Rapid rise of Ruto from Kanu youth winger to President

Kenyan President-Elect William Ruto delivers a speech at the Bomas of Kenya Tallying Centre in Nairobi on August 15, 2022. 

Kenyan President-Elect William Ruto delivers a speech at the Bomas of Kenya Tallying Centre in Nairobi on August 15, 2022. 

Photo credit: Tony Karumba | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Ruto has put together a formidable political party that has propelled him to power in just two years.
  • From Uhruru’s backyard on the slopes of Mount Kenya to the floor of the Great Rift Valley, an ever-swelling bright yellow blitz has surrounded the nation.
  • Dr Ruto, a thoroughbred politician, has bred a revolution that has taken the country by storm.

When Daniel Cheruiyot and Sarah Cheruiyot got a bouncing baby boy on December 21, 1966, and named him William Kipchirchir, they had no idea they had brought to the world a future President of Kenya.

Now 56, and 14 years after his father’s death, William Samoei arap Ruto has upset the apple cart to become the President-elect in a hotly contested election in which he campaigned as the defender of the majority poor.

Mr Saitabao Kanchory, a political activist, in April tweeted that Dr Ruto’s father had in 1981 predicted that his son would either end up “being very successful in life or, a criminal”.

Indeed, Dr Ruto has put together a formidable political party that has propelled him to power in just two years.

From President Uhuru Kenyatta’s backyard on the slopes of Mount Kenya to the floor of the Great Rift Valley, an ever-swelling bright yellow blitz has surrounded the nation.

Dr Ruto, a thoroughbred politician, has bred a revolution that has taken the country by storm. To his followers, he is a virtually omniscient political chess master who plots his course many moves in advance.

In the Rift Valley, he has overshadowed Senator Gideon Moi, son of the second President and chairman of the independence party Kanu.

Unlike in 2017, when the cockerel party crowed all over Baringo and West Pokot, the tide has changed as Dr Ruto enjoys a cult-like following in the region.

Disciplined politician

A stickler for discipline and a politician who always demands unquestionable loyalty from his allies, Dr Ruto has been a political chess master since he joined the scene with Youth for Kanu ’92, which campaigned for then-President Daniel arap Moi in the 1992 elections.

“He (Moi) identified me from the university where I was a worship leader and took interest in me. He introduced me to politics, groomed me and inculcated in me the culture of servant leadership,” Dr Ruto told Inooro TV in April.

Throughout school, he was a member of the Christian Union while in the university, he was the chairman of the choir.

After graduating, he sold chicken for a living along the Nairobi-Eldoret highway before he joined YK’92, where he was the treasurer.

Blessed with grassroots mobilisation skills and a gift of the gab, he joined the race for the Eldoret North parliamentary seat in 1997.

He romped into the House after stunning political heavyweight Reuben Chesire, who had the support of the State House.

Dr Ruto is a teetotaler, workaholic and go-getter. There are rumours that he once slapped his former MP, Reuben Chesire, at State House following a heated argument between the two in the run-up to the 2002 elections.

“Although I did not beat him up, I will do so very soon if he continues with his sinister motives against me,” Dr Ruto told the Nation after the incident. He said there was only a “heated argument” but Chesire claimed he was punched in the face.

Dr Ruto had accused Chesire of maligning him and holding meetings hostile to him in the constituency.

He had also claimed that Chesire, the then-chairman of Industrial Development Bank, had been trying to discredit him to senior party figures. Chesire died in November 2008.

President Moi embraced Ruto and made him the director of elections in Kanu. As Moi was retiring in 2002, Ruto campaigned for his chosen successor, Uhuru Kenyatta. He was also appointed as an assistant minister in the Ministry of Home Affairs and later, a full minister. 

Mr Kenyatta lost the election to Mwai Kibaki of the National Rainbow Coalition. In 2005, Ruto became Kanu Secretary-General while Mr Kenyatta assumed the position of chairman.

As the official opposition, they joined Narc rebels led by Mr Raila Odinga to oppose the proposed new Constitution in the referendum. After their victory, they formed the Orange Democratic Movement.

On September 1, 2007, he participated in the ODM presidential nominations and emerged third with 368 votes. Mr Odinga bagged the ticket with 2,656 votes while Mr Musalia Mudavadi was second with 391.

After the disputed presidential election, more than 1,500 people died while hundreds of thousands were displaced, especially in the Rift Valley.

The violence attracted the interest of the International Criminal Court (ICC), where Ruto was identified as a key suspect.

Others were Kenyatta, Francis Muthaura, Henry Kosgey, Maj-Gen Mohammed Hussein Ali and Joshua Sang’. All the post-election violence cases had collapsed by 2016.

In the Grand Coalition government formed in 2008, Ruto was appointed Minister for Agriculture. He was later transferred to Higher Education, before getting sacked on August 24, 2011, over the maize scandal.

DP role

He remained an MP before he closed ranks with Mr Kenyatta to contest for the presidency under the Jubilee Alliance in 2013.

Ruto was the head of the United Republican Party (URP), and Kenyatta was the leader of The National Alliance (TNA).

After their victory, Ruto became the first Deputy President under the 2010 Constitution.

He served as the acting President between October 5 and October 8, 2014, while President Kenyatta travelled to The Hague for his ICC case.

In 2017, they won re-election but it also marked the start of a spirited war by the President and his men to bring him down. He stayed put, ignoring the political trap that had been laid — to push him to resign.

In March 2018, Mr Kenyatta shook hands with Mr Odinga and edged out Dr Ruto from the centre of power. It was also the start of well-choreographed disclosures about his alleged past corrupt dealings.

Despite his success in politics and business, Dr Ruto has been unable to shake off the corruption tag. In 2004, he was arrested and arraigned over Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) land in Ngong’, but was eventually cleared in 2011.

In June 2013, the High Court ordered Dr Ruto to pay Sh5 million to Adrian Muteshi, who had accused him of conspiracy to grab his 100-acre piece of land in Uasin Gishu during the post-election violence of 2007/08. At the time, Muteshi had fled to safety.

In February 2019, he publicly admitted that the Weston Hotel land had been acquired illegally by the original owners who sold it to him. In August 2020, he offered to heed the National Land Commission directive that he compensates the public for the land. 

On July 28, 2017, his rural home was reportedly attacked. Luckily, none of his family members was at home.

A couple of days later, the then National Police Service boss Joseph Boinnet announced that the attacker had been shot dead and the situation was under control.

Dr Ruto attended Kerotet Primary School in Kamagut, before joining Wareng Secondary School for his O-levels.

He later joined Kapsabet High School in Nandi for his A-level and proceeded to the University of Nairobi, where he studied botany and zoology. On December 21, 2018, he graduated with a PhD in plant ecology from the same university.

He married Rachel Chebet in 1991, and the couple has six children — one adopted and by his own confession, another from a different relationship.

The second-born in a family of eight, Dr Ruto’s siblings didn’t find much inspiration in politics.

His elder brother, Paul Maritim, and the third-born, Samuel Ruto, are businessmen. Their only sister, Susan Ruto, is also into business while the last-born, David Ruto, lives in the United States. Harrison Kiptoo died in 2016.

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