A reliable weather vane for Kenyan politics taking potentially dangerous turns is when the air is polluted with talk of assassination plots.
We had a brief and welcome coronavirus dividend as both Deputy President William Ruto’s 2022 election campaign ‘Tangatanga’ rallies and the rival Building Bridges Initiative ‘reggae tours’ by former opposition leader Raila Odinga were brought to shuddering halts.
The reprieve was shortlived. Last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta ignored his own ‘stay at home’ admonitions and summoned a handpicked crop of Jubilee Party senators to State House for the singular agenda of kicking out Ruto allies from Senate leadership.
If the continuing chatter is anything to go by, the purge targeting the DP’s loyalists will be extended to the National Assembly and Cabinet.
The timing is terrible. The President taking the battle to his beleaguered deputy now sends the disturbing signal that it is politics as usual despite the biggest pandemic in over 100 years.
Resumption of political skulduggery directly undermines the now-famous exhortation from Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe: “If you treat this disease normally, it will treat you abnormally.”
Mr Kagwe’s passionate and often angry finger-wagging warnings against business as usual brought home to Kenyan households the stark reality that the coronavirus could litter the landscape with bodies. Whether coincidental or not, in the week after the State House parley, Kenyans started being complacent.
The streets filled up with traffic. Bars, nyama choma joints, shopping centres and other places previously denuded of custom started going back to business with patrons often in total defiance of the new conventions requiring the wearing of face masks and curbs against crowding. At the end of the week, Kenya had its highest one-day total of 57 cases!
Worse, the politics being played out started taking ominous turns with renewed talk of murder and mayhem.
Kenyan politicians love nothing better than to divert attention or win public sympathy with false claims that their lives are in danger. This has always been a favourite tactic of Mr Odinga’s and other opposition leaders.
Now Dr Ruto’s allies have become particularly profligate in this regard. It is, however, one thing for an inconsequential political activist or MP to seek attention or relevance by crying wolf.
But it is an entirely different proposition when the ‘target’ occupies the hallowed office of Deputy President and commands a large, loyal political constituency that would react with anger and outrage were harm to befall him.
Given the history of Kenya and the violence and instability that often follow political assassinations, one can only guess the carnage the wild claims seek to incite.
One can never say never but the DP would not be at much risk from some crackpot loner penetrating his airtight security cordon. So what the Ruto men are saying is that the alleged assassination plot is designed and is to be executed from within the government that he serves.
Of course they will not provide any details useful to halting such dastardly plots before they are activated. They will not give security agencies anything of value in regard to the source of information, identity and locations of the plotters and the when, where and how.
This is because no such plot exists. These are things in the fertile imagination of reckless and irresponsible politicians and hired activists seeking their five minutes of fame through dangerous utterances that have the potential to incite conflagration.
Just as bizarre from the same fellows are threats to reveal the killers of Christopher Msando, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission ICT boss who was slain prior to the 2017 elections. Are they, indeed, confirming that their government side eliminated Dr Msando so that a more pliable fellow could be placed atop the elections database?
In the same league is an MP who went into ‘self-isolation’ then engineered social media posts suggesting he was missing. He also belatedly reported that the Jubilee political machine had rigged its way into power.
The fellows making those statements know that they will attract the attention of security agencies. And that is what they crave because it would earn them the political visibility and martyrdom that ordinarily eludes them. They will also catch the eye of Dr Ruto, who might feel bound to reward them for their loyalty.
The DP has exercised wise restraint in the eye of unprecedented provocation. He should advise those claim to speak for him to shut up.
And instead of playing into the hands of the reckless loudmouths, the police would be wiser to observe the adage that every market has its madman, who is best ignored.
[email protected] .gaitho.co.ke @MachariaGaitho