In the rolling red hills outside the western Kenyan town of Eldoret, residents remember William Ruto as a barefoot schoolboy who used to sell chickens at a roadside stall.
Even then he possessed a fierce intelligence, they recalled, as they welcomed his ascent on Monday to his country’s presidency with a mixture of pride and disbelief. read more
“I could not imagine somebody who did not have shoes for all his life in primary school could become president,” said a grinning Esther Cherobon, who was in Ruto’s year at school.
“We imagine all leaders are from rich families.”
He was always the boy with the highest marks in the school in Sambut village, she said, where part of the institution he attended – a one-room mud building with a rusting iron sheet roof – still stands.
Ruto takes office as Kenya faces a convergence of challenges. Billions of dollars in loans that outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta borrowed to finance an infrastructure splurge are falling due.
The worst drought for 40 years has devastated the north, forcing 4 million people to rely on food aid.
Now 55, Ruto made Kenya’s class divisions the centrepiece of his campaign to become Kenya’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 Raila Odinga – who Ruto defeated in a tight ballot whose outcome Kenya’s electoral commission took almost a week to announce – and Kenyatta, son of the nation’s first vice president and president, respectively.