William Ruto: Kenya's deputy president

By Juliet Njeri
BBC Monitoring, Nairobi

image copyrightGetty Images

Just days after Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta won the 4 March 2013 elections, images of his running mate, William Ruto, breaking down in tears during a church service shocked both his supporters and critics.

It was a rare display of vulnerability by the driven politician who is considered by many Kenyans to be hot-tempered, arrogant and ruthlessly ambitious.

When Mr Ruto was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in December 2010 for crimes against humanity, many people thought it was the beginning of the end of his political career. The politician was charged with murder, deportation or forcible transfer of population, and persecution - all to do with the deadly violence that followed the 2007 elections.

The accusations mainly relate to attacks on Mr Kenyatta's Kikuyu community, especially in the ethnic Kalenjin heartland in the Rift Valley.

The Kikuyus largely backed then President Mwai Kibaki, a member of their community, during the election.

The two ethnic groups have a history of rivalry, which intensified after the Kikuyus settled in the Rift Valley after independence in 1963.

Mr Ruto's trial starts on 10 September 2013.

But the self-styled "hustler" - who once sold chicken by a railway line - cunningly used the ICC issue to power his way into the grand hallways of Kenya's State House.

A deeply religious Christian, Ruto he described the 2013 election victory on a joint ticket with Mr Kenyatta as a "miracle".

"Our victory today in all manner of definition is a miracle. Ladies and gentlemen this afternoon I am lost for words," said the normally eloquent politician.

His alliance with Mr Kenyatta was viewed by many as a union of convenience between two men whose backgrounds couldn't be more different.


Unlike Mr Kenyatta, the son of a former president whose name and heritage opened doors for him from birth, Mr Ruto rose from a humble, poor background to become a political kingmaker.

An ethnic Kalenjin, he was born on 21 December 1966 in Sugoi village in the western region of the Rift Valley. His home region is prone to ethnic violence and was one of the focal points of the fighting - mainly between the Kalenjin and Mr Kenyatta's Kikuyu community - in 2007.

He was educated at local schools before studying botany and zoology at the University of Nairobi. His high school colleagues remember him as a "soft spoken and shy student who kept a low profile".

According to his mother, Sara Cheruiyot, he "was never rebellious" and was always "obedient, honest and punctual. He also kept to himself and rarely picked quarrels or a fight with his mates" and "always carried a book to read in the grazing fields".

While at university, he was chairman of the Christian Union choir.

He met his political mentor, former President Daniel arap Moi, through his involvement in church activities. Like Mr Ruto, Mr Moi is an ethnic Kalenjin, teetotaller and fervent churchgoer.

Mr Ruto helped found a lobby group, the Youth for Kanu 92 (YK92), which Mr Moi's Kenya African National Union (Kanu) used to retain power in 1992.

The group's main campaign tactic was dishing out money - reportedly billions of shillings - a move later blamed for Kenya's economic turmoil of the early 1990s. Mr Ruto reportedly made his fortune during this period.

He was elected MP in 1997 and soon became one of the most powerful politicians within the ruling party, which was on the defensive.

With Kanu facing defeat in 2002, Mr Moi appointed Mr Ruto deputy interior minister before promoting him to full minister. By then all the senior officials had quit the ruling party after the president hand-picked Uhuru Kenyatta as his successor.

Though Kanu lost the election, Mr Ruto retained his parliamentary seat and was elected the party's secretary-general in 2005. In 2006, he announced his intention to vie for the presidency in the 2007 election.

He began to work closely with Raila Odinga, a former minister and political foe of Mr Moi.

A shrewd politician and powerful orator, Mr Ruto lamented that Kenya had been ruled by a "wealthy elite" that was "detached from the everyday suffering of ordinary people". He used a popular Kalenjin vernacular radio station, Kass FM, as a platform to articulate his agenda.

He ditched Kanu for Mr Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).

Ruto backed ICC trials

Mr Ruto lost in the ODM presidential primaries to Mr Odinga, but mobilised millions of voters in the extensive Rift Valley region for Mr Odinga. Opinion polls indicated the ODM leader would win the 2007 election and it was expected Mr Ruto would become vice-president.

Mr Ruto was one of Mr Odinga's vocal defenders as disputes erupted over the tallying of the presidential vote.

Mr Ruto's heartland exploded in deadly ethnic violence after the electoral authorities declared President Mwai Kibaki the winner. The violence lasted until February 2008 when Mr Odinga and Mr Kibaki agreed to form a coalition government.

image copyrightReuters
image captionWilliam Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta (R) said their alliance was an example of reconciliation

Mr Ruto was appointed agriculture minister.

As part of the coalition agreement, a local tribunal was formed to investigate the violence. Both President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga lobbied the parliament in vain for local trials of the perpetrators. Mr Ruto, who had then fallen out with the prime minister, sanctioned trials at the ICC.

The mediator, Kofi Annan, handed over to the ICC a sealed envelope containing a list of suspects.

Mr Ruto told Kenya's Sunday Nation newspaper in 2009 that Mr Annan "should hand over the envelope… so that proper investigations can start."

In December 2010, Mr Ruto, Mr Kenyatta and four others were indicted by the ICC. The court later dropped cases against three of the accused, but retained those against Mr Kenyatta, Mr Ruto and Joshua arap Sang, a journalist from Kass FM radio who was accused of inciting and helping coordinate attacks against the Kikuyu community.

Mr Ruto vehemently denies involvement, telling a local TV station that "Deep inside my being I know those charges are fiction".

In November 2012, he teamed up with Mr Kenyatta to form the Jubilee Alliance.

Through the alliance, the duo shrewdly used their ICC indictments to their advantage - painting the cases as a Western assault on Kenya's sovereignty. Their strategy worked, and the two now face the daunting challenge of governing the country while defending themselves at The Hague.


Mr Ruto's eloquence and ready smile have endeared him to his supporters but his political career has been dogged by corruption allegations.

In February 2009, he survived a censure motion in parliament over a scandal on the irregular sale of maize by his ministry. He was suspended from cabinet in October 2010 over the fraudulent sale of public land. He was later acquitted. In June 2013, the High Court ordered him to surrender a 100-acre farm and compensate a farmer who had accused him of grabbing the land during the 2007 violence.

The deputy president insists he is clean, and says his immense wealth has been painstakingly acquired through hard work.

"I sold chicken at [a] railway crossing near my home as a child. I built my father a house using my university boom [allowance]. I paid fees for my siblings. God has been kind to me and through hard work and determination, I have something," he told Kenyan daily The Star.

William Ruto must now use this resilience to face his most formidable challenge to date - escaping conviction by the ICC.

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