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Three hurdles William Ruto must overcome if he becomes our next president

Macharia Munene
Deputy President William Ruto during the declaration of presidential election results by the IEBC, Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi County. [Standard]

To become president-elect, William Samoei Ruto overcame some hurdles and still has others to surmount. He served three administrations as minister and deputy president and knows government. Politically resilient and calculating, he dethroned Reuben Chesire, a close friend of President Daniel arap Moi, to join Parliament in 1997 as a Kanu rebel. He showed that ability in the 2022 presidential campaign that was full of drama, surprises, and anguish. If the Supreme Court confirms him president, he should avoid the mistakes that presidents Moi, Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta made.

Before being declared president-elect, there was worrying drama and mystery. First, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, IEBC, used the 2017 Maina Kiai court decision that results announced at the polling station were final and binding and could be ‘corrected’ only by a court of law, to appear transparent.

IEBC brilliantly decided to post polling station results in form 34A on its web and invited everyone to tally the votes in real-time by simply getting into the portal. Initially, media houses helped the public by posting their calculations but stopped mysteriously with barely 500,000 votes remaining to be counted. 

Second, there were reports of immense pressure on IEBC officials. When IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati announced that the Embakasi East Constituency Returning Officer Daniel Musyoka had gone missing, apprehension intensified. Days later, Mr Musyoka’s tortured body was found near Oloitoktok in Kajiado County.   

Third, 2022 was similar to 2007 in misbehaviour of attempting to stop declaration of presidential results. In 2007, activists jumped on tables to prevent Samuel Kivuitu, the Chairman of the electoral agency then, from announcing the winner. In 2022, the picture was uglier as activists even destroyed furniture and physically attacked Mr Chebukati and other IEBC officials in an effort to stop the announcement. With commission officials injured, the function was temporarily stopped until the clergy and the police restored order. Chebukati then made his declaration that Ruto was president-elect.

Fourth, IEBC itself became a source of drama as commissioners split just before the main announcement. Four commissioners disappeared from Bomas only to appear at Serena Hotel to denounce their chairman. Throughout the tallying exercise, all the commissioners were enthusiastic, positive, and assured the public that they were ready to present results. At Serena Hotel, they looked uneasy, denouncing their own work and confused in attempting election mathematical wizardry. The effect of the split and the arithmetic puzzle was to cast aspersion on the credibility of the election.

The intended Supreme Court appeal appeal is not surprising; it is part of the evolving drama and it is actually positive for the country. The case being in the Supreme Court will have a political temperature cooling effect as people await the decision. Since the contest was very close, the likely loser had prepared to appeal and as a result lawyers on both sides had been gathering ‘evidence’ for such an eventuality.

The appeal provides chances for young lawyers to shine and an opportunity for Supreme Court judges to raise their profiles by displaying judicial prowess. In making the decision, each judge will probably consider three factors; the solidity of evidence, sense of justice, and national interest.

Assuming Ruto jumps the Supreme Court hurdle to take office, he will confront three perception challenges. First is the hurdle of winning the confidence of roughly half of the 14 million voters. This requires tact to smoothen bruised egos. Second, is the hurdle of managing expectations of those who trusted him.

Third, is the hurdle of avoiding alienating large numbers of supporters without succumbing to every demand. This calls for deep thinking beyond the cronies; that is another hurdle.