Kenya’s 2022 Election. Ruto’s Win and Intra-Elite Struggles Etudes de l'Ifri, Ifri, December 2023
This paper aims to highlight how and why William Ruto won the 2022 presidential elections against Raila Odinga by focusing on his political strategy before, during and after the campaign.
The 2022 electoral contests took place in an unprecedented political setting. For the first time in Kenyan history, a presidential candidate won an election without the support of the incumbent president and the state apparatus. The paper discusses in detail the relative success of Ruto’s populist narrative in putting the economy and a more vulnerable electorate – the Kenyan “hustlers” – back at the heart of Kenyan politics. It also emphasizes the new political and ethnic alignments that have enabled and followed his win, with a focus on the intra-elite struggles that have occurred since he started campaigning. It also discusses the power consolidation strategies of the new regime in the domestic, regional, and international spheres.
The first part of this article delves into the appeal of the “hustler narrative” whose message was one of “economic upliftment” for Kenya’s “hustlers” – the working classes comprising small-scale farmers and petty traders. This section analyses the political campaign waged by the two camps from this angle, questioning the factors that favored Ruto’s win. It argues that the effectiveness of the “hustler narrative” lay in the ability of a “new elite” to present itself as ascendant from the ranks of the Kenyan masses and in touch with their interests, while portraying its opponents as a dynastic “old elite” responsible for Kenyans’ economic woes and far removed from their struggles. Ruto’s use of evangelical Christianity to legitimize his rhetoric in his campaign and his notable recourse to evangelical churches as an alternative means of patronage testifies to this strategy. Despite the economy being at the core of the campaign, ethnic politics still played a crucial role in these elections, as evidenced by the choice of Kikuyu running mates by the two presidential candidates.
The second part of the article focuses on the first eight months in power of William Ruto and the Kenya Kwanza coalition. We argue that despite his promises of change in political culture, ties of loyalty and patronage have been the main basis of his political entourage. The new administration officials are serving as channels of state patronage to the masses, a tactic that the regime has also used to gain a clear majority in the country’s parliament. The article also posits that the above policies and changes in government have, respectively, adversely affected the economic interests of the elite in the opposition – primarily those who belong to Kenya’s old independence elite – and the masses, leading to protests held against the incumbent regime from March to April 2023. It further observes that the new regime has used Christian ideology, evangelical churches, and the rule of law as a means of legitimizing its position.
We conclude our account of William Ruto’s first eight months of in power by assessing foreign policy shifts to clarify the role Kenya is expected to play within the East African region as well as in international diplomacy over the next five years. It is our argument that these changes have been mostly informed by the administration’s economic recovery agenda. Beyond the general continuity of the country’s historically pragmatic approach in foreign policy, we also demonstrate that the new ruling elite’s interests are playing a major role in driving these changes.