NAIROBI — William Ruto will be sworn in as Kenya’s president on Tuesday in what has been described as “the day the LORD made” after narrowly winning the coveted post in a hard-fought but largely peaceful election.
Twenty heads of state and thousands of spectators are expected at his inauguration in a stadium in Nairobi.
A notoriously ambitious politician and vice-president since 2013, Ruto beat his rival Raila Odinga – who had been backed by incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta – by less than two percentage points.
He now faces the daunting task of leading a polarized country plagued by a cost-of-living crisis and a punishing drought, analysts say.
The 55-year-old businessman who once sold roadside chickens will become only Kenya’s fifth president in post-independence history.
By law, William Ruto must be sworn in by 2 p.m. (1100 GMT) on Tuesday, exactly five weeks to the day since the Aug. 9 election.
His rise to State House has been watched closely by the international community, which relies on Kenya as a reliable and stable democratic partner in a turbulent region.
Foreign allies and independent observers hailed the conduct of the vote, which was largely peaceful and free from the violence that marred recent elections in the country of 50 million people.
William Ruto only won by about 200,000 out of 14 million votes cast, but the Supreme Court upheld his victory on September 5, dismissing his opponents’ allegations of fraud and mismanagement.
‘HAND OF BROTHERHOOD’
Incumbent leader Kenyatta, who in a surprising turn of events campaigned for his longtime rival Odinga, has promised a smooth transfer of power.
Kenyatta finally shook William Ruto’s hand during a meeting at the president’s residence on Monday, after several weeks of not publicly congratulating his deputy.
Ruto adopted a conciliatory tone, extending the “hand of brotherhood” to his rivals and their supporters.
“We are not enemies. We are Kenyans,” Ruto said after the court ruling.
But observers say he faces the difficult task of building goodwill after a divisive and costly political campaign that lasted more than a year and was littered with bitterness and personal slander.
“Now is the time to close ranks, embrace the opponents and help forge a united front without cheap political competition,” Kenyan newspaper The Standard wrote in a September 11 editorial.
Many ordinary Kenyans stayed away from the polls, with disenchantment, especially among young people, and economic hardship blamed for the low turnout.
East Africa’s political and economic power is suffering from a once-in-a-generation drought and inflation is at its highest level in five years.
William Ruto said on Sunday that Kenya was “in a deep economic hole” and reiterated his commitment to prioritize cuts in the cost of living when he takes office.
From humble beginnings, the multimillionaire has portrayed himself as a champion of the underdog throughout his campaign, promising to create jobs and tackle the cost of living crisis.
His ambitious pledges included the creation of a 50 billion shillings ($415 million) “Hustler Fund” to lend to small businesses and a commitment to lower fuel, grain and fertilizer prices.
But the task of turning the country’s economic situation around may not be easy, the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank said, urging Ruto to tackle the challenges quickly.
“Kenya’s 2022 elections may have been a success…However, for William Ruto, governing could prove more difficult than campaigning given sky-high popular expectations and a struggling economy,” he said. he said in a statement.
Ruto’s inauguration marks the end of Kenyatta’s nearly decade-long rule, and one of the few occasions when his powerful family has not been at the forefront of Kenyan politics.
The incumbent president, who is already one of Kenya’s wealthiest citizens, will be generously sacked under Kenya’s constitution if he leaves office after two terms, the maximum number allowed by law.
The 60-year-old receives a tax-free lump sum of $324,000 a year and more than $600,000 in allowances.
Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta, will also have access to fully furnished offices, dozens of assistants, VIP security and new cars of his choice, which will be replaced every three years.
- Editor/ additional report by AFP/ The Standard Ke