26 August 2022

Quick Take – Ruto’s Win in Kenya’s Election is Positive for SMEs and Young People, But Uncertainty Remains

Deputy President William Ruto emerged victorious in Kenya’s presidential contest, winning 50.5 per cent of the vote, while the long-serving opposition leader Raila Odinga won 48.8 per cent. The result is being disputed by Mr Odinga, but if it stands, Mr Ruto’s victory signifies the dawn of a new political context which should be positive for Kenya’s younger generation and SME owners. 

However, claims the election was rigged and ongoing questions over the credibility of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), have led to Mr Odinga formally challenging the result in the courts. Four IEBC commissioners have distanced themselves from the result, questioning the actions and methods of IEBC chair Wafula Chebukati. 

Mr Odinga’s challenge could delay the inauguration of the president-elect by several weeks. It is difficult to predict the outcome of the decision of supreme court judges, but if enough irregularities are found the result will be nullified, requiring a second vote to be held in the next 60 days. 

Whether Mr Odinga would fare any better in a second vote remains to be seen. Arguably, his biggest mistake was to align himself with the present administration led by Uhuru Kenyatta, casting himself as an establishment candidate at a time when Kenyans feel disillusioned with the political order as a result of rising food and fuel prices, soaring public debt and accusations of corruption. 

The 2022 election marks the fifth and likely last time Mr Odinga has run for the presidency and the fourth time he has disputed the result. After doing so in 2007, Kenya was shaken by its worst instance of ethnically motivated post-election violence, in which 1,500 were killed. Odinga’s supporters were eventually placated after he was given the newly created role of prime minister. Then in 2013 and 2017, Mr Odinga ran and lost against Uhuru Kenyatta. In 2017, Mr Odinga again refused to accept Kenyatta’s win and this time the Supreme Court agreed with his argument, annulling the result. However, he then boycotted the re-run, arguing that the new vote was pointless without any reforms to the IEBC. 

President Kenyatta, who is prevented from running for a third term due to constitutional limits, had positioned Mr Ruto as successor since first winning the presidency in 2013. Given this, many when he allied himself with his former rival Mr Odinga in an effort to quell the post-election unrest in 2017. The move saw Mr Ruto remain in his post but distance himself from the ruling Jubilee party, setting up his own vehicle to contest the upcoming 2022 election, the United Democratic Alliance (UDA). Meanwhile, the Jubilee party threw its weight behind Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). ]

Mr Ruto himself is a former market seller, beginning his career hawking chickens before ascending to become one of Kenya’s richest business people, and later a successful politician. During the campaign, he strategically emphasised this to contrast his more humble beginnings with that of his rival, Mr Odinga, who like President Kenyatta is the son of one of Kenya’s independence leaders. Mr Ruto’s successful strategy has meant that for the first time in Kenya’s electoral history, ethnicity has not been a defining factor. 

Ruto repeatedly referred to himself as one of many in a nation of “hustlers”, and one of his campaign slogans has been “every hustler matters.” This characterisation is indicative of his support for SMEs and the informal sector, and the entrepreneurialism that drives this area of the Kenyan economy.  

There should be no doubt that William Ruto’s victory is a more favourable result for young people and SME owners. During the election campaign, Ruto’s team promised a “bottom-up” economic model that would reduce unemployment by providing development finance to small businesses. 

Furthermore, political analysis indicated that sixty-five per cent of Kenyans are under 35 years of age and they are politically alienated, contributing to the election’s low turnout. One of Ruto’s priorities will be to deliver for young Kenyans, many of whom are involved in the informal sector or are small business owners. Many of these people are the ‘hustlers’ that Ruto has now made an important part of his voter base. 

However, questions should remain over the long-term validity of Mr Ruto’s election promises. Industries for second-hand goods, popular with most Kenyans due to their affordability, may eventually come under threat again. The broad approaches of African politicians have been to harbour long-term ambitions for their own production and greater control of the economy.  

By Jack Seal

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