from MARIA MACHARIA in Nairobi, Kenya
NAIROBI, (CAJ News) – BY turning the tables against his predecessor and former boss on some divisive policies, William Ruto has hit the ground running in his reign as president of Kenya.
After the two allies fell out ahead of last month’s elections, it was inevitable the incoming leader would obliterate some stances of the immediate past president, Uhuru Kenyatta.
It was however unimaginable these policies would be rescinded in the new head of state’s first day in office.
The two men’s rift exploded towards the end of the immediate past administration when Kenyatta endorsed longtime rival, Raila Odinga, than his deputy, Ruto.
It has been an emphatic but bumpy start to Ruto’s presidency of the East African country, which, marked by sweeping political changes, coincided with fuel prices shooting up to record highs.
A day after his inauguration, he had abolished Kenya’s recognising of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as an independent state.
SADR is engaged in longtime conflict with Morocco in the former’s agitation for autonomy.
SADR’s President, Brahim Ghali, was a notable attendee at Ruto’s inauguration ceremony on Tuesday.
A day later, after a meeting with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, Ruto annulled Kenya’s recognition of SADR.
“Kenya rescinds its recognition of the SADR and initiates steps to wind down the entity’s presence in the country,” the new president stated.
SADR’s Embassy in the capital Nairobi is thus to be shut down. It has been operational since 2014.
Also on his first day, he appointed six judges whose nomination by the Judicial Service Commission had been rejected by Kenyatta since three years ago.
They have been appointed to the Court of Appeal, High Court as well as Environment and Land Court.
Eric Theuri, President of the Law Society of Kenya, welcomed this as a positive start to Ruto’s reign
“The appointment of the Judges to the Court of Appeal and High Court and pledged support for the Judiciary are highly welcomed signs,” Theuri stated.
Nonetheless, Ruto’s appointment of Kenyatta to lead regional peace efforts is a promising base to close the rift between the two politicians.
The announcement of an increase in the price of fuel was however a dent in the start of the Ruto presidency.
As announced by the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA), the price of petrol increased by KSh20 (US$0,17) to a record Ksh179,30 per litre.
Diesel increased by KSh25 to Ksh165.
The increases are in line with the new government’s remove subsidy on petroleum fuels.
Meanwhile, another highlight of an eventful day was Ruto’s signing of the Condolence Book for the late Queen Elizabeth II at the United Kingdom High Commissioner’s residence.
On inauguration day, the injury of dozens of citizens and the absence of Odinga highlighted ominous dark clouds gathering overhead as Ruto’s reign resumed.
Now, after the dust has settled on his election as fifth head of state, he has to promptly address the myriad of issues battering Kenya, not least polarisation created by arguably the tightest election in the nation’s history.
If the snub by Odinga was a measure of problems that lay ahead, the injury of scores in a stampede at the stadium was a tragic pointer to the expectations running high in East Africa’s biggest economy as it battles the aftermath of the COVID-19.
It is not out of the ordinary in Kenya that a new leader assumes office with legitimacy concerns tainting his ascension.
That is Odinga’s hallmark.
He has been the complainant in each of the four successive polls Kenya has held between 20007 and last month, when he secured 48,85 percent of the poll to Ruto’s 50,49 percent.
Odinga confirmed receiving a letter and phone call from Ruto inviting him to the swearing in. He confirmed spurning the olive branch.
He “regretted” he was out of the country and had “other serious concerns.”
It is unlikely “Baba” was going to attend, anyway, as to him, Ruto was not democratically elected.
Odinga, firstly, queried the conduct of the polls by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
“Secondly, I believe that the ruling of the Supreme Court was not based on the facts and the law, even though we accepted it,” he responded.
The election of a new president has been a divisive issue before that, including the 1997 edition Odinga first participated in. Another one ten years later, which left over 1 100 dead.
At no time in the nation’s recent history has a president been sworn-in amid so much anticipation as was this week.
So high is the mood among Kenyans that they risked life and limb to force their way into the Kasarani Stadium where Ruto took his oath of office.
By 05h00, police confirmed the 60 000-seater stadium had already been filled to capacity.
That is five hours before the swearing in.
“In anticipation of being part of history, Kenyans have thronged to the venue in large numbers,” Bruno Isohi Shioso, National Police Service spokesperson stated ahead of the historic event.
“To avoid logistical challenges, this is to request the public to make alternative arrangements to view the proceedings, especially from the comfort of their homes,” Shioso said.
The message was clearly not heeded, resulting in the stampede.
Francis Wairimu (34), was among those that thronged the venue.
“I attended to see live the People’s President,” the Nairobi resident said.
The rise of Ruto (55) from a roadside chicken seller back in the day, to the highest office in the land, resonates with a majority of Kenyan youth, who are bearing the brunt of unemployment, worsened by COVID-19 and unfulfilled promises by successive governments.
Some Kenyans were wary of the ascension of Odinga to the presidency, which according to critics would have entrenched dynasty politics.
The Kenyatta and Odinga families have been dominant forces in the local political landscape.
Kenyatta’s father, Jomo, was the inaugural president. Odinga’s father, Jaramogi Ajuma Oginga, was his deputy.
Ruto’s campaign was premised on the self-proclamation as champion of the “hustler nation.”
This is in reference to the majority of youth deprived of formal employment but surviving through informal means and resilience.
“Now that he is at the helm, the new president must shake off this tag as a hustler and ensure his administration creates formal jobs and empower the millions of youths most impacted by the economic scourges,” said analyst, Brian Omondi.
Kenya is a youthful country.
The 18 years to 35 years age group makes up approximately 75 percent of the estimated entire population of 56 million.
Recognising Odinga as his worthy competitor and friend, Ruto appealed for unity as a foundation of his reign.
“Elections and democracy entail unifying competition, not divisive rivalry,” he said upon his swearing-in.
Ruto pledged that in the days ahead, he would make pronouncements anticipated to better define the trajectory of his administration.
“I promise to make every Kenyan proud and ensure the economic well-being of all,” the president assured.
– CAJ News