President William Ruto, a year later…
Today, August 15, 2023, marks one year since former Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commision (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati declared William Ruto as President-elect of the Republic of Kenya.
The announcement came a week after millions of Kenyans queued to elect a new Head of State to replace Uhuru Kenyatta whose term of office had lapsed, having been in charge for a decade.
The options included William Ruto, Raila Odinga, George Wajackoyah, and Wahiga Mwaure.
The closely contested election saw Ruto beat Raila Odinga to the ultimate price by about 200,000 votes. The tallying exercise at the Bomas of Kenya was marred by drama late on after Mr Odinga’s team at the Bomas of Kenya contested the results even before they were announced.
Consequently, four IEBC Commissioners walked out of the tallying centre and drove to Serena Hotel in Nairobi where they disassociated themselves with the results Chebukati was to announce.
Fast forward, Ruto had to ride through a petition at the Supreme Court filed by Mr Odinga to be declared President and consequently sworn into office weeks later at an elaborate event held at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani.
Steering the country through the year has brought successes and significant challenges for President Ruto, who lost a significant amount of weight in between, a development he attributed to a change in his eating habits.
Here are some notable insights a year into Ruto’s reign.
1. Cabinet Appointments – Ruto named his Cabinet, mostly consisting of his cronies and allies who had stood by him during tough times when he had fallen out with Mr Kenyatta. They include Musalia Mudavadi, Kipchumba Murkomen, Aisha Jumwa, Moses Kuria and Alice Wahome.
The appointments constituted a shift in strategy from the President’s continuous election pronouncement to the effect that his government will consist of the mama mboga (vegetable hawkers) and mtu ya bodaboda (motorbike riders). And while the jury on how the government has performed is still out, the Head of State recently publicly blasted his Cabinet Secretaries and top government officials for lateness and ‘not knowing enough about their ministries’.
2. Political Landscape and Protests – Raila Odinga’s challenge to Ruto’s presidency did not end with the announcement of the election results and the Supreme Court ruling. The opposition leader has since taken each available opportunity to criticize Ruto’s government for bias, tribalism, and corruption. On two occasions, Mr Odinga has led Kenyans to the streets in protests the government outlawed. In the face-off between Police and protestors, scores have died, several others injured and property worth millions of shillings destroyed.
On the first attempt, President Ruto publicly called upon Mr Odinga to call off the protests and instead engage in talks on the way forward. That happened but the talks collapsed weeks later. A fresh set of talks between the government and the opposition is currently underway.
3. Public Sentiment – Public opinion on Ruto’s presidency has been mixed. According to recent polls, 65% of the population believes the country is heading in the wrong direction. This follows a number of challenges Kenyans have faced including, chiefly, the high cost of living. President Ruto has maintained he ‘has a plan’ to lower the cost of living even as he removed subsidies on fuel and unga. Among the commodities whose prices have significantly increased during Ruto’s tenure include fuel, bread, electricity, and maize flour.
4. Increased taxes – While at it, Ruto’s first budget was underlined by increased taxes that were contested by most quarters of the public, including opposition leaders, church leaders, Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), and employers. The most contentious of the taxes include Housing Levy, where each salaried Kenyan will contribute 1.5% of their gross salary with the proceeds to be channeled towards building houses they may never own. There has also been an increase in Value Added Tax (VAT) on fuel and Pay as You Earn for Kenyans earning over Sh500,000.
5. Church services – What remains constant about a pre and post-Ruto presidency must be his presence at religious events.
President Ruto and First Lady Rachel have continued to traverse the country to attend ‘thanksgiving’ church services across the country on the taxpayers bill. Most of these events include a touch of politics, as politicians allied to the President have taken to the altar after the prayer session to consistently hit out at the opposition. The President too has had to choose between hitting out at the opposition and explaining his agenda during these events.
In all, it is one year down, and four more at least, or nine at most for President Ruto (should he win another term).