55-year-old William Samoi Ruta was recognized as the winner of the presidential elections in Kenya. He is the leader of the United Democratic Alliance party in the Kenya Kwanza (Kenya First) coalition. Ruto defeated his main rival in the election, 77-year-old Raila Odinga, who ran for the Azimio la Umoja (Declaration of Unity) coalition.
He becomes the first incumbent Deputy President of Kenya to replace an incumbent after a competitive election, and the first candidate to win the presidency on his first attempt.
The announcement of the results was temporarily disrupted due to chaotic scenes from supporters of the losing candidate who claimed irregularities. The situation worsened further when the four commissioners broke down, held a separate press conference and denounced the results as “opaque”.
Ruto won the election despite continued opposition from incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, his former ally, who instead chose to support his former arch-rival and longtime opposition leader Raila Odinga.
Kenyatta and Ruta are former allies: Ruta campaigned for Kenyatta in his first bid for the presidency in 2002, which he lost. Both were indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) as suspects in the organization of mass crimes that occurred after the disputed 2007 elections.
They then teamed up to enter the competition in 2013. They won in 2017 as well, but not before the Supreme Court annulled the first round.
However, following their spat, Ruto described Kenyatta and Odinga as the epitome of dynastic politics and entitlement. Both are the sons of Jomo Kenyatta and Oginga Odinga, Kenya’s first president and first vice president respectively.
In a sense, Ruto defeated the state, powerful elites, biased media, intelligentsia, civil society and polling campaigns. His victory is historic and phenomenal.
As a figure in Kenya’s political power matrix, dominated by a tiny clique bound by family and economic ties and adept at manipulating tribalism for state capture, Ruto was ousted by the establishment. But he is back, appealing directly to the masses, his original constituency.
Ruto against the status quo
For nearly six decades, political and economic power was confined to a group around Kenya’s first two presidents, Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi. Raila Odinga joined this group in the last years of Moi’s tenure and was counting on it to bring him to power in the just concluded elections.
The group has leverage over state bodies and the law enforcement apparatus. It uses state power to advance commercial interests that span the gamut of Kenya’s economy.
The Kenyatta family, for example, has extensive business interests. The Moises are also fabulously rich. Ruto accused these families of state capture – using their control of the state to enrich themselves.
Ruto is also, of course, a wealthy man. According to opponents in the government, he also has extensive business interests. For this reason, Ruto has been accused of hypocrisy for supporting the downtrodden or ordinary Kenyans whom he calls “frauds”.
Central to Rut’s campaign was his bottom-up economic model. Its basis is the dispersal of economic and political opportunities and honoring the dignity of the poor. It refers to fairness, inclusiveness, social justice and fair play.
His “rogue nation” movement was fueled by mass unemployment, poverty, inequality and government excesses such as extrajudicial executions and rampant corruption.
Ruto has successfully reimagined himself as an agent of class consciousness hitherto absent from Kenyan political discourse and competition. Rebranding himself as the antithesis of the status quo and the embodiment of the hopes of the poor, his message resonated with a diverse spectrum of fringes.
As a winner, he has his work cut out for him. He will have to overhaul Kenya’s socio-economic and political edifice to appease a restless and disillusioned populace.
He must provide leadership that will rid Kenyan society of tribalism, inculcate civic values and national identity. If he doesn’t, he risks becoming a victim of his own success.
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Becoming a winner
After the disputed 2017 election, Kenyatta and his close associates launched a smear campaign against Ruto. He was soon ousted from the government and remained Kenyatta’s chief aide only in the field of law. Kenyatta handed over his official duties as deputy president to a loyal cabinet minister in an attempt to downsize the office and clip Ruto’s political wings.
The goal was to delegitimize and force him to resign, thus eliminating him from the race for succession. Ruto has shown resilience despite thedisappointments.
In Kenya’s media, including social media, Ruto was the villain; scarecrow Through newspaper headlines, hashtags, prime-time news and talk shows, he has been cynically painted as the skunk of Kenyan politics exclusively associated with vices such as corruption, land grabbing, impunity, unbridled ambition, arrogance, warlord politics and ethnic cleansing.
He used this sense of victimhood to his advantage.
These vices, however, pervade Kenya’s political landscape, and the depiction was informed more out of favor than moral righteousness. His accusers are no better.
In the early 1990s, Ruto cut his political teeth under the tutelage of long-serving autocrat Daniel Arap Moi. After first facing opponents in the 1992 presidential election, Moi mobilized the youth with the help of young politicians under the name Youth for KANU ’92.
Ruto was one of the young politicians who developed a successful, if infamous, re-election strategy in 1992. Among other things, Moi authorized the printing of money that was used to bribe voters.
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Ruto’s entry into parliament in 1997 came in defiance of his mentor. My fellow Rift Valley Kalenjin tried to get Ruto not to run. Moi retired from the campaign in 2002 and Ruto deftly won over the Kalenjin electoral bloc and used it as a launching pad into national politics.
Moi wanted to bequeath it to his son Gideon. Hence the conflict between Moi and Ruto.
Here, Kenyatta-Moi-Odinga, who Ruta supported in the past, turned against him, fearing that he would end their economic and political stranglehold.
They saw Ruto – relatively young, shrewd, ambitious, forward thinking and gallant – as a threat to their dubious privileges. Now that Ruto has become president, time will tell if their fears were exaggerated.
In 2010, Ruto broke away from this group and mobilized against the adoption of the current constitution. He later defended his position on the grounds that he disapproved of parts of the constitution but accepted it when it was adopted.
He accused Kenyatta of violating the same constitution by blatantly disobeying numerous court orders and using the weapons of watchdogs and government agencies against Ruto and his allies.
Ruto also accused Kenyatta and Odinga of conspiring to illegally amend the constitution to consolidate their power and strengthen ethnicity through the Bridge Building Initiative. The attempt was struck down as unconstitutional by the High Court, the Court of Appeal and finally the Supreme Court.
Despite his rhetoric, Ruto is a creature of Kenya’s political culture, notorious for its lack of scruples. Its elite has an Anglophile outlook and contempt for the poor. It is also mired in impunity and tribalism.
Crucially, Rut’s reshaping of the political discourse to fight against dynasties gave him traction, helped him win the presidency and set the pace for this election, despite the outgoing government’s terrible record. He made choices about the rule of law, constitutionalism, equal economic opportunity for the poor and marginalized, and political competition based on cross-cutting socioeconomic interests.
This contrasted with Odinga, who publicly declared himself the candidate of the status quo, extending Kenyatta’s tenure and thereby seeking to preserve an exclusive political and economic arrangement that dates back to colonialism. It was a move that cost him the presidency in his fifth attempt.
The stakes are high for Kenyans. Ruto’s victory broke the backbone of dynastic rule in Kenya’s politics and economy. As he reorganizes the Kenyan state and politics, peripheral actors will emerge. Whether Ruto will deliver on his lofty promises and deliver an open economy that benefits all remains an open question.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.