William Ruto Hot after Winning Kenyan Presidential Elections

  • Ruto used his status as an outsider to win the presidential elections. 
  • This win will help him implement his own economic policies in a Kenya which is on the verge of economic collapse. 
  • Ruto decided to continue with the previous administration’s foreign policies, and keep Kenya as a regional peacemaker.
William Ruto
William Ruto – courtesy of Creative Commons

Why is Ruto’s heat level hot ?

Answer: Ruto won Kenya’s presidential elections despite not being Kenyatta’s preferred successor

On the 5th of September, the Kenyan Supreme Court confirmed William Ruto’s presidential victory. However, the announcement was made a month after the end of the election due to allegations of fraud from his opponent, Raila Odinga, and his supporters. Though after a month of political drama, having his victory confirmed by the Supreme Court after a month-long investigation solidifies his power and shuts down any potential legal challenges to Ruto’s legitimacy.

While his temperature is hot, it is not blazing. This can be explained by the fact that while he did win the presidential elections, his victory was very slim, only winning by a margin of 1.7 points. Ruto ran his campaign pledging to remove taxes on fuel. However, in his inaugural speech, he explained that due to its excessive cost ($2,3 billion per year), he would instead scrap fuel subsidies. Ruto’s election also had a historically low turnout with only sixty-five percent of voters showing up to the polls due to reported low confidence for either candidate.

What is changing Ruto’s temperature?

Answer: Ruto’s portrayal of himself as an outsider helped him win a lot of votes

What pushed Ruto just across the finish line in the election was his self-portrayal as a political outsider. He highlighted the fact that he came from a poor background and was not like the Kenyan elites, such as Kenyatta and Odinga, who have dominated the Kenyan political stage. Ruto also played on the fact that he is one of Kenya’s largest maize farmers, meaning he could relate to all Kenyan farmers and keep their best interests in mind. This is especially important now since Kenya has been suffering from a severe drought which has since left four million Kenyans facing starvation, an important point for many of Kenya’s vulnerable voters. 

Ruto also was able to win over many votes from voters of Kikuyu ethnicity, who have typically voted for Kenyatta, despite being from a Kalenji background and his falling out with the former president. This is especially important since Kenyan elections are highly dominated by ethnic politics. This shift in the traditional voting alliances can be explained by the fact that Kenyatta decided to back Odinga, who is from a Luo background. Odinga’s background is significant as there is a history of political and economic tensions between the Kikuyu and Luo, a miscalculation from Kenyatta which cost Odinga Kikuyu votes. Another strategic move that helped solidify his victory was his selection of Rigathi Gachagua as a running mate. Not only is Gachagua from Central Kenya and Kikuyu, but he is also an outgoing member of the Kenyan parliament and has a lot of sway in the region. 

Finally, the newly-elected President managed to gain many votes by basing his proposed economic policies on a  “bottom-up” economic model aimed at supporting millions of Kenyans, especially the lower class. Another key aspect of his policies was that it was meant to increase Kenya’s agricultural productivity through access to affordable fertilizer. These policies were key in helping him win the votes of the Kenyan electorate.

What is driving Ruto?

Answer: Achieving his economic and foreign policies

Kenya is on the verge of economic collapse with high debt and a high unemployment rate. While Kenya’s economy has been growing, in 2021 it had the highest unemployment rate in East Africa and its debt represents over 68 percent of the country’s GDP. On the international level, Ruto addressed the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) asking for an extension of debt relief for African countries. Additionally, the agricultural sector which contributes to more than 33 percent of Kenya’s GDP has been hit very hard by this year’s drought. To remedy these problems, Ruto is pushing for several economic policies focusing on increasing agricultural productivity and creating funds for young entrepreneurs. 

As tensions are rising between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda, Ruto is hoping to have a more active role in the peacekeeping process. During the last few months, the DRC has accused Kigali of backing the M23 rebels. On the other hand,  the Rwandan government has accused Kinshasa of supporting the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (Front Démocratique de Libération du Rwanda). Ruto wants Kenya to be able to prevent any conflict between the two nations. Moreover, Ruto pledged to deploy the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) as part of the East African Community regional force in the northern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Furthermore, Ruto showed that his foreign policy will be a continuation of the previous administration as he choose Kenyatta as his peace envoy for the horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region, Kenyatta is already familiar with the situation in the region as he pushed for negotiations to put an end to the conflict taking place in the Tigray region. Moreover, this is a very symbolic action because both leaders have been at odds since 2018, when Kenyatta decided to support Odinga in the upcoming elections. 

In addition to being a regional peacemaker, the new Kenyan President also wants to be a leader in African climate change. On the 20th of September, Ruto spoke about the danger of climate change and its effects in Africa during the UN’s General Assembly. The Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also created a program that will be centered around Ruto meeting other African heads of state to discuss climate change and come up with viable solutions. It was also announced that Ruto will chair a meeting on the topic of climate change and Africa at the Conference of African Heads of State on Climate Crisis.

What does this mean for you?

Answer: Ruto’s success will determine the future of Kenya and the EAC

Ruto’s election will impact Ethiopians in more ways than one. First of all, Ruto explained that he wants to help bring peace to the country. However, Ruto’s aim is also to bring stability to Ethiopia as according to him:  “a faltering Ethiopia weakens Kenya.” For Ruto, this means keeping Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, in power. However, this is not a viable option for the citizens of the Tigray region because they want Abiy gone. This resentment stems from Ahmed’s army’s actions during the conflict. Indeed, his army has been accused of perpetrating crimes against humanity such as ethnic killing and rape of civilians. Ruto’s choice of bringing stability to Ethiopia by keeping Ahmed in power is not a choice that is welcomed by all Ethiopians. 

The success of the new President’s economic and foreign policies is key. If they are successful they will be helping the four million Kenyans who have been starving since the beginning of the drought. It is also important for the stability of the region. Indeed, as mentioned before Ruto’s foreign policy will be similar to Kenyatta’s as the former president was assigned the position of his peace envoy. This is important since President Kenyatta and his policies have managed to restore a sense of integration when it comes to the members of the East African Community. Kenyatta also helped increase the cooperation between the members through the construction of  infrastructure such as highways, ports and railways.

Roxane de Bergevin

Research & Analysis Member