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Sensemaker: Meet William Ruto

Sensemaker: Meet William Ruto

What just happened

Long stories short

  • A Georgia DA said Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s former lawyer, could face criminal charges related to the 2020 US election.
  • China announced a visa ban for Taiwan’s leaders because of a new visit to Taipei by American politicians.
  • Emma Raducanu beat Serena Williams in straight sets at the Cincinnati Open.

Meet William Ruto

Kenya’s new president is a multi-millionaire chicken farmer who calls himself a hustler. He claims to speak for the downtrodden even though he’s been deputy president for ten years. Before that he was charged at the International Criminal Court with instigating violence that killed 1,200 people.

Is democracy safe with William Ruto? It had better be. It’s on life support in neighbouring Ethiopia and Tanzania. It’s barely breathing in Uganda. Rwanda is a police state and across East Africa Communist China has spent the past decade wooing governments with bridges and highways (and saddling their peoples with debt to pay for them). 

Kenya is a lynchpin of African stability. It has

  • an economy twice the size of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s
  • a per capita income twice that of Ethiopia’s
  • and steeply-rising GDP.

But it also has rising inflation, an unsustainable 75 per cent debt-to-GDP ratio, five young jobseekers for every job and a history of political violence. So the outcome and afterglow of its latest election matters deeply.

Ruto accepted victory after a long, tense count on Monday by thanking  “the millions of Kenyans who refused to be boxed into tribal cocoons”, and there are clear upsides to his win. He is Kenya’s first president not to depend on his own tribal base. His predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, is the third in a row to respect constitutional term limits. And the election seems to have been broadly free and fair. But there are reasons to worry.

  • Ruto’s rival, Raila Odinga, has rejected the result as “null and void”;
  • Four of seven electoral commissioners (all appointed by Kenyatta, who backed Odinga) have also disowned it;
  • Ruto’s record and campaign have sown fears he is an autocrat in waiting; 
  • And Odinga’s people are unhappy.

On the ground. Smoke billowed from burning tires last night as protesters took to the streets in Odinga’s strongholds, chiefly Nairobi’s Kibera slum and the western city of Kisumu, where riot police fired tear gas on Monday. Kibera is Africa’s biggest slum, and Odinga has represented it as an MP for 20 years. “We are waiting for our Baba,” Nancy Kango, headmistress of a primary school there, said on election day.

Kango was convinced Odinga – a perennial underdog – would win the presidency on this, his fifth attempt, with the political establishment finally behind him. When the electoral commission’s chairman declared Ruto the next president instead, there were fears Kibera would erupt.

It hasn’t – yet. Futwax Daniel, a musician, said he was “very disappointed” with the result, and so fearful of violence that he would be leaving for his ancestral village. Another Odinga supporter said: “Our hearts are just totally broken.” 

Hustler-in-chief. Ruto, 55, launched his “Hustler Nation” campaign after Kenyatta sidelined him and backed Odinga. 

Born to Rift Valley farmers, Ruto sold chickens on the roadside and attended school barefoot. After a short spell as a teacher, he rose quickly in politics under the stewardship of Daniel arap Moi, Kenya’s brutal and dictatorial second president.

Ruto has since built a substantial business empire, encompassing land, hotels and a colossal chicken farm. His running mate, Rigathi Gachagua, is also a wealthy businessman and was last month ordered by the high court to hand over $1.7 million in illegally-obtained government funds. 

Their wealth didn’t harm their campaign. Ruto promised to tear down Kenya’s “dynasties” and support its “hustlers” with loans and subsidies. That strategy prevailed, particularly in the vote-rich Kikuyu heartlands round Mount Kenya. With no Kikuyu on the ballot for the first time in Kenyan history, the country’s largest ethnic group had to make a choice.

“Ruto is a dynamic and ruthless political operator,” says Fergus Kell, a Kenya expert at Chatham House. “At this stage major alarm over a Ruto presidency is unwarranted.” Kell says Ruto is likely to centralise power with a tight inner circle of advisors, but also draw on experienced technocrats for counsel.

Is Kenyan democracy safe? It is, for now. This worry is that it may have produced a Kenyan Bolsonaro.


Dorms for adults
Adam Neumann is back. He crashed in 2019 when the flotation of his WeWork office space startup imploded because of revelations about his style and private life (he liked to smoke pot on his private jet, for instance). A lot of people thought he’d burned as well but Marc Andreessen of the venture capital powerhouse Andreessen Horowitz has put a cool $1 billion – apparently his biggest ever initial investment – behind a new Neumann idea called Flow. This would be remarkable even if it was clear what Flow was, but it isn’t. Neumann has previously talked about letting residential space to millennials in what he called dorms for adults, and he’s been on the hunt for leases on big urban properties that millennials might live in. But a billion for reinventing the private rented sector? The coffee had better be good.


Greece phone hacking 
Two senior Greek officials have resigned and the prime minister is under pressure to explain himself as his government reels from a phone hacking scandal with tentacles spreading throughout Europe. The first phone hacked belonged to an editor at CNN Greece, who had no idea until it was too late that by clicking on an innocent-looking email he’d opened a back door allowing a North Macedonian company called Cytrox to spy on his calls and messages. He found out by his own sleuthing in March. In July, the leader of Greece’s third-biggest political party said he was being spied on too. In that case, the spyware was the Predator programme built by NSO in Israel, but Wired has a comprehensive report showing that as NSO regroups under threat of US sanctions, home-grown European spyware firms are rushing to fill the niche. Meanwhile the head of Greek intelligence and the prime minister’s nephew (and chief of staff) have stepped down. The immediate questions for Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the PM, are what he knew, and when.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Free period products
Scotland has become the first country in the world to pass a law requiring period products to be free and readily accessible to anyone who needs them. The Period Products Act, which came into effect on Monday, requires local councils and education providers to make these products available free of charge in public bathrooms. Although the law is new, Scotland’s government has been working to make period products more accessible for years. Previous initiatives include the launch of an app called ‘PickupMyPeriod’, which helps users find the nearest place to pick up free period products. Reproductive health advocates are overjoyed by what they call an important step towards eradicating period poverty in the UK. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Offset that 
The least climate-friendly form of travel conceivable, short of travelling everywhere by rocket, is taking off. American Airlines has become the third big customer after United and Virgin to place orders for Boom Supersonic’s Overture jets, which look like mini-Concordes and cruise at nearly twice the speed of sound. Boom is based in Colorado but building a giant manufacturing plant in North Carolina. Like most of its launch customers, in other words, it’s American. Yet the US landmass was what did for Concorde as a commercial venture because people living there wouldn’t tolerate the sonic booms. Boom claims to have solved that with new air intakes. Still, odd name, considering.


Cheney’s loss
Liz Cheney was one of only 10 congressional Republicans to vote to impeach Trump last year and one of only two on the January 6th investigation committee. She’s now out of a job. Her Trump-backed rival for a Wyoming congressional district beat her by a handy 37 percentage points in their primary last night. It was expected but still crushing confirmation of Trump’s grip on the party and the party’s willingness to stick with his lies about the 2020 election. Cheney had already found herself ostracised: earlier this year the party’s Wyoming branch censured her for impeaching Trump and her colleagues in Congress voted to sack her as a House minority leader. In 2020, Cheney won her Wyoming primary with 73 per cent of the vote. In case you missed it there was more on Trump’s influence over the primaries in our Trump tracker Sensemaker last week. Whether that translates into a national poll lead is another matter. Cheney could yet run against him for president.

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what you think. Send an email to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Charlie Mitchell

Giles Whittell

Additional reporting by Asha Mior and Ella Hill.

Photograph: Getty Images

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