NAIROBI — William Ruto vowed to work for all Kenyans after being sworn in as president in a pompous ceremony on Tuesday, five weeks after his narrow victory in a hard-fought but largely peaceful election.
Tens of thousands of people joined the regional leaders in a packed Nairobi stadium to watch him take the oath, with crowds dressed in the bright yellow of Ruto’s party cheering loudly and waving Kenyan flags.
“I will work with all Kenyans no matter who they voted for,” the 55-year-old said in his inaugural speech, announcing a series of measures to address the country’s economic difficulties.
“In this process, we have demonstrated the maturity of our democracy, the robustness of our institutions and the resilience of the Kenyan people.”
He described his swearing in as Kenya’s fifth president after independence as a “moment like no other”.
“Today I want to thank God because a boy from the village has become President of Kenya,” he added.
A notoriously ambitious politician who has served as vice president since 2013, Ruto beat his rival Raila Odinga – who had the backing of former president Uhuru Kenyatta – by less than two percentage points in the Aug. 9 ballot.
On September 5, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld his victory, dismissing his opponents’ allegations of fraud and mismanagement.
The rags-to-rich businessman who once sold roadside chickens faces a daunting task as the country grapples with a deep cost of living crisis, youth unemployment and a tormenting drought.
‘DAWN OF RUTO ERA’
African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, who attended the ceremony, hailed the peaceful transfer of power in a post on Twitter, saying it was “an enduring mark of the political maturity of the country”.
The rise of the self-proclaimed “Hustler-in-Chief” has been watched closely by the international community, which views Kenya as a reliable and stable democracy in a turbulent region.
“Dawn of the Ruto era,” trumpeted the front-page headline of The Standard Ke newspaper, while The Star said: “It’s Ruto time.”
Several people have already been injured when crowds tried to enter the stadium. Television footage showed dozens of people falling on top of each other in a melee at a front door.
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.
Kenyatta, who in 2018 struck a pact with longtime rival Odinga and sidelined his deputy Ruto in a surprising turn of events, had promised a smooth transition of power.
The 60-year-old had deliberately failed to publicly congratulate his successor for several weeks and finally shook hands during a meeting at the presidential residence in Ruto on Monday.
And Ruto’s new deputy president, Rigathi Gachagua, fired shots at Kenyatta at the swearing-in ceremony, saying the new government had inherited a “declining economy”.
Odinga, meanwhile, declined an invitation to attend the event, accusing the electoral commission of failing to hold “free and fair” elections.
‘FORGE UNITED FRONT’
Observers say Ruto faces the difficult task of building goodwill after a divisive 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,” The Standard Ke wrote in an op-ed.
Many Kenyans stayed away from the polls, with disenchantment and economic hardship responsible for the low turnout.
“With exorbitant public expectations and an economy in distress, governing may prove more difficult than campaigning,” warned the International Crisis Group think tank.
Ruto, whose new presidential emblem bears his party symbol, the humble wheelbarrow, will receive a salary of about $144,000 a year and all the trappings of a presidential office.
His inauguration marks the end of nearly a decade in power for Kenyatta, and one of the few occasions when his powerful family has not been at the forefront of Kenyan politics.
Already one of Kenya’s wealthiest citizens, he is eligible for a generous constitutional transfer if he leaves office after serving the maximum two terms allowed – a tax-free lump sum of $324,000 and more than $600,000 AF of allowances per person per year.
- Editor/ additional report by AFP/ The Standard Ke