William Ruto has spoken publicly about the debt stress caused by Chinese loans and is seen by many as someone who can balance China’s overpower in Kenya.
New Delhi: Kenya’s Supreme Court has upheld the result of the August 9 presidential election. He agreed with the Independent Electoral and Borders Commission. (IEBC) that Vice President William Ruto is the legitimate winner. The unanimous Supreme Court verdict handed down by the first female Chief Justice Martha Koome is seen as bolstering peace and democracy in Kenya.
The judgment showed the independence of the Kenyan Supreme Court, although it contrasted with its ruling five years ago when it overturned Uhuru Kenyatta’s election victory following a challenge from his opponent of the time, Raila Odinga. Odinga did not contest re-election allowing Uhuru to be president for a second term. This time, Raila Odinga’s luck ran out both in the stands and in the Supreme Court.
William Ruto led a populist campaign positioning himself as a “scammer”. He has led the campaign between common people and dynasties since President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga are the sons of Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta and First Vice President Oginga Odinga respectively. Turnout was around 65%, the lowest in recent elections. What mattered most was the aggregation of votes, even in regions where Ruto was on the losing side.
What are the significant aspects of this election? First, Ruto, who hails from the Kalenjin tribal coalition, seized on the political legacy of Kenya’s second president Daniel arap Moi.
Ruto became Kenyatta’s vice-president and was rendered ineffective during his tenure. Instead, Kenyatta shook hands with Raila Odinga who is now running for his fifth presidential election. Ruto had to overcome not only Raila Odinga, who comes from the 4th largest but ambitious Luo tribe, but also Kenyatta’s hold on the dominant Kikuyu tribe of central Kenya. Both Ruto and Raila had Kikuyu running mates, but neither seems to have made a difference. Nevertheless, Kenyatta does not seem to have retained his hold on the Kikuyu zones, or the zones he won last time around, as Ruto got bigger votes in all of those zones. Even in the regions where Raila won in 2017, his voice share declined, leading to his loss.
In a narrow election, the vote difference was small. Ruto scored 71.76.141 or 50.49%, while Odinga scored 69.42.930 or 48.85%. The other candidates from the small parties obtained less than 1% of the votes. Ruto won 25% of the vote in 39 counties, 15 more than the 24 required by the Constitution, showing the success of his campaign which focused on those at the bottom of the scale.
The second aspect is the maintenance of democracy. The election had glitches in several places. The IEBC split as 4 of the 7 commissioners dissented from the election result in favor of Ruto. This strengthened Odinga’s electoral petition, but then, according to the Supreme Court’s judgment, the petition seemed legally invalid and could not produce adequate evidence.
It looks like there will now be a general acceptance of Ruto as president, and the post-election violence that has marred recent polls is clearly absent. This is indeed a positive aspect. After the 2008 elections, which Kenyatta won mainly due to Ruto’s electoral management, Kenyatta and Ruto were charged in the International Criminal Court. The cases have passed over a period of time due to lack of information from the Kenyan government. Democracy now seems healthier.
The third aspect is that there is definitely a wind of change in Kenya. About 70% of sitting parliamentarians and governors in central Kenya appear to have lost. Thus, the anti-mandate against Kenyatta, with whom Odinga was now associated, seems to have rubbed off on the opposition, rather than on Ruto, who was the vice-president of the same government. Ruto focused the campaign on economic issues and how people deserved a better life. No one seemed to question him about his role in Kenyatta’s government.
Although there have been changes, the most important thing is that a large number of young people I spoke to did not vote. The low voter turnout this time is mainly due to young people showing their frustration and not voting. It’s not a good sign.
There was more emphasis on female candidates and, for the first time, Martha Karua, a woman, was the running mate of a presidential candidate, Raila Odinga. Seven governors, three senators and 26 deputies are women. In Meru County, Kawira Mwangaza, CEO of an energy solutions company, ran as an independent candidate, beating her male rivals. This is in addition to the 47 seats that are allocated to women in parliament.
Ruto now has the advantage of being the best electoral officer in Kenya, having won at least three elections, and perhaps when his turn came to run for president he did not let his talent to get lost. However, Ruto has no administrative experience, despite serving as vice-president, as Kenyatta gave him a low-key role. Ruto must form a coalition to keep the country together and bring Kenya to a faster pace of growth.
In foreign policy, Ruto is inexperienced; in East Africa, he is followed by long-time leaders like Museveni in Uganda and Kagame in Rwanda. The region is plagued by civil unrest in Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. Kenya has been a stabilizing force and must be stable to play a leadership role in bringing peace to its region.
Kenya, as the main economy of the East African community, also plays a major role in the implementation of the African Continental FTA. Ruto has business relations with India. There is no record of any official visit by him to India as Vice President, although there have been private visits.
He has spoken publicly about the debt stress caused by Chinese loans and is seen by many as a beacon to balance China’s overpower in Kenya. If he succeeds in providing a level playing field, then there is greater opportunity for India, Japan, Europe and others even in the trilateral efforts to strengthen their presence in Kenya. Nonetheless, Ruto may decide not to take on new loans, but servicing older ones will remain a challenge. Despite long years in politics, Ruto is a fairly unknown quantity and would require further study and commitment to a stronger partnership with East Africa’s most important country.
The writer is a former ambassador to Germany, Indonesia and ASEAN, Ethiopia and the African Union. The opinions expressed are personal.
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