Kenya: who is William Ruto, the new president elected on the wire?

At 55, William Ruto was declared the winner of the presidential election in Kenya with 50.49% of the vote against 48.85% for Raila Odinga. This last on August 16 rejected the results, calling them a “travesty” and promising to pursue all legal options available to him. William Ruto won after having worked to polish his sulphurous reputation by proclaiming himself spokesperson for the “resourceful” of the common people, in the face of the power of dynasties.

The outgoing vice-president, at the head of one of Kenya’s greatest fortunes, proclaimed himself “hustler in chief” (“chief hustler”)leader of the “hustler nation” educated millions of poor workers trying to survive in a country beset by economic difficulties.

“Chief Resourceful”

His accession to the supreme function completes the legend of the “self-made man” built by this child of a modest family in the Rift Valley (west). This science graduate, professor before entering politics in the 1990s within the youth party of the autocrat Daniel arap Moi, likes to recall that he only got his first pair of shoes at the 15 years old and selling chickens on the roadside. He is now at the head of a large poultry business, one of the pillars of his fortune which would also include hotels, thousands of hectares of land… The extent of his assets has been the subject in September 2021 of a lively controversy between the Ministry of the Interior and the Vice-President, who accused the authorities of wanting to discredit him.

“Dynasties”

The break between Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta, alongside whom he was elected in 2013 and 2017, has been consummated for several years. The head of state had indeed dubbed him, assuring him of the support of the presidential party for the 2022 election, not having himself the right to run for a third term. But after his re-election in 2017, followed by violence that left dozens dead, Uhuru Kenyatta gradually moved closer to his historical opponent Raila Odinga, to whom he finally gave his support. William Ruto then went on a crusade against the alliance of “dynasties” Kenyans embodied by Kenyatta and Odinga, heirs of two families at the heart of Kenyan politics since independence in 1963.

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Crimes against humanity

Uhuru Kenyatta the Kikuyu, the country’s largest ethnic group, and William Ruto the Kalenjin, the third in number, had joined forces in 2012 to conquer power, in what had been dubbed the “coalition of defendants”. They were both prosecuted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their role in the post-election violence of 2007-2008, the worst since independence (more than 1,100 dead and 600,000 displaced) . The two men were on opposite sides at the time, and Ruto allied with Raila Odinga. The ICC had described William Ruto as the main planner of the violence against the Kikuyu community in his Kalenjin Rift Valley stronghold, before dropping all charges in 2016.

“Born again”

The one who was one of the most feared men in the country worked to polish his sulphurous reputation which mixed accusations of violence, corruption, appropriation of land and embezzlement which he continues to deny. β€œHe is considered one of the most effective strategists in Kenyan politics,” points out Nic Cheeseman, professor at the University of Birmingham (United Kingdom). This 50-year-old Christian born again claimed and father of six children, is often affable. His rhetoric of “resourceful”betting on a social cleavage more than an ethnic one, has particularly found an echo among young people.

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