Kenya’s Ruto: From village chicken seller to president

Kenya’s Ruto: From village chicken seller to president

SAMBUT, Kenya, August 15 (Portal) – In the rolling red hills outside the western Kenyan town of Eldoret, residents remember William Ruto as a barefoot schoolboy selling chickens from a street stall.

Even then he possessed a fierce intelligence, they recalled as they hailed his ascension to his country’s president on Monday with a mixture of pride and disbelief. Continue reading

“I couldn’t imagine that someone who didn’t have shoes their whole life in elementary school could become president,” said a grinning Esther Cherobon, who was in Ruto’s school year.

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“We assume that all executives come from wealthy families.”

He was always the boy with the best grades at school in the village of Sambut, she said, where part of the facility he attended – a one-room mud building with a rusting sheet iron roof – still stands.

Ruto takes office as Kenya faces a convergence of challenges. Billions of dollars in loans taken out by outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta to fund an infrastructure investment are coming due.

The worst drought in 40 years has devastated the north, forcing 4 million people to depend on food aid.

Ruto, now 55, made Kenya’s class divisions the centerpiece of his campaign to become Kenya’s fifth president, promising to reward low-income “hustlers” and showering contempt on Kenya’s political dynasties.

It was a thinly veiled blow to his opponents Raila Odinga – whom Ruto defeated in a close vote that took Kenya’s electoral commission nearly a week to announce – and Kenyatta, son of the nation’s first vice-president or president.


Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto and presidential candidate of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) and Kenya Kwanza political coalition poses for a picture after he was declared the winner of Kenya’s presidential election at the IEBC National Tallying Center in the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi , Kenya August 15 2022. Portal/Thomas Mukoya

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But Kenyan politics is often a dance performed with easy partners and not rooted in political differences, and the circumstances surrounding Ruto’s rise were no exception.

He rose to prominence as the youth organizer of former strong President Daniel arap Moi and became one of Kenya’s youngest lawmakers and ministers.

He had supported Odinga in the hotly contested 2007 elections, when 1,200 people were killed after political violence sparked ethnic cleansing.

Both he and Kenyatta were charged with the violence at the International Criminal Court, in a case that later collapsed. A Kenyan lawyer is now on trial accused of disrupting witnesses in Ruto’s case – allegations he denies.

Ruto then changed sides and became Deputy President of Kenyatta in 2013. However, they fell out after the 2017 elections when Kenyatta reconciled with Odinga and distanced himself from Ruto.

Ruto insiders describe him as a gifted public speaker with a fierce work ethic.

During that campaign he chose a wheelbarrow to represent Kenya’s casual workers, though he himself – now a wealthy business tycoon – traveled in a souped-up sports utility vehicle decked out in party colors and nicknamed The Beast.

Odinga tried to undermine Ruto’s popularity by questioning the probity of his extensive business empire.

In July, a court ordered Ruto’s vice-presidential candidate Rigathi Gachagua to pay back 202 million shillings ($2 million) that stemmed from corruption. Gachagua and Ruto have dismissed the verdict as politically motivated. Gachagua has announced that it will appeal the verdict.

As president, Ruto has promised to curb borrowing, publish opaque contracts with China, fight corruption and pay out loans to small businesses. Continue reading

Poor Kenyans, already shaken by COVID-19, are also grappling with global hikes in food and fuel prices. Many are upset that Kenyatta is failing to rein in rampant corruption.

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Edited by Duncan Miriri, James Macharia Chege and John Stonestreet

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