Kenya’s Ruto: From Village Chicken Vendor to President

SAMBUT, Kenya, Aug 15 (Reuters) – In the red hills outside the town of Eldoret in western Kenya, locals remember William Ruto as a barefoot schoolboy who sold chickens at a roadside stall.

Even then he possessed a fierce intelligence, they recalled, as they greeted his rise to the presidency of his country on Monday with a mixture of pride and disbelief. Read more

“I couldn’t imagine that someone who didn’t have shoes all their life in elementary school could become president,” smiled Esther Cherobon, who was in Ruto’s year at school. .

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“We imagine that all leaders come from wealthy families.”

He was always the boy with the best grades at school in the village of Sambut, she said, where part of the institution he attended – a one-room mud building with a rusty tin roof – still exists.

Ruto takes office as Kenya faces a confluence of challenges. Billions of dollars in loans that incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta borrowed to fund an infrastructure splurge are coming due.

The worst drought in 40 years has devastated the north, forcing 4 million people to rely on food aid.

Now 55, Ruto has made class divisions in Kenya the centerpiece of his campaign to become Kenya’s fifth president, promising to reward low-income “scammers” and scorning Kenya’s political dynasties.

It was a thinly veiled jab at his opponent Raila Odinga – whom Ruto beat in a close ballot which Kenya’s electoral commission took nearly a week to announce – and Kenyatta, son of the first vice president and president of the country, respectively.


But Kenyan politics is often a dance performed with practical partners rather than rooted in political differences, and the circumstances of Ruto’s rise were no exception.

He rose to prominence as a youth organizer for strong former President Daniel arap Moi, becoming one of Kenya’s youngest legislators and ministers.

He had backed Odinga in a hotly contested election in 2007, when 1,200 people were killed after political violence sparked ethnic cleansing.

He and Kenyatta were indicted at the International Criminal Court for violence, in a case that later collapsed. A Kenyan lawyer is currently on trial, accused of interfering with witnesses in the Ruto case – charges he denies.

Ruto then switched sides and became Kenyatta’s vice-president in 2013. But they fell out after the 2017 elections when Kenyatta reconciled with Odinga and walked away from Ruto.

Ruto insiders describe him as a gifted speaker with a fierce work ethic.

During this campaign, he chose a wheelbarrow to represent Kenya’s casual workers, although he himself – now a wealthy business tycoon – traveled in a party-colored SUV nicknamed The Beast.

Odinga sought to undermine Ruto’s popularity by questioning the probity of his vast business empire.

In July, a court ordered Ruto’s vice president, Rigathi Gachagua, to repay 202 million shillings ($2 million) which he said were the proceeds of corruption. Gachagua and Ruto dismissed the judgment as politically motivated. Gachagua said he would appeal the decision.

As president, Ruto has promised to reign in borrowing, publish opaque contracts with China, fight corruption and disburse loans to small businesses. Read more

Poor Kenyans, already reeling from COVID-19, are also grappling with rising global food and fuel prices. Many are angered by Kenyatta’s inability to reign in rampant corruption.

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Editing by Duncan Miriri, James Macharia Chege and John Stonestreet

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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