As a boy, Ruto grew up on his family’s farm in a quiet village in the Rift Valley, where he sold chickens from a roadside stall to earn money. In his presidential campaign, he tapped into those roots, praising himself as a “hustler” Kenyan who pulled himself out of poverty and into the power corridors of the country.
The 55-year-old will become Kenya’s fifth president since the country declared independence. His party, Kenya Kwanza (Kenya First) coalition, has also secured a majority of seats in Kenya’s Senate, the upper house of parliament.
It was through church leadership at the University of Nairobi that Ruto got his first taste for politics, meeting and campaigning for former President Daniel Arap Moi in the 1992 elections.
Ruto, who studied botany and zoology at university and later obtained his doctorate in plant ecology, began to shift his focus to politics in the 1990s. In 1997, he took a gamble and ran for the Eldoret North constituency parliamentary seat, which he won. He rose through the ranks and was re-elected as a member of parliament in 2002.
He was acquitted of corruption in 2011 and was tried in 2013 with then-President Kenyatta at the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity for fomenting ethnic violence after the 2007 elections. However, the charges were later dropped.
“There were predictions that we would not get there, but… we are there,” Ruto said in his victory speech on Monday.
Ruto calls his supporters ‘hustlers’ and describes himself as ‘hustler-in-chief’.
He has promised a break with the ‘dynasties’ that have dominated Kenya’s political landscape since independence, such as the Odingas and Kenyattas. Odinga’s father was a former vice president and the father of outgoing president Uhuru Kenyatta, Jomo Kenyatta, was the country’s first president in 1963.
Odinga, a former prime minister and opposition leader, has competed for the presidential spot, five times, for a quarter of a century. He has said this will be his last game.
A bitter struggle
It was a bitter battle to the end for the former enemies who became enemies again.
A fight broke out, the results were delayed for several hours and four of the seven Election Commission officials contested Chairman Wafula Chebukati’s results, calling them “opaque.”
Odinga’s coalition rejected the results before they were even announced, but Ruto was ultimately declared the winner with 50.49% of the vote. Odinga later doubled down, saying Tuesday that according to his coalition, there is “no legally and validly proclaimed winner, nor an elected president.”
Ruto has had to overcome several hurdles on his way to the top track in Kenya. He first declared his intention to run for president in 2006, but lost his party’s nomination. Again, in 2013, he declared his candidacy for the presidency. But he put that ambition aside, joined forces with Kenyatta to form the Jubilee Party and walked with him on a joint ticket.
They emerged as winners in that election and were sworn in as president and vice president for a five-year term in April 2013.
Ruto’s victory was not a resounding mandate, and he will come under pressure to provide solutions to Kenya’s pressing economic problems, including mounting debt, high food and fuel prices and massive youth unemployment.
Many disillusioned voters stayed away from the polls with a turnout of 64.6% of registered voters, compared to 79.51% in the 2017 election, according to the latest preliminary data from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
Analyst Moses Odhiambo said Kenyans simply felt that both top candidates represented more of the same.
“Among the frontrunners, people like to strike a balance between what is perceived as continuity and freshness within a continuity,” Odhiambo said.
“Ruto is the vice president and part of the current government. There is a perception that Odinga could be an extension of the current president because of the support the president has given him.”