roughly means, "Getting ahead in politics is not that easy, and is definitely not a simple and straightforward process. Just when you think you have made some major progress, you generally find that all you have really done is to move into a different league, where everything will be even more

So in Ruto's case, the undeniable fact is that he has at last moved from the "second division" of political players in Kenya, to the "first division". In the race for political influence, the kind of influence which is based on the total voting power that a candidate can command, he has overtaken not only Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka but also both Deputy Prime Ministers Uhuru Kenyatta and Musalia Mudavadi.

For where Kalonzo, Uhuru and Musalia can all still be humiliated by a visceral political enemy getting elected in their own backyard, that is not the case with Ruto: even the most "senior" cabinet ministers, who opposed him in the referendum, found that they could not gather any meaningful support within their own constituencies.

But none of this means that he can now relax and enjoy his newfound status: rather he now has his work cut out for him, in trying to apply his political clout to some effective purpose. And I should point out that getting any Kenyan ethnic community to focus on the idea that they have been despised, or taken for granted, or in some way been "used and dumped" by other groups, is one of the easier ways to gain their political support.

In Coast Province, the Gender, Children and Social Development minister Naomi Shaban used this tactic in 2007 to unite the indigenous Taveta community in opposition to what was seen as the inappropriate political ambitions of the "guest communities" in Taveta constituency (the Kamba, Luo and Kikuyu) who had all fielded candidates in past elections.

Then more recently Trade minister Ali Mwakwere, who had barely survived the "ODM wave" in 2007, gained a resounding victory in the Matuga constituency by-election just a few months ago, by igniting simmering resentments among his Digo ethnic group, that they have often been stereotyped as "lazy, cowardly and poor" by their fellow-Muslims, the more prosperous Swahili and Arab communities of Mombasa.

But then, we further note that it took just two years for Shaban to lose the support of the electorate in Taveta: despite her most vigorous efforts to see the new constitution rejected, they solidly supported it. To the extent that she is now seen to be so completely "finished" politically, that her rivals are falling over each other to try and replace her, and can barely wait for 2012 to complete the process of consigning her to political obscurity.

Much the same applies to Mwakwere: he cannot hope to win in a General Election, merely by stigmatising other coastal Muslim communities who are alleged to have a contemptuous attitude towards the Digo.

What had made him vulnerable in 2007 was that he was considered to have a "poor development record" as we say here in Kenya. And unless he can change that perception among the ordinary voters of Matuga, they will most likely end his political career in 2012.

This brings us back to Ruto. For now, he has succeeded in taking away from PM Raila Odinga some of his most devout supporters of the 2007 General Election. But it was the PM's own blunders which made this possible in the first place. And if Ruto should end up backing the losing horse in the General Election of 2012 or fail badly in an attempt to be elected President himself that would change everything.

The writer comments on topical issues.

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