William Ruto has emerged the winner of a tense and fiercely fought contest for Kenya’s presidency, but who is the man who will lead east Africa’s largest economy?
As a boy, Ruto grew up on his family’s farm in a quiet village in the Rift Valley, selling chickens from a roadside stall to make money. In his presidential campaign, he tapped into those roots, touting himself as a “hustler” Kenyan who pulled himself out of poverty and into the country’s corridors of power.
Ruto, who has served as deputy president since 2013, pulled off a stunning defeat against his chief opponent, veteran politician Raila Odinga.
The 55-year-old will become Kenya’s fifth president since the country declared independence. His party, Kenya Kwanza (Kenya First) coalition, has also won a majority of seats in Kenya’s Senate, the upper house of the parliament.
It was through church leadership at the University of Nairobi that Ruto got his first taste for politics, meeting and campaigning for former president Daniel Arap Moi in the 1992 elections.
“He (Moi) identified me from the university where I was a worship leader and took interest in me. He introduced me to politics, groomed me and inculcated in me the culture of servant leadership,” Ruto said in April, according to a report in local media.
Ruto, who studied botany and zoology at university, later receiving a doctorate in plant ecology, started to shift his focus to politics in the 1990s. In 1997, he took a gamble and ran for the parliamentary seat of the Eldoret North constituency, which he won. He rose through the ranks and was re-elected as a member of parliament in 2002.
He was acquitted of corruption charges in 2011 and in 2013 was tried alongside then-President Kenyatta at the International Criminal Court, accused of crimes against humanity for stoking ethnic violence following the 2007 elections. However, the charges were later thrown out.
“There were predictions that we won’t get here, but … we are here,” Ruto declared in his victory speech on Monday.
The father of six, who is fiercely religious, took the opportunity to recite verses from the Bible and praise God. “I want to confess that I have been prayed into victory,” added Ruto, who chaired the Christian Union in his college days.
Ruto calls his supporters “hustlers” and describes himself as “hustler-in-chief.”
He has promised a break from the “dynasties” that have dominated Kenya’s political landscape since independence, like the Odingas and Kenyattas. Odinga’s father was a former vice president and outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta’s father, Jomo Kenyatta, was the country’s first president in 1963.
Odinga, a former prime minister and opposition leader, has spent a quarter of a century vying for the presidential spot, running five times. He has said this will be his final contest.
A bitter battle
It was a bitter battle to the end for the former foes-turned-allies-turned foes again.
A fight broke out, the results were delayed for several hours and four out of seven electoral commission officials disputed chairman Wafula Chebukati’s results, describing them as “opaque.”
Odinga’s coalition rejected the results before they were even announced, but Ruto was eventually announced winner with 50.49% of the vote. Odinga later doubled down, saying on Tuesday that, in his coalition’s view, “there is neither a legally and validly declared winner nor a president-elect.”
Ruto has faced several hurdles en route to landing Kenya’s top job. He first declared his intention to run for president in 2006, but lost his party’s nomination. Again, in 2013, he declared his candidacy for the presidency. But he set aside that ambition, joining forces with Kenyatta to form the Jubilee Party and running with him on a joint ticket.
They emerged winners in that election and were sworn in as president and deputy president in April 2013, for a term of five years
However, the pair had a falling out in 2018 and while he retained the title of Kenya’s deputy president, Ruto lost most of his powers and responsibilities. Kenyatta didn’t back him for the presidency, opting for Odinga instead.
Ruto’s win has not been a resounding mandate and he will come under pressure to provide solutions to Kenya’s pressing economic problems, including growing debt, high food and fuel prices, and mass youth unemployment.
Many disillusioned voters stayed away from the polls with turnout at 64.6% of the registered voters, compared to 79.51% in the 2017 elections, according to the latest preliminary data from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
Analyst Moses Odhiambo said Kenyans simply felt that both leading candidates represented more of the same.
“Among the front runners, people are keen to balance between what is perceived as continuity and freshness within a continuity,” Odhiambo said.
“Ruto is the deputy president and part of the current government. There’s a perception that Odinga could be an extension of the current president because of the support the president has given him.”