Kenya’s Ruto: From Village Chicken Seller to President

Kenya's Ruto: From Village Chicken Seller to President
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SAMBUT, Kenya, Aug 15 (Reuters) – In the rolling red hills outside the western Kenyan city of Eldoret, residents remember William Ruto as a barefoot schoolboy selling chicken at a roadside stall.

As they greeted his ascension to the presidency of their country on Monday with a mixture of pride and disbelief, they remembered that even then he possessed a fierce intelligence. read more

Esther Cherobon, who was in Ruto’s year at school, said with a smile, “I couldn’t imagine that someone who had no shoes in his life in primary school could become president.”

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“We imagine that all the leaders are from wealthy families.”

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

Ruto takes office as Kenya faces looming challenges. Billions of dollars in debt borrowed by former President Uhuru Kenyatta to fund infrastructure waste are due.

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

Ruto, now 55, has made Kenya’s class divisions the focus of his campaign to become Kenya’s fifth president, promising to reward low-income “aggressors” and lashing out at Kenya’s political dynasties.

It was a barely veiled blow to his rival Raila Odinga – Ruto lost in a close vote that took almost a week for Kenya’s electoral commission to announce results – and Kenyatta, the country’s first vice president and president’s son, respectively.


But Kenyan politics is often a dance performed with comfortable partners rather than political differences, and the circumstances of Ruto’s rise were no exception.

He became one of Kenya’s youngest legislators and ministers, gaining recognition as a youth organizer for former strongman Daniel Arap Moi.

He supported Odinga during a hotly contested election in 2007 in which 1,200 people were killed after political violence led to ethnic cleansing.

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

Ruto later switched sides and became Kenyatta’s vice president in 2013. But after the 2017 elections, Kenyatta reconciled with Odinga and distanced himself from Ruto.

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

During this campaign, he chose a wheelbarrow to represent Kenya’s casual workers, although he himself – now a wealthy business tycoon – traveled in a pimp sports car decked out in party colors and nicknamed The Beast.

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

In July, a court ordered Ruto’s vice-presidential pick, Rigathi Gachaqua, to pay 202 million shillings ($2 million) in what it determined were proceeds of corruption. Gachagua and Ruto rejected the sentence as politically motivated. Gachagua said he will appeal the decision.

As president, Ruto has promised to reign in borrowing, publish opaque deals with China, fight corruption and provide loans to small businesses. read more

Already suffering from COVID-19, poor Kenyans are also struggling with global food and fuel price hikes. Many are angry that Kenyatta has not reigned in widespread corruption.

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Edited by Duncan Miriri, James Macharia Chege and John Stonestreet

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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