OTIENO: Uhuru needs polygamy skills to tame DP Ruto and Raila

Saturday June 06 2020

From left: Deputy President William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga launch the Building Bridges Initiative report in November 2019. PHOTO | DPPS


According to a social media wag who claims to have had his ears on the ground during the Jubilee parliamentary group meeting at State House last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta tried to act his father’s son from the party leader’s chair.

Speaking to an audience of 212 MPs that included sworn enemies, the President reportedly invoked the warrior spirits of old Jomo, warning them he could unsheathe his spear and spill blood.

And he has made good his threat, having moved to purge the party leadership in the National Assembly of persons perceived to be hostile to his legacy agenda. But for much of the remaining two years of his final term in office, the President will probably need to borrow a leaf from his late dad’s polygamy book.

Before African men started to run and hide in Western Christian teachings and capitalism, managing polygamous families was one of the toughest tasks society assigned those in Jomo’s generation.

A polygamist’s success or legacy was ultimately measured by how well he navigated the complexities of his large household – the needs, the self-entitlement, the personal ambitions, the factions, the loyalties, the conflicts and the jealousies.

In my community, the task of managing a polygamous family was referred to as rie doho (which loosely translates to making everyone in the family toe the line). A ja doho (polygamist) was considered a failure if his large family was dysfunctional and bickering.


For the purposes of this article, I randomly asked a number of colleagues in the newsroom what roles and skills they mostly associate a polygamous man with.

A majority of them mentioned leadership, authority, power and discipline, symbol of unity, firmness, hard work and even-handedness.

Some of the more complex parts of President Kenyatta’s legacy agenda like changing the Constitution and leaving behind a united country will require him to quickly learn and apply the skills of a successful ja doho.

His most important partners in the legacy project happen to be Deputy President William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga. Both men have personal ambitions of their own to succeed him as president and may not necessarily buy into the legacy project if it doesn’t align with their self-interests.

Mr Ruto considers himself the first partner and is entitled to feel he deserves more from the union.

Mr Odinga is the typical retirement partner, currently getting the attention and making others jealous. For the past two years, the President has tended to beat Mr Ruto at every turn to please Mr Odinga.

But last Monday, he appeared to finally get his polygamy management right. The President hosted the Madaraka Celebrations at State House where he and Mr Ruto stepped out in nostalgic matching colours.

At night, a video clip said to be of him and Mr Odinga inspecting road upgrade in the Nairobi city centre was circulated on social media.

For once, everyone went home feeling loved.

[email protected] @otienootieno