Why playing the sympathy card may backfire on Ruto

Why playing the sympathy card may backfire on Ruto

The expectation that ‘humiliation’ of Deputy President William Ruto could earn him sympathy votes is a risky gamble that could backfire, analysts have warned.

While the DP has marketed his ‘Hustler Nation’ and Bottom-Up economic model as his main campaign policy, his allies and strategists are now banking on what they termed their continued harassment to score political points ahead of  next year’s polls.

Isolated in government and staring at what would be an anti-establishment stab at the presidency, the DP says he has been mistreated even by ‘junior’ government officials, some of who took over his responsibilities because of his stance against amendment of the Constitution through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

“I sat with President Uhuru Kenyatta and we interviewed (Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred) Matiang’i. He is not a bad man. The only thing he needs to stop is contempt and arrogance. That is it,” the DP said last week after the CS unleashed a list of properties he claimed are owned by the DP and guarded by the police and whose value is estimated at billions of shillings.

Dr Ruto’s strategists are now keen to use Dr Matiang’i’s list to their advantage, by portraying it as part of unwarranted humiliation of the DP by a government he helped form.

Chicken-selling past

Dr Ruto prides himself on his chicken-selling past, which he says provides evidence that hard-working ‘hustlers’ who own small-scale businesses can rise to the top.

“They have tried to say Ruto is not a poor person yet he claims to be a hustler. We have been trying to explain that this ‘Hustler Narrative’ is not a war between the rich and the poor. Now they have helped us make it known that it is not a must for one to be poor to be a hustler. Hustler means that one can go up the ladder,” DP Ruto said on Thursday.

Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata yesterday told the Nation that even though their bottom-up economic model resonates very well with Kenyans, the mistreatment the DP has been subjected to is likely to work in their favour.

“I think whereas I hold the firm belief Ruto is a capable leader who will manage Kenya very competently, his vote is primarily driven by protest and sympathy. The people feel the government has mistreated him and, therefore, they will vote to punish the elite currently governing the country,” Senator Kang’ata said.

The senator, who was removed from the seat of Senate Majority Whip for associating with the DP, further stated that reported plans by the government to freeze the Deputy President’s bank accounts and send tax demand letters to him would not stop their mission.

Wealth propaganda

“Propaganda about his wealth or his possessions or lack of money will not impact his vote,” he said.

Keiyo South MP Daniel Rono said no amount of humiliation would clip their quest for the top seat, arguing that they have won Kenyans’ hearts with their ‘Hustler Narrative’.

“The DP is on course because what has been happening to us was not much of a surprise. Our support base is intact. DP Ruto is even stronger with the ‘Hustler Movement’,” Mr Rono told the Nation.

But Prof Macharia Munene of the United States International University argues that while the politics of sympathy being embraced by Dr Ruto’s camp is likely to bolster his presidential quest, as a strategy it could boomerang depending on what is revealed.

“Politics of sympathy is a winning strategy in the sense that people tend to empathise with anyone who is seemingly under attack from powerful quarters. The sympathy might, however, be eroded once unpleasant details come out, depending on how they are handled,” Prof Munene explained, adding that there is a “possibility of someone pulling the sympathy rug from under his feet”.

Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, another key ally of DP Ruto’s, said they are not so much out to earn sympathy from the electorate but to build an economic model that would serve Kenyans.

Not bothered by intimidation

The vocal lawmaker told the Nation Thursday that they are no longer bothered by intimidation from the government.

“We are not concerned with sympathy but busy with an agenda that will improve the economy of this country and enhance the livelihoods of our people,” said Mr Nyoro.

“They have been intimidating us for years now but we remain unbowed. They are the Deep State, but why can’t they look for deeper things rather than what they are doing now?” the Kiharu MP asked.

Political analyst and governance expert Javas Bigambo argued that after the DP and his camp realised they are soft targets of the State, they are now busy converting all the negative energy channelled their way into productive political energy.

He is of the opinion that the latest bombshell on the DP’s wealth has given him a lot of attention compared to his political nemeses and he is likely to use it to boost his chances of succeeding President Uhuru Kenyatta.

“After every political storm, they are presenting themselves as meek targets and that easily earns them sympathy. We have to recall that Kenyans seem to be always enchanted with and mesmerised by the underdog. So far, the strategy has earned the DP's camp all the eyeballs and attention, compared to his competitors. As such, the stockpiles of sympathy are translating into support and this bolsters his confidence,” Mr Bigambo argued.

Mr Bigambo, however, cautioned that relying solely on sympathy could lead to what he termed ‘sympathy fatigue’.

“The sympathy-hunting mission will subsist as long as the perceived persecution persists. If the intensity of the persecution is not scaled upwards, then the mission would be short-lived, or suffer sympathy fatigue,” he said.


University of Nairobi lecturer XN Iraki is of the view that if the DP fails to dismantle the claim that he is playing to the gallery and capitalising on ‘hypocrisy’, the strategy he has adopted is likely to be counter-productive.

“Kenyans tend to sympathise with sufferers and hustlers. His sympathy strategy could work but only if he can kill the narrative that he drinks wine while preaching water with regard to his wealth. He has already tried through his proxies by pointing out the wealth of his perceived distractors,” Prof Iraki explained.

Dr Ruto has downplayed recent changes to his security detail, saying he has no problem being guarded by Administration Police and that “they can even bring in the G4S” (a private security company).

When Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko referred to the Deputy President as a clerk, the second-in-command went ahead to embrace the tag, coining the appellation ‘Hustler Clerk’.

While defending the changes to the DP’s security, Dr Matiang’i accused Dr Ruto and his allies of always looking for opportunities to earn sympathy.

"The problem with our country is that some people suffer from sympathy addiction. They’re always looking for opportunities to lament about this and that to attract sympathy. We in the security sector make decisions after serious considerations knowing we shall be held accountable,” Dr Matiang’i said on Wednesday last week.