The annual pilgrimage to Safari Park Hotel happened this past Thursday. Guests gathered for a ‘politico-spiritual’ experience, complete with a parliamentary choir. But the singing Members of Parliament were not the only ones out of tune.
The theme of the event was also off-key. The prayer breakfast was tagged something like, ‘Dawn of Kenya’ or ‘Rebirth of a New Nation’. The title was as ambiguous as those of ‘important’ Kenyan autobiographies: written to sound deep, but are really designed to mean nothing.
If the Safari Park Crusade were actually named honestly, the theme would have been raw and detailed. Something like: ‘Awkward Morning Of Prayer To Say What You Do Not Mean, And Mean What You Do Not Say.’
Speaking of speaking, the Deputy President’s speech ended up being the event’s ‘main attraction’. It was engaging, articulate and entertaining. But it was also a serious miscalculation. I say this for two reasons.
The first problem with Ruto’s speech, is that he made a direct affront on his boss. While the DP has reminded the nation of his poverty stricken history many times before, this time he took it a notch higher. He directly juxtaposed it to the president’s own privileged childhood. He set the stage by quoting someone who said Kenya does not belong to the elites alone, but to all the 45 million Kenyans.
The DP then proceeded to give an abridged timeline of his journey from a poor village boy to the deputy president of Kenya.
Here is my own abridged interpretation of his anecdote. Ruto was wallowing in village pauperdom in the seventies, far away from Uhuru Kenyatta’s charmed life. So removed and inaccessible were the mighty Kenyattas to him, that upon hearing of Uhuru’s fathers death, the young awe stricken Ruto thought the world was literally ending. Subliminally, Ruto made sure he mentioned exactly what he was doing when he received news of the ‘founding fathers’ death.
He was engaging in an activity obviously unfamiliar to the founding father’s son; herding cattle. And so terrified was he to hear of Kenyatta’s passing that he hurriedly took his father’s cows back home to await Armageddon with his hapless family.
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For good measure, Ruto added that he was navigating this village life barefoot. He wore shoes for the first time at 15 years old, when his father bought him a pair on the street. He was just short of saying ‘unlike Uhuru whose privileged feet have never known a day without shoes.’
In conclusion, the DP declared that in spite of all that, he “is here at the prayer breakfast sitting at the high table with the former president’s son.”
The second problem with the DP’s speech, is that it is counter productive to his purpose. His intention was to appeal to the ‘hustler nation’ the voter base that would support him out of admiration for ‘one of their own’: the one who overcame poverty to become a national leader. The speech would have been effective in this regard, had Ruto not gone ahead to explain the ‘contributions here and there’ which he makes to the Church in gratitude.
This came out as seeking vindication against accusations of grand corruption, which the DP has for along time struggled to shake off. Ruto’s speech at this point descended into a futile, defensive plea.
The ‘hustler’ demographic understands more than anyone that upward social mobility in Kenya is difficult. The ‘hustlers’ also understand that professions like politics and public service do not or rather should not pay much. So Ruto bringing up his newfound ability to handsomely thank God for delivering him from poverty only raises serious questions.
– The writer is a PhD candidate in political economy at SMC University. [email protected]