Politics and Society
Ruto’s Kenya slides straight back to ethnic exclusion in governance
The country’s new leaders deny ethnic prejudice in their appointments, but the facts say otherwise
Darmi Jattani & Oscar Ochieng
ISSUE 123. May 6 2023
Despite suggestions that the 2022 elections saw less overt “tribal” politicking, ethnic politics continues to play a prominent role in Kenya. This is well demonstrated by the appointments that were subsequently made by the country’s new president, William Ruto, which were dominated by individuals and groups aligned to the winning party.
Responding to public outcry, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua came out in defence of patronage and clientelism. He argued that not only would the government reward supporters disproportionately, but that this was legitimate. In Gachagua’s framing, the government should be understood as acorporation whose supporters are the big – and legitimate – shareholders.
Such comments don’t just serve to encourage damaging winner-takes-all politics, they also run counter to the country’s Constitution and legal system.
As in previous governments, the impact of this approach is stark. Of the 51 principal secretaries announced, 13 (25%) are from Ruto’s Kalenjin community and 13 (25%) from Gachagua’s Central Kenya region. This means that half of all principal secretary appointments went to just two ethnic groups, in a country with more than 40.
In response, the Law Society of Kenya argued that the list lacked gender, ethnic and regional balance, contravening the Constitution, which states that the composition of the national executive shall reflect the country’s regional and ethnic diversity.
The concept of diversity and inclusivity are not simply abstract principles – they matter for national unity and ensuring that the country does not return to the political violence of 2007/8.
It is therefore critical that civil society pushes the courts to ensure that these rules are implemented. If this is not done, the stakes of the next election will be higher than ever, increasing the risk of another contested outcome, and further political instability.
Darmi Jattani is a Master of Economics student at Kenyatta University. Oscar Ochieng holds a bachelor’s in Communication & Sociology from University of Nairobi. This analysis was produced in collaboration with Democracy in Africa.