Hailing the electoral commission as “heroes” after he was declared the winner, Ruto said: “There is no looking back. We are looking to the future. We need all hands on deck to move forward.”
The 55-year-old made class divisions the centrepiece of his campaign to become the country’s fifth president, promising to reward low-income “hustlers” and pouring scorn on Kenya’s political dynasties.
That was a barely veiled jab at his opponent Odinga – who Ruto defeated in a tight ballot whose outcome the electoral commission took almost a week to announce – and Kenyatta, son of the nation’s first vice president and president, respectively. Kenyatta has been president since 2013.
But Kenyan politics is often a dance performed with convenient partners rather than rooted in political differences, and the circumstances of Ruto’s rise were no exception.
He shot to prominence as a youth organiser for former strongman president Daniel arap Moi, becoming one of the country’s youngest MPs and ministers.
He had supported Odinga, a former prime minister, during hotly disputed elections in 2007, when 1200 people were killed after political violence sparked ethnic cleansing.
Both he and Kenyatta faced charges at the International Criminal Court over the violence, in cases that later collapsed. A Kenyan lawyer is now on trial, accused of interfering with witnesses in Ruto’s case – accusations he denies.
Ruto then switched sides and became Kenyatta’s deputy president in 2013. But they fell out after the 2017 election, when Kenyatta reconciled with Odinga and distanced himself from Ruto.
Ruto insiders describe him as a gifted orator with a fierce work ethic.
During this campaign, he chose a wheelbarrow to represent casual workers, though he himself – now a wealthy business magnate – travelled in a pimped-up sports utility vehicle emblazoned in party colours and nicknamed The Beast.
Odinga sought to undermine Ruto’s popularity by questioning the probity of his extensive business empire.
Australia helped secure a promise by Odinga in March that the election results would be respected and the nation would not descend into violence. Ruto also gave a similar undertaking.
In July, a court ordered Ruto’s vice presidential pick Rigathi Gachagua to repay 202 million shillings ($2.8 million) which it determined were the proceeds of corruption. Gachagua and Ruto have dismissed the judgement as politically motivated. Gachagua has said he would appeal the ruling.
As president, Ruto has promised to reign in borrowing, publish opaque contracts with China, tackle corruption and disburse loans to small businesses.
Poor Kenyans, already reeling from COVID-19, are also grappling with global price increases of food and fuel. Many are angered by Kenyatta’s failure to reign in rampant corruption.