By MAKAU MUTUA
Several weeks ago, I was bamboozled when a top commander in Deputy President William Ruto’s campaign locomotive begged me to work with them to get the man from Sugoi to State House in 2022.
I was dumbfounded – and totally beside myself. I slapped myself to make sure I wasn’t in la-la land, or in mental Siberia. I kept it together even though I am still reeling from the outlandish idea. In spite of the shock, I’ve kept my counsel – until now. Today, I give the answer. Mr Ruto and his campaign should read my lips – or rather the words from the tip of my pen. The answer is nyet. I can’t – and won’t – work with Mr Ruto. Never. Ever. Case closed.
Mr Ruto and his brigand can take this to the nearest bank – no bona fide civil society organisation, or any of their self-respecting members, will touch Mr Ruto with a 10-foot pole. None. Whenever I hear the mention of Mr Ruto, or sense his proximity, I head in the opposite direction. It’s been so since his emergence in Youth for Kanu ’92.
The case on crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court cemented my political disdain for Mr Ruto. That case was “withdrawn” because of sabotage. Mr Ruto wasn’t acquitted. There’s more. Mr Ruto volubly and vigorously led the No Campaign against the 2010 Constitution. He’s been alleged to be involved in a number of corruption scandals.
There’s nary a scintilla of evidence that Mr Ruto has ever – even once – lifted his finger to fight for democracy or human rights in Kenya. Not once. Nada. I challenge anyone to produce such evidence.
In fact, Mr Ruto has always been on the wrong side of history. He’s either championed, or been an important, anti-reform, anti-democratic voice. He’s never seen a human right he didn’t want to stifle. His street name is “Arap Mashamba”, an ode to his naming in reported land scandals.
In at least one case, a court found him liable for buying the grabbed farm of one Adrian Muteshi amidst the 2007-2008 poll violence. Mr Ruto was forced to return the farm to Mr Muteshi.
Then there are unsolved crimes that have focused investigation on his office. Most recently, Sgt Kipyegon Kenei, a senior policeman in Mr Ruto’s Harambee House Annex office, was murdered in mysterious circumstances hot on the heels of the Rashid Echesa arms scandal. Mr Ruto himself suggested the “Deep State” may have killed Mr Kenei to implicate and “finish” him politically.
Given Mr Ruto’s anti-democratic legacy and the allegations of corruption, it stretches credulity that any legitimate civil society organisation – let alone the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), which I co-founded three decades ago with rights champion Maina Kiai, former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, Governor Kiraitu Murungi, and journalist Peter Kareithi – would ever have anything to do with Mr Ruto.
It is an open secret Mr Ruto and his brain-trust have targeted civil society groups like the KHRC to penetrate, convert, and instrumentalise them into witting, or unwitting, allies. It is in this context that they’ve approached me and others. This can only happen over my dead body. Mr Ruto can forget civil society.
This isn’t to say that Mr Ruto doesn’t have a democratic right to run for the highest office in the land. He does, but he shouldn’t expect civil society, or its leading icons, to sanitise him. However, I do give him and his acolytes credit for throwing this long-shot Hail Mary. Mr Ruto has nothing to lose and everything to gain if he can “turn” a leading human rights Non-Govermental Organisation, or personality, to his cause. He must salivate at the prospect of enslaving the sector. Methinks he’s trying to capitalise on sections of civil society’s disaffection with ODM leader Raila Odinga because of the Handshake and his cooperation with Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta. He’s mistaken because civil society isn’t that binary.
In last Sunday’s column, I opined that Mr Odinga sits atop the pyramid of Kenyan patriots. In my view, the reverse is true of Mr Ruto.
It therefore behooves every Kenyan with a democratic conscience to shun Mr Ruto’s entreaties like the plague. He can run for State House, but he will have to do so without the help of those who’ve fought him and his ilk for a better Kenya.
Those of us who’ve been in the trenches for decades don’t have a price. This is what Mr Ruto’s commander who approached me – and who shall remain nameless – should know.
Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School. He’s Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua