A similar fate seems to be eminent for William Ruto's political ambitions. He seems to have decided that to become president, he needs to play by the rules of daddy's (and mummy's) boys, (Raila, Muigai, Gideon). However, he also wants to appeal to Kenyans by portraying himself as one of us, thereby adopting the tag "hustler." However, trying to do both at the same time leads to the contradiction we see in Ruto's relationship with the Kenyan university.
Clearly, Ruto is confused about what his position should be on universities, and especially on the arts and humanities. And his being a scientist doesn't help. And to understand why he is confused, one needs to look at the relationship between the ruling elite, the arts and higher education.
Since colonial times till today, the ruling elite have had a deep hatred for arts education for Africans. During colonial times, the settlers did not want arts education for Africans because, they said, the arts would give Africans unnecessary ideas, like that of freedom. All the settlers needed was workers with technical skills, an argument that has been made from the times of Booker T Washington, to Phelps Stokes Commission, to today. The missionaries, on the other hand, needed Africans with skills in the humanities, because those skills were needed to propagate the Christian faith. Colonial administrators therefore arrived at a compromise: teach European arts and Christian religion in order to make African workers subservient, and because Africa had no culture and art to speak of.
Once the Kenyan "arrangement," otherwise referred to as "independence" began, the bashing of African arts continued, but this time in the name of employment and development. The ruling elite continued to hound Kenyans that the arts was not useful for development, but in the meantime, their own children attended arts schools. Clearly, the issue with the arts for the ruling elite is not the value of the courses to development; rather, it is that the elite do not want a citizenry that is creative and asks complex questions. The elite fear the humanities and the arts for the poor because they know that these are the subjects where citizens ask the larger questions about justice and humanity.
It is therefore possible that since Ruto wants to be part of the aristocracy, he must bash the arts and adopt a hostile position on Kenyan universities, as they have done since 1963.
Kenyan universities and Kenyan presidents
Since our "arrangement" began in 1963, no Kenyan president has pretended to care for academics, and no Kenyan president has graduated from a Kenyan university.
Under the first two presidents, students were killed, jailed and exiled. Faculty were detained and exiled. The two presidents didn't attend university, and made no apologies for it. There was no love lost between them and Kenyan universities.
In the Kibaki era came our first president with university education, but also with the neoliberal promise: if universities would be "market oriented," and economically self-sustaining, the government would respect them and stop the madharau for faculty. In other words, we academics had to transform ourselves into CEOs if we were to get any respect.
One Vice-Chancellor who grabbed on to that promise was Olive Mugenda, former VC of Kenyatta University. She was handsomely rewarded for being the quintessential CEO. She was often in the news, and her expenditure on advertising paid off with a position on the Nation Media Group Board. The university's real estate shot up, programs multiplied and KU campuses spread all over the country. She received an award (if not two) for the best performing government institution. But as with all neoliberal fantasies, she left the university with a debt that was recently to be bailed out by Parliament.
However, with rigorous thinking having been expelled from universities by previous presidents, every university wanted to do what Mugenda was doing. VCs now needed bigger cars, and a team of administrators for their office alone, because how would people know that universities are as respectable as corporations, unless their VCs looked like a CEO?
Universities also hijacked technical colleges. The main point of annexing technical colleges was not, as many believe, the lack of respect for non-degree education. The main point was to build additional campuses and not have to start from scratch with fundraising and buildings. In other words, it was laziness on the part of university administrators. Since the tenure for VC is 10 years, VC's don't have the luxury of 20 or 40-year plans for growing a new campus. They need to still be in office when the campus is finally complete, and so it's easier to hijack a technical college.
But the other reason for the spread of campuses was the American business logic that had affected churches - the logic of franchises. The lie of the franchise is that we can make more money if we're all over the country. Because academics aren't exactly strong on business skills, they seem not to remember that it takes money to make money. One needs to sink money into the new university branches (not campuses) before the branches are running on their own.
Other market-oriented gimmicks adopted by Kenyan universities included spending tons of money on marketing and advertising, funding of PR and marketing departments whose budget is multiple times that of academic departments, and hiring of business consultants to impose performance contracts, strategic plans and the whole neoliberal shbang. The most devilish change was the scramble to gain ISO certification - which is a managerial certification for companies serving customers rather than for educational institutions. It was during this time that universities also started having an academic police department called "quality assurance," again a term borrowed from manufacturing, and that would be the local chief representing the needs of the central power in the Commission of Higher Education (now the Commission of University Education).
For neoliberal president Kibaki, it didn't matter what kind of education Kenya was offering her people. What mattered was that the institutions were running like businesses.
Then came Muigai Kinyatta as president, and with him the sense of entitlement, which means huge spending on rich kid fantasies and inevitable austerity. We still don't know how often he went to class, but we're told he graduated and Amherst College has said it's no longer responding to inquiries about his stint there. But Muigai has other legitimacy fish to fry. He's mummy's boy, and nobody takes him seriously, not even people of his tribe, hence the need to keep swearing things, joining councils and bringing charms from Israel to convince themselves that his presidency was ordained by God. So the current president does not really have the time to care what we educated people think, when the peasants are also raising eyebrows.
And he doesn't need to care about Kenyan universities,. He did not get his degree from one anyway.
Enter one William Samoei Ruto.
Ruto just can't figure what to do with universities. All his university education has been in Kenya. He started his political career in YK92 with university students as a major component. If God-ec gives him the presidency in 2022 (since our presidents are ordained by God-ec), he will be the first president who not only attended a public university, but attended it as a government sponsored student. So Kenyan universities are in Ruto's blood.
The problem is that Ruto has also sold his soul to join a social class that doesn't care for universities, least of all Kenyan ones. If reports are to be believed, he has aped the feudal path to power: own as much land as possible, build hotels to serve Western tourists, and flirt around with propping politicians' kids to demonstrate that he has no intention to upset the rules of the oligarchy.
However, Ruto knows that no matter how rich he is, the kids of politicians club will always look down on him because he is not royal blood. Occasionally, he makes an outburst about the presidency not being the reserve of royal blood, and other times, daddy's boys will gang up together and make it clear that he is not one of them. On other days, he wants to portray himself as an ordinary person who can relate to the struggles of ordinary wananchi, hence referring to himself as a hustler. And as Christine Mungai argues elsewhere, even his religious performance uses the language of the ordinary Kenyan Christian without ties to the old, mainstream and rigid church traditions. As she says, associating with evangelical and pentecostal movements (andkneeling in prayer and crying publicly, I would add), boosts Ruto's image of being an ordinary Kenyan, because these movements are "democratic, in a sense. Anyone who was “on fire”, who demonstrated a personal holiness, could speak with real authority. God could use anyone." Even Ruto's faith is a hustler faith.
But when it comes to university education, Ruto hasn't figured out what to say about the ordinary Kenyan who grows up without a silver spoon in his mouth, and goes through the ranks of the public education system.
That's why from the beginning, Ruto has been fumbling on his pronouncements about the arts. He trashes the arts because he thinks that he must talk like the oligarchs to have a shot at the presidency. When he was higher education minister in 2010, he said that the government would not fund arts and humanities because they are a waste of resources and they don't build the nation. Since 2015, he has been attacking history by talking about Vasco da Gama's "discoveries," despite the fact that one of the common examples of contempt of colonial history is the teaching of Europeans having "discovered" African geographical sites, as if Africans had not been living next to them for centuries.
What is amazing about Ruto's confusion is that he doesn't see that actually, he is unique as a Kenyan educated in the Kenyan university system. This factor would actually boost the image he wants to erect of himself as an ordinary Kenyan. Instead, he is repeating the nonsense of aristocrats who do not want ordinary Kenyans going to university or worse, do not want ordinary Kenyans pursuing courses in the arts.
It is possible that this confusion comes from the fact that his relationship with Muigai is sealed in the blood of victims of the 2008 post-election crisis. That is probably why he can't decide whether he is an aristocrat or a hustler. Instead of embracing Kenyan universities - and all of us in them - he is aping the madharau that aristocracy has for Kenyan university education. Yet as far as universities are concerned, Ruto has an advantage over even Raila who didn't study in Kenya.
So Ruto does not give us in the universities and in the arts a break. He lacks a policy of education more coherent than Muigai's Big 4 agenda that continues the colonial project of reducing Kenyans to workers for capital. Instead of discussing the renaming Nam Lolwe and those peaks on Mt. Kenya with European names, he's repeating colonial nonsense about Vasco da Gama's "discoveries." Yet if anything, renaming our geographical landmarks is part of the "anthropogenic activities of land use" that he wrote his dissertation about. It is futile for Ruto to repeat colonial history lessons just so that he can belong to an aristocracy that will never respect him. If Ruto does not decide whether he is a hustler or an aristocrat, his political greed may lead him to the same fate as the hyena of our folktales.
And the same lesson goes for the rest of us Kenyans. Our constitution affirmed the centrality of WE THE PEOPLE in the destiny of our nation, but we are now being distracted by the spouses and offspring of politicians into panel beating our constitution to suit the kids of Jaramogi, Ngina and Moi. If we do not decide whether we're a republic or a monarchy, we too will split this nation like the proverbial hyena. And unlike for Ruto, our split will not be as bloodless as a failed political ambition. The split will be bloody for us.