Kenya’s Ruto: From village chicken seller to president

SAMBUT, Kenya Aug 15 (Reuters) – In the red hills outside the western Kenyan city of Eldoret, residents remember William Ruto as a barefoot schoolboy who sold chicken at a roadside stall.

Yet he had great intelligence, he recalled, as he greeted his ascension to the presidency of his country on Monday with a mixture of pride and disbelief. Read on

“I can’t imagine a person who has never had shoes all his life in primary school can become president,” said a smiling Esther Cherobon, who attended Ruto’s school.

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“We imagine that all leaders are from rich families.”

He was always the top scorer at the village school in Sambut, she said, where part of the institution he attended – a one-room mud building with a rusted iron sheet roof – still stands.

Ruto took office at a time when Kenya was facing a convergence of challenges. Outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta has defaulted on billions of dollars in infrastructure loans.

The worst drought in 40 years has ravaged the north, leaving 4 million people dependent on food aid.

Now 55, Ruto made the campaign centerpiece to become Kenya’s fifth president, promising to reward low-income “hustlers” and disdain Kenya’s political dynasties.

His opponents are Raila Odinga – whom Ruto defeated in a tight ballot that took almost a week to be announced by Kenya’s Electoral Commission – and Kenyatta, the son of the country’s first vice president and president respectively.

Political dance

But Kenyan politics is usually a dance with convenient partners rather than political differences, and the circumstances surrounding Ruto’s rise were no exception.

He rose to prominence as a youth organizer for former strongman President Daniel Arap Moi, becoming Kenya’s youngest MP and minister.

He supported Odinga during hotly contested elections in 2007, when political violence sparked ethnic cleansing that killed 1,200 people.

Both he and Kenyatta faced charges at the International Criminal Court over the violence, in cases that later collapsed. A Kenyan lawyer is now on trial accused of tampering with witnesses in Ruto’s trial – charges he denies.

Ruto later switched sides and became Kenyatta’s deputy president in 2013. But they fell out after the 2017 election, when Kenyatta reconciled with Odinga and distanced himself from Ruto.

Ruto insiders describe him as a gifted orator with a strong work ethic.

During the campaign he chose a wheeled vehicle to represent Kenya’s casual workers, although he himself – now a wealthy businessman – traveled in a pimped-up sports utility vehicle emblazoned with party colors and nicknamed The Beast.

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

In July, a court ordered Ruto’s deputy president Rigathy Gachagua to return 202 million shillings ($2 million) that it determined were the proceeds of corruption. Gachagua and Ruto have dismissed the decision as politically motivated. Gachagua has said he will appeal the decision.

As president, Ruto has promised to rein in borrowing, publish opaque deals with China, tackle corruption and distribute loans to small businesses. Read on

Poor Kenyans, already suffering from Covid-19, are also being hit by rising global food and fuel prices. Many are angered by Kenyatta’s failure to reign in rampant corruption.

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Editing by Duncan Miriri, James Macharia Chege and John Stonestreet

Our Standards: Principles of Thomson Reuters Trust.

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