Kenya election: William Ruto declared president amid chaotic scenes

Angry supporters of opposition candidate Raila Odinga gather outside national tallying centre amid claims of ‘irregularities’

The announcement of Kenya’s long-awaited election results descended into chaos on Monday, with physical fights breaking out in the national tallying centre in Nairobi before William Ruto was declared president.

Kenya’s general election took place last Tuesday. The east African country of roughly 55 million saw a significantly low turnout, with less than 65 per cent of the 22.1 million registered voters casting a ballot.

The most high-profile contest, to decide who would be Kenya’s fifth president, pitted outgoing deputy president Ruto (55) against former prime minister and longtime opposition figure Raila Odinga (77), who was contesting for the fifth time.

Odinga, unexpectedly, had the backing of current president Uhuru Kenyatta. Advance polls – which were emblazoned on billboards across the capital – showed him winning the vote.


In the end, Ruto received 50.49 per cent, according to electoral commission head Wafula Chebukati. But allegations of irregularities had already been made, with four of the country’s seven electoral commissioners calling a press conference less than an hour before the announcement, saying they could not stand behind the winner.

Juliana Cherera, the vice chair of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, told the media they were “unable to take ownership of the result” because of the “opaque nature” of the handling of the “last phase”.

Odinga’s chief agent also complained that they were not allowed to verify results, alleging – without providing evidence – that “electoral offences” had taken place.

“It has not been an easy journey” to provide a “free, fair and credible election… but we have a constitutional duty to perform,” said electoral commission chair Chebukati in his speech at the national tallying centre. He said he was speaking “despite intimidation [and] harassment”.

Two of his staff had been injured and were being treated, he said, while one returning officer had disappeared while on duty.

During Kenya’s last presidential election, in 2017, Christopher Chege Msando, the electoral commission’s information and communications technology director, was abducted and murdered.

Chebukati said Odinga got more than 6.9 million votes – 48.85 per cent of the total, while Ruto got more than 7.17 million. Independent tallies during the week appeared to show the two leading candidates neck and neck, but, close to the end, Ruto began moving ahead.

In a speech after he was announced as winner, Ruto said: “We have raised the bar in this election.” He said it was “about the issues [rather] than the ethnic configurations that have always informed our elections”.

This was the first election without a leading candidate from the dominant Kikuyu tribe – to which three of Kenya’s four previous presidents have belonged – though both candidates ran with a Kikuyu deputy.

“There are no losers,” Ruto continued. “The people of Kenya, led by the 14 million who turned up to vote, are the biggest winners.”

Ruto is a self-declared “hustler” and champion of the poor who was once charged by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity for his alleged involvement in violence after the 2007 election; the charges were later dropped. He said he wanted to “fashion a country that leaves nobody behind”.

The presidential election results were originally due to be announced at 3pm (1pm Irish time), but there was a delay of three hours. In anticipation of chaos on the streets, many Nairobi businesses sent their staff home, leading to traffic jams out of the city. At the same time hundreds of Odinga supporters gathered outside Kenya’s national tallying centre. They were not allowed to enter, and faced off against hundreds of armed police.

One shouted, “No Raila, no peace,” referring to Odinga. Another said: “The election has been stolen, Ruto is a thief.” At one point, some of them kicked around a dead stork. “Ruto is dead with his chicken,” a young man shouted – an apparent reference to Ruto’s past life as a chicken seller.

Unlike Ruto and the two other presidential candidates, who got less than 100,000 votes between them, Odinga failed to show up for the results, prompting the phrase “where is Baba?” to trend on Kenyan Twitter.

The disputed results could lead to a challenge in Kenya’s supreme court. In 2017, the election result was nullified after Kenyatta defeated Odinga, leading to a re-run, which ended up with Odinga losing again.

A second run could cost the country the equivalent of hundreds of millions of euro – a huge concern to some citizens – while others are worried about the possibility of post-election violence of the kind that led to more than 1,000 deaths in 2007 and dozens in 2017.

Uncertainty also means many Kenyans – who survive day-to-day – cannot earn a living.

In Karen, the upscale Nairobi neighbourhood where both Odinga and Ruto live, idle boda boda motorbike drivers – who are usually busy carrying passengers – complained on Monday afternoon about how long the election count had been taking.

“People are very anxious,” said Silas Nkunja (55), who likes Ruto because he is “hard-working”. Still, Nkunja said he could not imagine either man making any difference if elected. “Nothing will change because the economy is bad, there’s high inflation. I’m not anticipating anything.”

“We’re feeling very painful waiting for the results,” said Johnsone Onyangi (26), who was guarding his motorbike nearby.

“[The delay] has affected business. Suppliers are not bringing flour. There is no work this week. Nobody’s travelling, nobody’s going anywhere. People are fearing to get out of their houses.”

He anticipated that after the results came in “there will be one bad week and then it will be okay. The whole of this week will not be good… You can’t work if there is no peace.”

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa