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Ruto sworn in as Kenya's president after disputed poll

By Hillary ORINDE and Tanya WILLMER
Kenya William Ruto won a narrow victory in the August 9 poll.  By SIMON MAINA AFP
SEP 13, 2022 LISTEN
William Ruto won a narrow victory in the August 9 poll. By SIMON MAINA (AFP)

William Ruto was sworn in as Kenya's fifth post-independence president at a pomp-filled ceremony on Tuesday, five weeks after his narrow victory in a bitterly-fought but largely peaceful election.

Tens of thousands of people joined regional heads of state at a packed stadium in Nairobi to watch him take the oath of office, with many spectators clad in the bright yellow of Ruto's party, and waving Kenyan flags.

"This moment is a moment like no other," the 55-year-old said in his inauguration speech to raucous cheers.

"Today, I want to thank God, because a village boy has become the president of Kenya."

A notoriously ambitious politician who has been deputy president since 2013, Ruto beat his rival Raila Odinga -- who had the backing of now former president Uhuru Kenyatta -- by less than two percentage points in the August 9 poll.

But the Supreme Court on September 5 unanimously upheld his victory, dismissing his opponents' claims of fraud and mismanagement.

Several people were reportedly injured in a crush at the stadium.  By SIMON MAINA AFP Several people were reportedly injured in a crush at the stadium. By SIMON MAINA (AFP)

The 55-year-old rags-to-riches businessman, who once sold chickens on the roadside, now faces a daunting task to steer a polarised country gripped by a cost-of-living crisis and punishing drought.

His rise to State House has been closely watched by the international community, which looks to Kenya as a reliable and stable democracy in a turbulent region.

"Dawn of Ruto era," trumpeted the front-page headline in The Standard newspaper, while The Star said: "Time for Ruto."

Several people were injured earlier as crowds tried to force their way into the stadium. Television footage showed dozens of people falling on top of one other in a crush at one entrance gate.

Police had urged Kenyans to watch proceedings from home after the 60,000-seat stadium was filled before sunrise.

'Hand of brotherhood'

Crowds gathered before dawn at the Nairobi stadium for the swearing-in of William Ruto.  By SIMON MAINA AFP Crowds gathered before dawn at the Nairobi stadium for the swearing-in of William Ruto. By SIMON MAINA (AFP)

Foreign allies and independent observers praised the conduct of the vote, which was largely peaceful and free of the violence that has marred past elections in the country of 50 million people.

Kenyatta, who in a stunning turn of events reached a pact with his longtime rival Odinga in 2018 and banished his deputy Ruto to the sidelines, had promised a smooth transfer of power.

He had pointedly failed to publicly congratulate his successor for several weeks, finally shaking Ruto's hand at a meeting at the presidential residence on Monday.

Ruto has struck a conciliatory tone, extending a "hand of brotherhood" to his rivals and their supporters after the Supreme Court decision.

Kenya's 2022 presidential election.  By Anibal MAIZ CACERES AFP Kenya's 2022 presidential election. By Anibal MAIZ CACERES (AFP)

But Ruto's new deputy Rigathi Gachagua took potshots at Kenyatta during the inauguration ceremony, saying the new administration had inherited a "dilapidated economy".

And Odinga turned down an invitation to attend the event, charging that the election commission did not conduct a "free and fair" poll.

Observers say Ruto faces a tough assignment building goodwill after the divisive political campaign that lasted well over a year and was peppered with acrimony and personal slander.

"This is the time to close ranks, embrace opponents and help forge a united front devoid of cheap political competition," The Standard wrote in an editorial.

Many Kenyans had stayed away from the ballot box, with disillusionment and economic hardship blamed for the low turnout.

Generous send-off

Ruto said Sunday that the East African powerhouse was "in a deep economic hole" and repeated his pledge to ease the cost of living crisis, create jobs and reduce the country's $70 billion debt mountain.

Uhuru Kenyatta had only publicly congratulated Ruto on the eve of his successor's swearing in.  By SIMON MAINA AFP Uhuru Kenyatta had only publicly congratulated Ruto on the eve of his successor's swearing in. By SIMON MAINA (AFP)

Playing on his humble beginnings in the Rift Valley, the multi-millionaire had cast himself as "hustler in chief" and champion for the downtrodden during his campaign.

Among his ambitious promises was the creation of a 50-billion shilling ($415 million) "hustler fund" to provide loans to small businesses, and a commitment to bring down prices of fuel, grain and fertiliser.

"Given sky-high popular expectations and an economy in dire straits, governing may well prove tougher than campaigning," the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank warned.

Ruto, whose new presidential coat of arms bears his party symbol, a wheelbarrow, will get a salary of about $144,000 a year as well as all the trappings of presidential office.

Ruto's inauguration marks the end of Kenyatta's near decade in power, and one of the rare occasions his powerful family has not been at the apex of Kenyan politics.

Already one of Kenya's wealthiest citizens, he is entitled to a generous send-off under the constitution as he leaves office having served two terms, the maximum allowed.

The 60-year-old will receive a tax-free lump sum of $324,000 and more than $600,000 in allowances every year.

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