William Ruto, Kenya’s vice president for the past decade, ran on a promise to boost the economic prospects of the working class but election results have been tainted by the vote which has been called “opaque“ after a week of tension.
Deputy President William Ruto, who painted himself as a champion for Kenya’s poor, was declared winner in the country’s presidential election on Monday, defeating veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga.
But the announcement was embroiled in controversy even before it came, when four electoral commissioners said they would not stand by the results because of the “opaque nature” of the process.
The losing candidate’s running mate, Martha Karua, tweeted, “It is not over till it is over,” raising the prospect of a challenge to the official result.
The contest was extremely close.
Ruto, 55, won 50.49% of the vote, compared with 48.85% for Odinga, according to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
The new president will succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has served his two-term limit.
The results came after nearly a week of tension waging across the East African nation, where past elections have been followed by deadly violence that many Kenyans desperately hoped to avoid this year.
What happens next – especially the reaction of Odinga and his supporters – will be closely watched in Kenya and abroad, including Washington, where Kenya is considered an important counter-terrorism ally and anchor of stability in the region.
Minutes before the chairman of the electoral commission Wafula Chebukati announced the result at one venue, the deputy chair, Juliana Cherera, appeared at another location raising questions about the vote count.
“We are not able to take ownership of the results that will be announced,” she said.
The division within Kenya’s official election body will likely spawn countrywide confusion. It also means that Odinga, who was on his fifth bid for the presidency, is more likely to challenge the results in Kenya’s supreme court, as he successfully did in 2017.
That period, during which the court declared the results invalid, was marked by violent street protests and human rights violations.
Although voting unfolded largely peacefully on Tuesday, tension ratcheted up in the days since polls closed. Disinformation has proliferated online, fuelled by both campaigns.
Kenya’s independent election commission announced one of its officials had gone missing.
Media organisations, which had started tallying the results on their own, paused and then resumed their counts, giving a variety of explanations that left Kenyans with more questions than answers. Election officials urged patience.
As anxiety increased, some families in parts of the country that had seen violence erupt in past elections, packed their bags and moved. Others did not have that option.
“I don’t have money, but if I did, I would move,” said 89-year-old Monica Waithera, whose daughter was killed when violence erupted in Mathare, one of Nairobi’s largest slums, in 2008.
Waithera had been having trouble sleeping since the polls closed, worried about what could happen but hopeful that peace would prevail.
“I’m praying that things will not get bad again,” she said, “and that God will send us a leader, a leader who can help me buy milk.”
The new president will have to tackle the country’s massive debt, soaring inflation, a drought in the north that has left millions hungry and increasing youth unemployment.
The race to succeed Kenyatta was among Kenya’s most tightly contested battles, pitting two of the country’s most established politicians against one another.
This year, in a twist, Kenyatta backed Odinga, a long-time adversary with whom he formed an alliance in 2018, over Ruto, his deputy.
Kenyatta and Ruto publicly fell out during their second term in government and frequently sniped at each other on the campaign trail.
Unlike past elections, this competition was shaped more by class than ethnicity, with Ruto describing the competition as one between “hustlers” like himself and “dynasties” like those of the Kenyattas and Odingas. Odinga’s father was the country’s first vice president, and Kenyatta’s was its first president.
Ruto often talked about being a chicken seller in his youth, arguing that he is best positioned to represent Kenya’s youth and poorest citizens and promising a “bottom-up” economic model targeted toward small businesses and addressing unemployment.
Odinga countered that Ruto is trying “to create a class war” and is not the champion of the poor that he claims. Ruto, who built his career as a businessman, now travels frequently in helicopters and owns numerous properties, including a mansion, a luxury hotel and a massive chicken farm.
Ruto has dismissed claims by critics that his wealth was acquired through corruption. His running-mate, Rigathi Gachagua, was ordered by a court last month to pay back about $1.7 million (R27, 6 million) that it determined was linked to corruption. Gachagua said the decision was meant to undermine his candidacy.
Tribe still played an important factor, with Ruto’s success due in part to his support among the Kikuyus, Kenya’s largest tribe, according to initial results.
Three of Kenya’s four presidents, including Kenyatta, have been Kikuyus. The late-President Daniel arap Moi was from the Kalenjin tribe. Ruto is from the Kalenjin tribe, and Odinga is from the Luo tribe, which historically has had an especially tense relationship with Kikuyus.
After casting her vote in Nairobi, Anne Mugure, 61, said she voted for Ruto because she thought he would do the best job, and also because, as a Kikuyu, she said had reservations about Odinga.
The grandmother, who said she works multiple jobs to make ends meet, said Ruto’s description of himself as a “hustler” resonated with her.