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From chicken dealer to Kenya’s president-elect

#chicken #dealer #Kenyas #presidentelect

President-elect William Ruto is one of Kenya’s richest men, but has long portrayed himself as the ‘hustler-in-chief’ – the champion of the poor and oppressed.

Defying years of corruption allegations, the ambitious 55-year-old carved his way into the center of power by playing on his religious beliefs and humble beginnings as a roadside chicken seller.

He painted his duel against former Prime Minister Raila Odinga in the August 9 elections in simple words.

It was, he said, a battle between ordinary “hustlers” fighting to put food on the table and the elite “dynasties” Kenyatta and Odinga, which had dominated Kenyan politics for decades.

“We want everyone to feel the wealth of this country. Not just a few at the top,” Ruto had said as he criss-crossed the country promoting his “bottom-up” economic plan.

The seedy rags-to-riches businessman had effectively run as a challenger after a very public and acrimonious row with outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta, who endorsed Odinga for the top post.

Despite a mudslinging-dominated race, Ruto struck a conciliatory tone on Monday after his win, promising to work with “all the leaders” after the result split the electoral commission and sparked fears of violence.

“There’s no room for revenge,” Ruto said, adding, “I’m very aware that our country is at a point where we need all hands on deck.”

– ‘Effective Strategist’ –

Ruto has been deputy president under Kenyatta since 2013 and backed him in two elections with a promise that he would have his boss’s support in this year’s vote.

It was a political marriage of convenience, forged after deadly post-election violence in 2007-2008 that largely pitted the Kikuyu – the tribe of Kenyatta – against the Kalenjin, the Ruto ethnic group.

Both men were dragged before the International Criminal Court (ICC) and accused of fueling ethnic unrest.

The cases were eventually dropped, and prosecutors complained about a relentless campaign to intimidate witnesses.

But Ruto was left out in the rain after Kenyatta shook hands with longtime enemy Odinga in 2018 in a dramatic shift in political allegiance.

He hit back with a campaign aimed at Kenyatta as much as his rival at the ballot box, blaming the government for Kenya’s economic woes and even accusing the president of threatening him and his family.

“Ruto is considered by many people to be one of the most effective strategists in Kenyan politics,” said Nic Cheeseman, a political scientist at the University of Birmingham in the UK, ahead of the election.

– ‘Perfect Storm’ –

Dressed in the bright yellow of his United Democratic Alliance, whose symbol is the humble wheelbarrow, Ruto sought to reach those suffering most from the Covid-induced cost of living crisis, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.

Ruto “picked the perfect storm,” said Kenyan political scientist Nerima Wako-Ojiwa before the election.

Observers attribute Ruto’s aggressiveness to the fact that he has had to fight to get everything he has achieved in life since his humble beginnings in Kenya’s Rift Valley, the heartland of Kalenjin.

“As a kid, I sold chickens at a railroad crossing near my house… I paid[school]fees for my siblings,” he once said.

“God has been kind to me and through hard work and determination I have achieved something.”

His fortune is now said to be in the many millions of dollars, with interests that include hotels, real estate and insurance, as well as a massive chicken farm.

A teetotal father of six who describes himself as a born-again Christian, Ruto rarely lets a speech go by without giving thanks or praise to God or reciting from the Bible.

He first climbed the political ladder in 1992 – and critics claim access to funds Moi, also a Kalenjin.

In 1997, when he tried to launch his parliamentary career by fighting for a seat in his home region of Eldoret North, Moi told him he was a disrespectful son of a poor man.

Undeterred, Ruto went on to secure the seat, which he retained in subsequent elections.

His detractors say he siphoned money from the YK’92 project and did business with it, and allegations of corruption and land grabbing still hang on him.

But he has long denied such claims, once telling local media, “I am accountable for every coin I have.”

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#chicken #dealer #Kenyas #presidentelect

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