Ruto: The hustler that has ended an era of dynastic rule

The 55-year old William Samoei Ruto was declared winner of Kenya’s presidential election, having led the United Democratic Alliance party under the Kenya Kwanza (Kenya First) coalition, thereby becoming Kenya’s first sitting deputy president to succeed the incumbent following competitive elections and first candidate to win the presidency at first attempt.

Ruto’s victory beat many odds as he faced a sustained pushback by the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, his former ally who chose instead to back his former archrival and longtime opposition leader Odinga. Kenyatta and Ruto are former allies since the former’s first presidential attempt in 2002, which he lost. Following the violence that ensued after the 2007 elections, both Ruto and Kenyatta were indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) as the suspected masterminds of the mass atrocities. They teamed up to contest in 2013 and 2017.

Prior to the election, Ruto characterised Kenyatta and Odinga as the embodiments of dynastic politics and entitlement, reported the Capital Times. Kenyatta is the son of Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya while Odinga is son of Oginga Odinga, Kenya’s first vice president. By defeating the Kenyatta-Odinga coalition, Ruto prevailed against the state, powerful elites, a biased media, the intelligentsia, civil society and jaundiced polling firms. His victory has been termed both historic and phenomenal.

“Kenya’s political power matrix is dominated by a tiny clique related by familial and economic ties and adept at manipulating tribalism to capture the state,” reports the Captial Times in Kenya, which further states that Ruto was elbowed out by the establishment which he wrestled by appealing directly to the masses from where he hails. 

Media further reports that for almost six decades, political and economic power has been confined within a group around Kenya’s first two presidents – Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi. “Raila Odinga joined this group in the sunset years of Moi’s tenure and counted on it to propel him to power in the just concluded elections. The group has leverage over state agencies and the security apparatus. It exploits state power to advance commercial interests spread across the entire gamut of Kenya’s economy.”  Capital Times reported. 

Ruto accuses the powerful families of state capture – exploiting their control of the state to enrich themselves primitively.

But Ruto is not entirely blameless. For acquiring the vast wealth he reportedly possesses, critics accuse him of hypocrisy for championing the downtrodden, or ordinary Kenyans whom he refers to as “hustlers”.

During the campaigns, Ruto fronted the bottom-up economic model where he advocated the dispersal of economic and political opportunities, and dignifying the poor. It invokes equity, inclusivity, social justice and fair play. He centres his promise on ending mass unemployment, poverty, inequalities and state excesses such as extrajudicial executions and runaway corruption.

He thus positioned himself as an agent of class consciousness hitherto absent in Kenya’s political discourse and competition. “By rebranding himself as the antithesis of the status quo and personification of the hopes of the poor, his messaging resonated with a cross spectrum of the marginalised.”

Ruto’s fight for supremacy began when his boss and ally Kenyatta launched a campaign to disqualify him from the succession race. Kenyatta left Ruto powerless and a titular Deputy President after 2017, with the hope that he would frustrate him into resigning. Ruto fought back really hard. Media painted Ruto as the villain, corrupt, a land grabber, and a tribalist among many names he was branded. He reacted by reminding his accusers that they were no better. 

According to the Capital Times, Ruto cut his political teeth under the mentorship of the long-serving autocrat Daniel arap Moi in the early 1990s. Facing presidential opponents for the first time in 1992, Moi mobilised the youth vote with the help of young politicians, under an outfit known as Youth for KANU ‘92. Ruto was one of the youthful politicians who crafted the successful – but equally infamous – re-election strategy in 1992. This involved Moi sanctioning the printing of money used to bribe voters, among other things.

“Ruto’s entry into parliament in 1997 was in defiance of his mentor. Moi, a fellow Kalenjin from the Rift Valley, had tried to prevail on Ruto not to run. Moi exited in 2002 and Ruto astutely won over the Kalenjin voting bloc and used it as a launching pad into national politics. Moi had wanted to bequeath it to his son, Gideon. Hence the fallout between Moi and Ruto,” it reports. 

“Ruto’s victory has broken the back of dynastic dominance of Kenya’s politics and economy. Peripheral actors will emerge as he reorganises Kenya’s state and politics. As to whether Ruto will live to his lofty promises and prise open the economy for the benefit of all, that remains an open question,” the Capital Times writes in perpetual hope that with Ruto a new era will reign. 

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