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President William Ruto responds to claim he could be Kenya's authoritarian leader

Kenya’s President William Ruto during an interview that aired on Al-Jazeera on Saturday, September 24, 2022. [Courtesy of Al-Jazeera]

President William Ruto has allayed fears that he could oversee an authoritarian regime as he starts serving his term as Kenya’s fifth president.

An authoritarian leader makes decisions on policies, procedures and group objectives with little or no input from his or her team members or followers.

Dr Ruto said he won’t, nonetheless, compromise on service delivery and integrity of those serving in his government.

The president was interviewed by Al-Jazeera’s James Bays. The interview aired on Al-Jazeera at 7:30am East Africa Time (EAT) on Saturday, September 24.

In framing his question, Bays said: “I have been reading lots of profiles about you (Ruto). They all say you are very hardworking and determined, but also tough and sometimes uncompromising. Some people are speculating that you might have an authoritarian streak. So, are you the right man to build consensus?”

In response, President Ruto said: “I think I have a history of building consensus. A majority of the people who have worked with me have come to appreciate that yes, I’m firm, I’m determined, I’m focused, and that’s the only reason I have gotten myself here (presidency). Unless you are that firm, you can’t get anything done.

“However, the consensus I have built to win this election should confirm to you and all that I’m a consensus person. I wouldn’t have put together the team that gave me the opportunity to win this election.”

ICC

Ruto also addressed concerns on how the world leaders perceive him, given he was previously a suspect of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands.

“The members of the international community are knowledgeable people, or so I expect. The law in Kenya, which is also the universal law, is that an allegation can be made about anybody. And allegations are allegations, until they are proven. And if allegations are not proven, then it means they just remain rumours and insinuations.

“The people of Kenya [voted for me knowing who I am]. I did not get here by any other means, but by the will of the people of Kenya.

“I know the international community may carry that baggage (the perception that people have about me), but over the years, many of them have come to realise that I’m not the person that was being described in those charges [at the ICC].”

Ruto, who was facing crimes against humanity charges at the ICC alongside former president Uhuru Kenyatta over 2008 post-election violence, was freed by The Hague-based court in April 2016 over lack of evidence to sustain the case.

August 9, 2022 election

During the Al-Jazeera interview, the president also responded to a question on whether he thinks Kenya is split down the middle after the August 9, 2022 polls.

This was in reference to the almost-equal support that he (Ruto) and Raila Odinga had in the presidential race.

Ruto won the election after getting 7.18 million votes (50.49 per cent) against Odinga’s 6.94 million (48.85 per cent).

“I think when you say the country is divided, those are not the right words. Every one of us has a role to play. There are those of us who will be in the Executive [arm of Government]. My competitors, on the other hand, will also be doing an equally important responsibility for the people of Kenya by providing oversight over the government that I’ll set up. So, they (opposition) will also be participating in the governance of our country,” said Ruto.

“The Government of Kenya is the government for all people regardless how they voted.”

The president said his grass to grace life story makes him the best politician to lead Kenya as president, stating that his background gives him a “vantage view” of Kenyans’ problems.

“My background gives me the worldview understanding of what the issues [affecting ordinary people] are. I have gone through the leadership transition as a Member of Parliament [for Eldoret North], Cabinet minister [in Home Affairs, Agriculture and Higher Education ministries], deputy president and now president. That gives me a vantage point on solutions to the challenges that face our country,” he said.

The Head of State also said he’ll prioritise addressing the health and economic hardship wrought by severe drought, especially in northern Kenya.

“We have 3.1 million Kenyans in northern Kenya that are in dire need of food. We’ve had to reorganise our budget so that we can deploy our resources for food relief in those areas. The people in northern Kenya have not harvested in the last four years, 70 per cent of their livestock have since died. It’s a serious situation [that needs our intervention as government,” said Ruto.

Fuel subsidy

The president also revisited debate on the fuel subsidy programme that had been put in place by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration to cushion Kenyans against higher fuel prices.

“The subsidies on fuel are not sustainable economically and that’s why I removed them. In fact, the whole subsidy regime was a drain on our development resources. Over the last three or four months alone, we spent Sh140 billion on [fuel] subsidy. When I came into office, the first assignment I had was to meet with the Energy sector [stakeholders].

“I looked them in the eye and asked them whether this (fuel subsidy) was going to go on… We were spending Sh16 billion a month on subsidies, yet we did not have that money. I put a stop to it and the people of Kenya understood that it wasn’t in their best interest to continue with the fuel subsidy,” said Ruto.

The president is in the United States of America, where he recently attended the United Nations General Assembly.