WILLIAM SAMOEI RUTO ….. From a hustler to a kingmakerEditor's Choice 07:55
The man accused by ICC of crimes against humanity overcame great odds in his early life, with breakthrough coming from suspect Kanu youth lobby
William Kipchirchir Samoei arap Ruto’s story is most unlikely in Kenya’s politics of patronage. The Eldoret North MP, who served as Higher Education Minister before his sensational sacking in 2010, after falling out with ODM’s Raila Odinga, is the quintessential self-made politician.
He grew up in poverty in Kamagut, Uasin Gishu, treading barefoot to school, craning his neck to reach passengers plying the Nairobi-Eldoret to sell peanuts to supplement the family income.
That did not stop him from excelling in his studies, and he ultimately secured a place at the University of Nairobi, where he completed a degree in Botany and Zoology in 1990.
He briefly taught in secondary schools in the North Rift, where he also met his future wife and mother of their six children.
His chance meeting with then President Daniel arap Moi changed Ruto’s fortunes forever. Then Ruto, who was a serious Christian, led the school’s Christian Union, and offered a fervent prayer that moved then President Moi, who was on a visit. Moi would seek Ruto thereafter.
Ruto soon became involved in Youth for Kanu 1992 (YK92) lobby led by Cyrus Jirongo in the campaign to restore Moi to office in the first multi-party elections.
Ruto, then 26, joined in the gravy-train that Moi had set in motion, rising to the position of Organising Secretary of the YK92 lobby. Apart from dishing out money to buy loyalty, those that resisted were often intimidated into submission, Daniel Branch writes in Kenya, Between Hope and Despair, 1963-2011.
Ruto continued to flourish, winning a parliamentary seat and a slot in the Cabinet in 1997. A teetotaller renowned for being focused and calculating, Ruto’s fallout with Moi in 2007 caused a seismic shift in Rift Valley politics, and turned him into a kingmaker when he led huge swathes of the Kalenjin nation to back ODM’s Raila Odinga in the last General Election, going against Moi’s anointed candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta.
Ruto was subsequently appointed Minister for Agriculture when the coalition Government was formed in 2008. He moved to the Higher Education Ministry until April 2010 when he was suspended over the maize scandal in his previous docket.
Ruto was accused in Parliament by Ikolomani MP Boni Khalwale of illegally authorising sale of subsidised maize imports to his cronies. Individuals and companies that exploited the scheme skimmed large sums of money running into hundreds of millions of shillings.
The maize was introduced in 2008 to mitigate food shortfalls occasioned by the post-election violence.
While Ruto survived a motion of no-confidence brought against him in Parliament, the matter was not entirely resolved and would later lead to the PM’s office where top aides were implicated in the scam.
Controversy continued to dog Ruto, and he was finally suspended from his Cabinet post on October 20, 2010, after the High Court ruled he had a case to answer in connection with alleged payment of millions of shillings arising from land deals involving the Kenya Pipeline Company (KPL).
He was charged with defrauding the KPL of large amounts of money through dubious land deals, notably through the sale of a piece of land in Ngong forest to the company. A key witness in the fraud case, Ms Mary Ng’ethe, was appointed to a government board, allegedly on the instigation of the ODM party, “to discourage her from testifying,” according to former Raila aide Miguna Miguna.
This resulted in Ruto’s acquittal for lack of evidence. Though Ruto had already broken ranks with the PM, Raila was allegedly assisting Ruto to protect his own turf, including senior officials at his office and members of his family who were alleged to have been involved in the maize scandal.
Before the 2010 constitutional referendum, Ruto campaigned against the promulgation of the new Constitution, arguing that some of its clauses were untenable. The ‘No’ campaigners were, however, resoundingly defeated at the referendum.
In the same year Ruto was back in the dock after Gilbert Adrian Muteshi filed a suit at the High Court accusing Ruto of grabbing his 100-acre farm in Turbo at the height of the 2008 Post-Election Violence.
Muteshi claimed he fled the land following the violence, and subsequently found Ruto had taken possession of it.
Ruto denies grabbing the land, and insisted he had bought it from a third party. He has offered to surrender it to Muteshi. The matter is still in court.
Ruto is a wealthy politician with substantial stake in insurance, real estate, media and transport sectors. He owns Amaco Insurance Company, Weston Hotel at the Wilson Airport, and rental houses in Nairobi and elsewhere. He has homes in Karen, Elgon View in Eldoret and another home and farm in Sugoi.
The United Republican Party presidential candidate recently announced that he would be backing The National Alliance’s Uhuru Kenyatta for president, and gun for Vice President’s post on a joint TNA-URP ticket.
The two are facing charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC), all relating to the violence that broke out in the aftermath of the disputed 2007 presidential election. Ruto was quoted in the Press as saying the forthcoming General Election would be “a referendum on the Hague process.”