On Tuesday, September 13, 2022, 55-year-old William Ruto was sworn in as the official 5th president of Kenya after winning the August 9th election by a very narrow margin. Moreover, he also had to deal with a challenge made to the Supreme Court by his opponent, Raila Odinga, to reject the results and not declare him the winner.
For the majority of the election, it was a remarkably peaceful transition of power for a region known to have leaders who would hold office for decades as well as a violent history of political turmoil. Disarray didn’t occur until the final days of the election when it seemed that Ruto would be the clear winner and some prominent supporters of Odinga desperately tried to change the results. Odinga then challenged the results, accusing Ruto of cheating his way to victory through tactics such as tampering with the polling station results. However, the Supreme Court of Kenya unanimously upheld the results of the election, declaring the accusations made against Ruto as hearsay.
Although Odinga stated that he didn’t like the result, he still respected it, and fears from the public that the election might turn violent like the ones in 2007 and 2017 were quelled. Odinga didn’t attend the ceremony of Ruto’s swearing-in, but the outgoing president Uhuru Kenyatta did attend, and he handed Ruto the ceremonial sword that represented the power of the office of the President. Kenyatta originally favored Odinga during the election and even said that Ruto was “not fit for office” despite having Ruto as his deputy president for the past decade. However, Ruto asked Kenyatta to continue “chairing discussions” for regional crises in Ethiopia where its government is fighting Tigray forces, as well as for tensions with Rwanda.
The event took place in Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi, the nation’s capital, where many important African political leaders such as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Djiboutian president Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, among many other African leaders, and thousands of people filled the stadium. The stadium was so crowded, that some people got injured while trying to make it in time for the ceremony. Many were crushed by the hordes of people or beaten up by police after trying to force their way past security forces guarding the entrance. A fence even fell after some people pushed it over, injuring about 60, and that number may continue to rise according to on-site medics. “We had to treat some with minor injuries. Most of them were rushed to the main hospital in Nairobi,” said Peter Muiruri, a medic. Regardless, thousands of supporters waving Ruto’s party colors, yellow and green, as well as Kenyan flags flocked to see the inauguration of their new president.
Ruto marketed himself as a “hustler,” since he was a poor boy who grew up selling chickens, but then became a successful businessman who hasn’t forgotten about his humble beginnings. He even made his party symbol that of a wheelbarrow. His party’s message resonated with many of Kenya’s unemployed families that live lives of poverty and suffer from the corruption of the political dynasties that have controlled Kenyan politics ever since the first president was inaugurated. Both Odinga and Kenyatta are sons of Kenya’s first political leaders, however, Ruto isn’t, which made him more relatable to Kenya’s younger population. “He is our fellow youth! I know he will bring us more opportunity,” said dancer Juma Dominic.
Ruto comes into office during a time when Kenya, which is supposed to be East Africa’s most stable country, is suffering from inflation in food prices, high unemployment rates, and high debt. Ruto promised that he would make 40 million bags of fertilizer available at half price to all Kenyans starting next week. Moreover, he also promised to put more effort into fighting poverty and the reason why the region is in a food crisis in the first place: a severe drought that could lead to famine if it isn’t dealt with. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it,” said Ruto in his first tweet as the president of Kenya.