Uhuru-Ruto confrontation threatens Kenya's national unity and peace – The Standard

President Uhuru Kenyatta with his Deputy William Ruto during the State of the Nation address at Parliament, Nairobi. [Jonah Mwangi, DPPS]
What a political hammering between top competing parties in the past two weeks!
President Uhuru Kenyatta threw quite a few jabs at his deputy, William Ruto. The DP, from a far, distant land, decided to return a stinging verdict on his boss. This gloves-off exchange between the two most powerful offices in the Republic of Kenya is a new chapter in our history.

Up to this point, we have never experienced a situation in which a deputy president goes for the jugular against his boss. Our history shows hapless number twos who take notes, orders and guidance from the president. Not anymore.
The direct public confrontation between Uhuru and Ruto does not only raise a constitutional concern on the extent to which a DP can take on his boss without appearing disobedient but also at what point should one vacate office if the relationship with the boss sours.

When political antagonists have almost equal power, their public confrontation is often direct.
The reason boxing men and women are categorised into lightweight, heavyweight and so on is to ensure there is a near physical power balance between the teams.
What we have seen in the past two weeks is a sign that one can reasonably argue there must be a near power balance between the president and his deputy.

Arguably, the confidence exuded in the way the two leaders attack each other goes beyond just the right to expression.
I make two unrelated readings out of the public antagonism between the president and his deputy. First, the August polls will largely be characterised by fear. In conflict studies, we learn that when two political leaders with massive following take strong positions, their followers harden. They turn the contest between the leaders as their duty to defend their leader. If the perception persists that this is a win-lose contest, the victor will vanquish the loser.
In political terms, the consequences can be devastating for the supporters. In our winner takes it all constitutional dispensation, the winner will place the loser in the “rightful position”. The reading therefore is that if the confrontation between the president and his deputy continues to sour, voters will begin to treat each other on the basis of “where you stand.”
The campaigns and voter behaviour will hence be characterised by fear.
The second reading is that the coalitions forming prior to or post-election will be considerably loose. We could be heading to political regimes that may not last a full term. Regimes folding up before expiry of their term is not necessarily a bad thing.

The condition for continued peace in such a situation is strong solid systems where governments can come and go but the country carries on with its life. Italy is a good example of where governments are impeached and new ones form without citizens becoming victims of the change.
Given that the president and his deputy are pulling in different directions just a few months to the polls, the party that takes over power will aim to assert its authority over the loser. Of course, the empty promises of “I am president for everyone” will be chorused all over.
In truth, it takes a statesman to go beyond political interests to rally the country behind the flag through principles of equity, equality, inclusivity, justice and a culture of constitutionalism. Coalitions will be used to break regimes whenever their interests – which are often narrow – are not satisfactorily addressed.
Political contests, by their nature, are confrontational. However, the confrontation has to be rational and not just strategic. Peace and the dignity of every citizen must not be put in danger in the process of campaigning for power. What we have seen and heard in the past two weeks is truly a culture of lies, half-truths, revelations of betrayal and a differentiation between politics of nation-building and politics of survival.
We must choose peace at all times.
-The writer is Executive Director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communication

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