William Ruto sworn in as Kenya’s president after challenge to election result fails

Kenyan President-elect William Ruto and Deputy President-Elect Rigathi Gachagua
Kenyan President-elect William Ruto, left, jokes with Deputy President-elect Rigathi Gachagua as the president’s official residence in Nairobi.
(Brian Inganga / Associated Press)

William Ruto was sworn in as Kenya’s president Tuesday, more than a month after he narrowly won election in East Africa’s most stable democracy.

The nation’s Supreme Court last week rejected a challenge to the Aug. 9 election’s official results by the losing candidate, longtime opposition figure Raila Odinga.

Ruto, 55, had been the deputy to outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta but had a bitter split with Kenyatta that left the two not speaking for months at a time.


On Tuesday, the audience cheered as the two shook hands, and again as Kenyatta handed over the instruments of power inside a Nairobi stadium.

Ruto, who had dropped to his knees in tears and prayer when the court upheld his win, knelt on the stage minutes after his swearing-in during an extended sermon by a Christian pastor. “A chicken seller to a president,” the pastor said, highlighting Ruto’s humble youth.

Ruto’s first tweet quoted Psalms: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” In his speech, he praised both the church and Islamic leadership and vowed that “we will enhance our partnership, build on our collaboration and enhance our support to them.”

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The inauguration event began in some chaos. Scores of people were crushed and injured as they forced their way into the packed stadium. A medic said a fence fell down after people pushed it and about 60 were injured, though the number may rise.

“We had to treat some with minor injuries. Most of them were rushed to the main hospital in Nairobi,” medic Peter Muiruri said. There were no reports of deaths.


People tried to dodge baton-wielding security forces. Some failed.

“I was beaten by the police after trying to get inside,” said spectator Benson Kimutai.

Ruto is taking power in a country heavily burdened by debt that will challenge his efforts to fulfill sweeping campaign promises made to Kenya’s poor, whom he has described as getting by on “stubborn hope.” In his speech, he acknowledged that “clearly, we are living beyond our means.”

He promised cheaper fertilizer and more affordable credit as food prices rise. He also vowed more money for the judiciary, financial independence from the presidency for the national police and efforts to fight a drought in Kenya’s north that brings the threat of famine.

Ruto also asked Kenyatta to continue “chairing discussions” on the regional crises in neighboring Ethiopia, where the government is fighting Tigray forces, and in eastern Congo, where tensions exist with Rwanda. Kenyatta has accepted, the new president said.

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With the transition, Kenya’s presidency moves from one leader indicted by the International Criminal Court to another. Both Kenyatta and Ruto were indicted over their roles in deadly 2007 post-election violence, but the cases were later closed amid allegations of witness intimidation.

The August election was peaceful in a country with a history of political violence. Chaos erupted only in the final minutes when the electoral commission publicly split and prominent Odinga supporters tried to physically stop the declaration of Ruto as the winner.

Ruto’s campaign had portrayed him as a go-getter of humble background who used to go barefoot and sell chickens by the roadside — a counterpoint to the political dynasties represented by Kenyatta and Odinga. His presidential flag features a wheelbarrow, the symbol of his campaign.

“A village boy has become the president of Kenya,” he said Tuesday.

But Ruto received powerful political mentoring as a young man from former President Daniel arap Moi, who oversaw a one-party state for years before Kenyans successfully pushed for multiparty elections.

Ruto now speaks of democracy and has vowed that there will be no retaliation against dissenting voices.

But in a warning sign for the media, local broadcasters accused by Ruto of bias in the past were restricted in their coverage of the inauguration and forced to use a feed from a South African broadcaster in which Kenya’s national broadcaster has a share.

Odinga, 77, is setting himself up to continue being a prominent figure. In a statement Monday, he said he would skip the inauguration and would later “announce next steps as we seek to deepen and strengthen our democracy.”

Though Odinga also asserted that “the outcome of the election remains indeterminate,” a spokesman told the Associated Press that it was “highly unlikely” he would seek to declare himself the “people’s president” as he did after losing the 2017 election.