President-elect: How William Ruto made it to the top

President-elect William Samoei Ruto. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Kenya Kwanza candidate William Samoei Ruto has been elected Kenya’s fifth president after garnering 50.49 per cent of the votes in a closely contested election.

His rival and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga came second, with 48.85 per cent of the votes, following a declaration made yesterday afternoon by Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati.

“In accordance with the law, I Wafula Chebukati chair of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission hereby declare that Ruto William Samoei has been fully elected as the President of the Republic of Kenya,” said Chebukati.

President-elect Ruto now takes over from President Uhuru Kenyatta, whom he deputised for two terms, following victories in two successive elections in 2013 and 2017.

The final tally of votes from IEBC shows that Ruto won by 7,176,141 against his closest competitor who garnered 6,942,930 votes. This was Ruto’s first stab at the presidency.

The other candidates in the race George Wajackoyah garnered 61,969 (0.44 per cent) and Waihiga Mwaure 31,987 (0.23 per cent).

His election brings his ambitions to ascend to the top seat to fruition following a relentless campaign, effectively cementing not just his popularity but his endearment to the people of Kenya.

And in his acceptance speech he said, “To all the people of Kenya, I give you my word that I will work hard to make sure that this nation moves to the next level, is united and is prosperous.”

Ruto acknowledged his predecessor President Uhuru Kenyatta, saying they had worked together in various forms.

“I want to commit to the people of Kenya that I will build on the foundation that President Kenyatta and I put together and take this country to the next level,” said Ruto.

Now, with the election done and dusted, the former deputy president finds himself in familiar territory, leading his troops once again from the government benches and bringing to life promises made to his supporters in nearly a decade of campaigns.

For the better part of the day yesterday, his supporters swamped his strongholds, and his homes, waiting for his win.

For long spells in his campaign period, he came up against a formidable opponent in the battle-hardened Raila Odinga backed by State machinery.

DP William Ruto was elected Kenya’s fifth president after garnering 50.49 per cent of the votes. [DPPS]

Yesterday though, all these tribulations seemed like a distant memory. Some of the heartache lifted and tears shed in the past dried by the celebrations from his supporters following his election victory.

Within his campaign team, spirituality has always been put on a pedestal. Even during the most gruelling of periods, those who were part of his campaign team say his reliance on the deity has remained constant with his team members encouraged to observe fasts every Wednesday.

In fact, president-elect Ruto’s first public appearance after the polls was at an interdenominational church service at the DP’s official residence in Karen, Nairobi.

“I want to thank all Kenyans who went to vote early to elect leaders for the next five years. This is the first Sunday since we went into elections,” the president-elect said.

“I also want to congratulate all leaders who were elected by all parties. The word of God reminds us in Proverbs 16:33 that voting is done to know what will come next, but the final decision is from God.”

He urged Kenyans to pray for IEBC to complete the exercise.

“The Bible says the end of something is better than the beginning and we pray to God to be so. I urge all Kenyans across the country to be patient and persevere to give IEBC time to perform its mandate. As we have done this election peacefully and in agreement, let us also finish the same way so that we continue ahead as a nation as we celebrate our citizenship as Kenyans,” he added.

From the day he announced his bid for the presidency, it was clear that his campaign would be a bit different from what the country was used to. Ruto’s campaign was often characterised by a countrywide blitz, seeing him traverse the length and breadth of the country.

At the beginning, there was less polarising rhetoric from his lieutenants but as we drew closer to the election date and stakes rose higher, the gloves fell off and bitter exchanges between him, his opponents and the man he is succeeding went a notch higher.

For a brief period of the campaign, it looked like the spirituality that he and his team had built around would fall off and be forgotten and the image he had cultivated of an earnest number two was soon to be challenged after his unease with President Uhuru Kenyatta came to the fore, the two openly exchanging barbs after falling out soon after they were reelected.

But even as this went on, there was always an element of doubt over his bid. Throughout his campaign, Ruto faced persistent doubts over his political awareness and whether he had lost touch with the needs of his supporters and the realities of Kenyan voters. His competitors painted him as a man with unbridled ambition. As a man who was tunnel visioned in getting the presidency.

Compared to his competitor, nearly two decades his senior, he seemed by far the more energetic. His choice of running mate Rigathi Gachagua, was criticised as a wrong move.

DP-elect Rigathi Gachagua. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

Ruto sidestepped Central Kenya leaders’ favourite- Prof Kindiki Kithure- and took a gamble on Gachagua. 

But by this time, little mattered. The ground covered by the Ruto juggernaut during years of campaigns gave him an almost unassailable head start that he maintained from gun to tape in the race for the presidency.  

Ruto and his campaign team kept the faith and stuck to a rather unfamiliar script that dwelt not just on the issues but on the emotions of the electorate as well, going back to an ‘us versus them’ mentality that had served him so well in previous campaigns, effectively turning the election into a class war- between the haves and have nots. The hustlers versus the dynasties. A protest vote at a time of great strife within the country.

And as Wafula Chebukati announced his election victory, it was clear that the hard work had paid off. On his first attempt, Ruto beat a rival who was contesting for the presidency for the fifth time and with the endorsement of a sitting president.

For Kenya’s new president, the journey to State House has been a long and winding one that on many occasions threatened to derail.

Now, he finds himself not just at the centre of power, but wielding it all. And equally significant, finding himself, almost overnight, with the weight of the nation on his shoulders.

Ruto promised so much during his campaigns. Cheap loans. A turnaround of the agricultural sector. A fund for small businesses and many more ideals that seem unreachable.

Key to his first days as president will be to manage these expectations, including the skyrocketing cost of living. Ruto is now in charge of a government riddled with debt and lacking in public belief. He inherits sins of omission and commission that he contributed to over the past decade.

When he takes the oath of office, he will also be reminded that he has been handed the task of balancing the needs of 14 million voters, almost half who believed his competitor’s plans for the future were better.

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