Kenya: After an attack on Ruto’s motorcade, are 2022 polls shaping up to be violent?

By Son Gatitu

Posted on Tuesday, 23 November 2021 17:33
Kenya Elections
Uhuru Kenyatta, left, and William Ruto, in Bomas, Nairobi, Kenya, Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/ Sayyid Abdul Azim)

On 10 November, the campaign motorcade belonging to Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto was attacked in Kisumu, a western county on the shores of Lake Victoria. It was a bad day for Ruto who had just had a smooth run across the country for weeks, in his quest to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta. However, the blame game that followed amongst the political class and security organs could threaten peace for a country that has known its fair share of deadly election aftermaths.

Ruto was on his second day of a tour of the larger Nyanza region, the political backyard of Raila Odinga – his fiercest opponent for the 2022 presidential contest.

Upon reaching his final stop in Kisumu, at a place called Kondele, all hell broke loose. The deputy president, who stood through the sunroof of his official car, had a hard time addressing the rowdy crowd.

“Thank you for welcoming us, thank you,” Ruto said amidst chaos. “[…] please…let’s stop throwing stones, […] There is no need to fight each other.”

He was a man under siege, but his political image would not let him retreat. A contingent of anti-riot police officers responded, chasing after stone-hurling youth. They were forced to lob teargas canisters to disperse the crowd.

The blame game

Ruto stood firm, he was there to make a statement: “I want to [tell] those that have paid the youth to throw stones, shame on them!” he said. “Don’t be shaken, those throwing stones […] are leaders with backward views, Kisumu is part of Kenya.”

The deputy president had been casting aspersions on his campaign trail and now he was doing the same at Raila’s doorstep.

“I am asking my friends, the leader of ODM […] please let us not use our children to throw stones and cause violence. These young people deserve jobs and an atmosphere to work. They should not be misused,” he told the unruly crowd.

Raila later dismissed Ruto’s claims that he was behind the violence, of which the police said: “No injuries were reported or noted. Some vehicles were destroyed.”

“I am not a small child to go organising people to throw stones at Ruto,” Raila said during an interview with Citizen TV in Nairobi. “Ruto is such a small thing to me. Let him go to every place like he has been loitering and barking everywhere. Let him chest thump, cough and spit as he wants. That’s democracy.”

Is money fuelling violence?

That same evening, the Kenya Police issued a statement, accusing Ruto of ignoring earlier warnings.

“Based on intelligence gathered, there was tension within Kondele owing to alleged distribution of campaign logistical funds amongst local groups,” police spokesperson Bruno Shioso said in the statement. “This intelligence was promptly shared by police with the deputy president’s team with recommendations to skip the affected area during the tour.”

The moment people associate your campaign with money, you could run into problems and that’s where I see Ruto headed.

The police cited Ruto’s continued “generosity” on his campaign trail, where he has been distributing millions of shillings in aid of small businesses.

Political analyst Herman Manyora believes Ruto’s campaign could be headed for trouble. “The moment people associate your campaign with money, you could run into problems and that’s where I see Ruto headed,” Manyora says. “It is dangerous for a leader to carry money in cash in crowds, it can cause stampede[s].”

Just before he left Kondele, Ruto promised to leave behind a total of KSh4.5m for the two groups. “I have brought you KSh2.5m for the bodaboda riders to continue with their businesses. I have brought KSh2m for [the] women of Kisumu,” he said.

Focus on security organs

A political encounter had turned violent with security authorities caught in the middle as they sought to explain matters away.

On 16 November, Wilson Aminda, a Kisumu county employee, was charged with malicious damage to property and incitement to violence. As of 19 November, he had been the only person charged apprehended over the Kisumu chaos.

However, the violent event could come to haunt the country that is only eight months away from its general election.

Ruto’s allies recently questioned the involvement of key security officials in the preparation of the 2022 poll. Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i has been holding consultative meetings with the electoral commission (IEBC) alongside other stakeholders.

Questioning state neutrality

On 27 October, Kenya’s Chief Justice Martha Koome led a delegation of representatives from the judiciary, security and ICT sectors in discussions with IEBC chairperson Wafula Chebukati. They mapped out areas of concern ahead of the election, and what role each organ will play in the polls.

Presidential elections in Kenya must be conducted within an ICT environment, where results are transmitted electronically from all polling stations to the national tallying centre. Joseph Mucheru’s ministry of information and communication is heavily involved in network coverage and management of ICT equipment across the country.

[…] that office does not give you the mandate to manage the election, you must choose on which side you want to be […]

Ruto’s allies expressed concern that some ministers have been involved in some of Raila’s political meetings.

“It was shocking to see and hear ministers […Matiang’i and Mucheru] publicly endorse the presidential candidature of Raila Odinga contrary to the provisions of the constitution,” UDA Secretary General Veronica Maina said in her complaint to the IEBC.

Ministers vs Ruto

The accused ministers have since been on the defence. “If they can show me where I have said that I am supporting this or that candidate, then it becomes a different story,” Mucheru said. “I was appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta and I will continue with the work he assigned me, let others continue with theirs.”

Maina hit back at Mucheru, saying: “…but that office does not give you the mandate to manage the election, you must choose on which side you want to be […].”

The 2022 election is shaping up to be a contest between Ruto and Kenyatta (via Raila’s possible candidacy). Ruto’s campaign strategy has been an attempt to deflate Raila’s candidature, given that it appears to benefit from state support.

Thus, when the police accused the deputy president of ignoring warnings not to visit Kondele, it was interpreted to be a collusion between security agencies and Ruto’s political enemies in the government.

[…] the onus is more on politicians whose words and actions have historically fuelled tensions, from ethnic to regional and political, leading to deaths as high as 1,000 in 2007.

However, Manyora warns against this. “[…] no leader in the world [should] ignore […] intelligence because of politics.”

He believes that Ruto’s security team failed the test of caution. “You saw [Ruto] saying ‘don’t throw stones’ and the security are not forcing him [to get back] inside that car, those people must be sacked or removed from that assignment, because it’s very dangerous.”

Ahead of 2022

In previous elections, violence has featured in different parts of the country. Several counties in western Kenya failed to participate in the repeat presidential election in October 2017, showing their solidarity with Raila, who boycotted the exercise. Local youth barricaded several roads, especially in Nyanza, making it difficult for the IEBC to conduct the repeat poll.

The aftermath of the election forced Kenyatta and Raila into a political truce in March 2018, a process that birthed the current relationship between the two leaders.

The country’s security agencies must now map all political boiling points across the country and adequately prepare to stem any political eruptions. Nevertheless, the onus is more on politicians whose words and actions have historically fuelled tensions, from ethnic to regional and political, leading to over 1,000 deaths in 2007.

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