Ruto’s Time, What Should Kenyans Expect?


Kenyans went to the polls on August 9, 2022, to express their choice across six elections, including the presidential contest. Voters elected a new president, county governors, members of the national assembly, senate, and members of the forty-seven county assemblies. The presidential election was a tight race between two familiar figures in Kenyan politics — Deputy President William Ruto of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) under the Kenya Kwanza coalition and his main rival, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga of the Azimio coalition. William Ruto won the highly competitive contest with 50.5% against Odinga’s 48.9% despite incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta’s support for Odinga due to the political rift between him and his deputy —Ruto.

The election was marred by a low voter turnout rate of 64 percent, a remarkably low figure in Kenyan elections. Just five years prior, the turnout rate was 78 percent in the presidential election. Likely reasons for the low turnout include the public’s reduced trust and confidence in the political process, parties’ fielding of uninspiring candidates and diminished youth interest in the contest. There was a 5.17 percent decline in the number of young voters registered for this election compared with the 2017 election.

The election was characterized by significantly less tension and conflict than previous contests as Kenyans exercised their right to vote peacefully on the election day. The electoral commission also operated with improved transparency ensuring a broadly smooth process. However, there were still a few cases of irregularities, harassment and noncompliance with certain security measures at polling centers and the national tallying center. Even worse, a staff member of the electoral commission was murdered. The voting process was also hamstrung by the failure of the Kenya Integrated Election Management System (KIEMS) to verify fingerprints, which resulted in long queues and delayed voting. Thankfully, the manual register served as an effective alternative to biometric voter identification in some polling stations in two counties — Kakamega and Makueni.

Election Results and Reactions

Kenya’s electoral commission declared William Ruto the winner of the presidential election with a tally of 7,176,141 votes (50.5%) out of the 14,213,137 total votes. His main rival, Raila Odinga finished second with 6,942,930 votes (48.9%). Odinga, coming off a fifth unsuccessful bid for the top seat in government, rejected the election results and set to challenge them in court. Meanwhile, measures have been put in place to ensure a peaceful resolution and avoid a repeat of the post-election crises that typically follow disputed results. Situations such as the post-election fallout in 2007 where over 1,000 people were killed, and hundreds of thousands were displaced from their homes is a sore memory for the national consciousness. Incoming President Ruto was accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his role in orchestrating the brutal ethnic violence campaign in 2007 after the former president Mwai Kibaki was declared winner amid accusations of electoral fraud.

Ruto’s Policy Platform

Ruto and the coalition (Kenya Kwanza) behind him have made it clear that his administration is committed to empowering people at the base of the economic pyramid, who he refers to as –‘the hustler’. He is keen on establishing a government that supports the political inclusion and empowerment of all Kenyans. Through his bottom-up economic model, he has pledged to bring down the cost of living, expand the tax base, create jobs, and improve foreign exchange balance with the expectation to transform key areas. These areas include:

Foreign policy and regional integration: William Ruto has indicated that he will adopt a robust foreign policy to deepen bonds with international partners and enhance trade and investment channels, especially with African countries. The African-focused policy will enable his administration to take advantage of the Kenya’s status as a tech powerhouse to further drive the economic interests of the country. He will also create a ministry for diaspora affairs to tap the potential of Kenyans living in the diaspora.

Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise (MSME) Economy: Ruto has committed to empowering Kenya’s entrepreneurs and informal workers. Therefore, one of his flagship measures is the commitment of Sh50 billion a year to provide MSMEs with access to affordable finance. Transforming Kenya’s MSME economy could generate Sh60 trillion in revenue a year which is about 60 percent of Kenya’s GDP.

Agriculture: Ruto intends to raise agricultural productivity with an annual financial commitment of Sh50 billion. Improving Kenya’s agricultural sector will yield a plus point on several economic indicators. It will create jobs, raise incomes, reduce malnutrition, and kick-start the economy. For instance, improving Kenya’s coffee production from 40,000MT to the country’s estimated potential of 200,000 MT means a potential five-fold increase in export earnings.

Housing and settlement: The new administration has also outlined plans to turn Kenya’s housing challenges into an economic opportunity. Just like the agriculture sector, increasing housing production can provide jobs for about 100,000 Kenya youths. To reap this benefit, a Sh250 billion commitment has been made to increase the supply of housing units to 250,000 per year.

Healthcare: In a bid to improve health coverage and reduce Kenya’s household out-of-pocket spending on health below 27 percent, Ruto’s government plans to reform the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) by adopting a new health financing method.

It remains to be seen how differently Ruto will perform than the current administration, which he is still a member of regardless of any campaign claims of being an outsider. It does seem unlikely that he will make more progress tackling the country’s long-standing corruption problem, which was a key promise of the current administration.

On economic issues, Ruto’s policy platform shuns the current administration’s focus on industrialization and infrastructure development in favor of support for small enterprises. Ruto’s focus on small enterprises and the informal sector is hinged on the belief that MSMEs have a critical role to play in economic transformation. To spur the growth of MSMEs, the new administration plans to establish MSME business development centers in every ward, and a business incubation center in every technical and vocational education and training institution (TVET) across the country.

Agriculture is another area where policy will have an outsize impact on Kenyans, especially considering the significant role farming plays in the Kenyan economy. Kenyatta’s agriculture policy prioritized irrigation schemes to reduce the country’s reliance on rain-fed agriculture and promote food security. On the other hand, Ruto’s policy seeks to incorporate farmer groups and focuses on providing them with input finance and intensive agricultural extension support to raise productivity.

With regards to housing policy, the Kenyatta administration prioritized mortgage financing to boost an affordable housing programme under its Big Four Agenda. In addition to structuring affordable long-term housing finance schemes, Ruto aims to incentivize developers to increase housing supply and also strengthen existing housing schemes to guarantee off take of houses from the developers.

As the decline in voter turnout shows, Kenyans have tempered expectations for the incoming administration. The Ruto government will have to adequately manage a global cost of living crisis, likely global economic downturns and disputed election results to fully bring the Kenyan people on side.

This article was written by Malcolm Durosaye.