The Supreme Court’s decision will put the Ruto administration’s campaign promises to the test.
William Ruto and his United Democratic Alliance were declared the winners on Monday after the Kenyan Supreme Court resoundingly rejected the results of the election held on August 9. Kenya’s outgoing president Uhuru Kenyatta quickly ended his long silence over the election results. Ruto was Kenyatta’s vice president, despite the fact that Kenyatta had endorsed Raila Odinga for president and was clearly unhappy with the election results. Although he repeatedly urged Kenyans to “scrutinize the coherence” of the information offered by institutions like the court, he gave assurances about a smooth transfer of power in his speech to the country.
If Kenyatta had framed his idea of civic responsibility in a call for greater civic engagement committed to holding new leadership accountable for its actions, regardless of how one voted, rather than in suspicion of a judiciary that appears to have made an unbiased decision based on the facts, it might have done Kenya’s democracy better. The outcome of the Kenyan election has been determined, but it is unclear what Ruto’s victory would imply for Kenya’s battle against corruption, which ranks second only to the economy in importance for Kenyans, according to the Afrobarometer. Ruto presented himself as a fighter against “state capture” and a defender of the working class, but his past reveals otherwise.
Rigatoni Gachagua, his running companion, has been charged with significant wrongdoing and was compelled to surrender over $1.7 million in what a judge considered to be ill-gotten profits. What a Ruto government will imply for human rights and the rule of law is also uncertain. It’s important to keep in mind that after the 2007 and 2008 post-election violence, the case against him collapsed primarily as a result of witness manipulation, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) declined to exonerate him.
The dissatisfaction with the status quo on show in Kenya and elsewhere across the continent is now beyond debate. Ruto was astute in capitalizing on public discontent with Kenyatta’s administration, highlighting Odinga’s tight relationship with the incumbent in this most recent election cycle to position himself as an outsider and his election as president as a breath of new air. Demands for change are undermining the benefits of incumbency and upending accepted political wisdom throughout the region.
Despite the government’s considerable ability to slant the playing field in its favor, last month’s elections in Angola, a nation where it has long been impossible to differentiate between the governing party and the state itself, were far closer than any that the country has ever seen.
The best path ahead for the United States, which has a significant stake in Kenya’s prosperity and stability, is to believe the democratically elected Ruto government when it says that it will develop the economy and combat inequality, wish it luck in doing so, and find concrete ways to assist. But maintaining support for Kenya’s civil society, democratic resiliency, and the thread of accountability between the ruling and the people will be just as crucial.
The dismal voter participation figures in Kenya reflect that a large percentage of voters did not genuinely feel that the election results mattered much or that any of their options presented a compelling vision for the future of the nation. Democracies, though, demand ongoing attention. It will take a motivated and organized public to guarantee that Kenyans maintain their ability to select leaders who are appropriate for the situation, should the new administration find it more difficult to bring about change than to promise it.