SAMBUT, Kenya – William Ruto spent his childhood on his family’s plot of land on a narrow, unpaved road in a quiet village in the Rift Valley, where he cared for cows and helped with farming. grow corn and cabbage.
But these days, Mr. Ruto, Kenya’s vice president for nearly a decade, wakes up in a giant mansion in the leafy suburbs of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, where he holds meetings before flying, as he did one recent morning, in a helicopter parked near a covered swimming pool.
On Monday, the head of the electoral commission declared Mr. Ruto, 55, Kenya’s next president, but a majority of the commissioners refused to sign the vote, citing a lack of transparency. The campaign of Mr Ruto’s opponent, Raila Odinga, alleges that the count was “hacked”, signaling that it would challenge the results in court.
Mr Ruto’s campaign is a repeated appeal to Kenya’s “hustlers” – struggling young people who find themselves underemployed or unemployed and are looking to improve themselves.
His political rise almost ended after The 2007 election was bloody and controversial. The International Criminal Court charged him with crimes against humanity, accusing him of a violent attack that left more than 1,200 people dead and 600,000 others displaced. The charges include murder, arrest and forcing people to leave their homes.
But the case against him fall in 2016, when the government of which he served as vice president obstructed the collection of evidence and engagement in what the court said was “witness interference and political interference.”
Mr. Ruto was born in the village of Sambut, a lush floodplain about 12 miles northwest of Eldoret town in Uasin Gishu District. He herds sheep and cows, hunts rabbits with his friends, and goes to school barefoot.
His parents, strict Protestants who led the local African Inner Church, shaped his faith, motivating him to regularly participate in church activities and sing. in the choir. Very early on, Mr. Ruto showed his ambition, classmates, neighbors and friends said in interviews. He also stood up for them against bullies from other villages, they said.
Esther Cherobon, his deskmate for four years, said: “The group he joined always wins in class debates. When a teacher threatened to hit a student for not knowing the answer to a math problem, “William almost always saved us,” she said.
When he was growing up, Mr. Ruto begged his parents to give him a small plot of their land to grow corn, his friends said. He sold chickens for money long after his friends stopped doing it, after finishing high school. During his presidential run, Mr Ruto exploited this back story, presenting himself as one of the “hustling” Kenyans born into poverty.
In the late 1980s, Mr. Ruto left to study botany and zoology at the University of Nairobi. Friends said they began to notice his focus on politics.
In 1997, he challenged Reuben Chesire for the parliamentary seat of the Eldoret North constituency. Mr. Chesire was once a lawmaker, a powerful leader in the ruling party and a political backer of the president at the time. Daniel arap Moi. But Mr. Ruto took a gamble and rallied his friends around the constituency on his behalf – and won.
For all of Mr. Ruto’s political successes, his home village remains underdeveloped more than a quarter of a century after he joined government. Many people there struggle to make ends meet, trade livestock or work as motorbike taxi drivers.
While Mr. Ruto has made some donations to a school here or raised funds for a church there, villagers say the roads in the area are largely unpaved and many people live in houses. mud no proper toilet.
In contrast, Mr. Ruto built a brick house with a lush garden on his family’s premises and mounted a solar panel on the roof.
Many of Mr. Ruto classmates hope his victory will bring about change.
“He sells chickens and lives like us,” says Clement Kipkoech Kosgei, his childhood friend and schoolmate. “Perhaps he will bring about change now.”