President-elect William Ruto/Photo: William Ruto/Facebook

Kenya: Can a ‘hustler’ deliver on his promise?

Against the prediction of pundits, Kenya’s current deputy president, William Ruto, clinched the top job at the country’s general election albeit with the narrowest of margins. The self-styled ‘hustler’ won 7,176,141 votes (50.49%) to defeat veteran politician Raila Odinga (6,942,930 or 48.85%), to become Kenya’s fifth president since independence from the British in 1963.

The 55-year-old Ruto, who calls himself a hustler to emphasise his humble background, did not only run against a formidable opponent in Odinga (77), who vied for the fifth time for the presidency at the 9 August polls, but also the sitting president, Uhuru Kenyatta, who had backed the opposition candidate. Kenyatta was not eligible to contest due to the two-term limit in the Constitution of Kenya.

Ruto’s clever election narrative was that such a dream career of rising from nowhere to the pinnacle of political power should become normal in Kenya. It’s a message that resonated with many Kenyans and it brought him victory, even if narrowly. All the presidents of Kenya since independence are connected to the elite class that inherited the administration of the country from the British.

Ruto dedicated his election manifesto to those “at the bottom of the pyramid” and announced controlled prices for agricultural products, subsidies for fertilisers and support for the creation of micro-enterprises.

Economists doubt the capacity of the newly-elected president to deliver on his central campaign message of an economic turnaround for the two-thirds of society living in precarious conditions and now also struggling with the economic consequences of the pandemic and rising food and fuel prices.

What Ruto, who will be sworn into office on 30 August, will definitely need in his new office is the ability to balance and compromise and assure Kenyans that he would be a president for all, analysts say. The election between him and Odinga could hardly have been closer – the nation is evenly divided in their support for the two politicians. Odinga has rejected the result and announced he would begin a legal challenge. But this is normal in Kenyan and African politics. Defeated candidates hardly accept their loss.

Perhaps even more important for Ruto will be to get those who did not vote out of frustration with Kenyan politicians to be excited about democracy again. At around 65 percent, voter turnout was historically low by Kenyan standards at the 2022 general elections. Whether the ambitious new president has the capacity to do so remains to be seen.

General elections were held in Kenya on 9 August 2022. Voters elected the President, members of the National Assembly and Senate, county governors and members of the 47 county assemblies. General elections in Kenya are held every five years. This was the third general election and the fourth presidential one since the promulgation of the 2010 constitution. The incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta was not eligible for a third term, nor were two-term county governors as stated by the country’s laws.

Adira Kallo

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