William Ruto, Kenya’s deputy president, lambasted President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday over his economic policies and democratic credentials after his new party nominated him to run for, and win, the presidency in an August election.
Kenyatta, who has served the maximum number of two five-year terms, has accused Ruto of being untrustworthy and less experienced than Raila Odinga.
Odinga, who is supported by Kenyatta, will face Ruto in the election.
In front of five thousand cheering delegates in his new United Democratic Alliance party’s green and yellow colours, Ruto attacked Kenyatta’s record.
“Debt must be the last resort. We must not be slaves of debt from any place or any country,” he told the gathering.
Since taking office in 2013, Kenyatta’s government has increased the public debt by seven trillion shillings ($61.32 billion), from nearly two trillion shillings.
The loans, including billions of dollars from China, are pushing the nation’s debt ceiling over the edge.
Kenyatta was also accused by Ruto of failing to honour election promises and of using state institutions to harass political opponents.
Previously, Kenyatta defended his policies, saying he wanted to enshrine the rule of law and boost economic growth by building roads, railways, and other infrastructure, partly financed through borrowing.
Kenyans have expressed concern about the divisions between the two men. In the past, elections have sometimes sparked violence – not least in 2007, when Odinga’s supporters said that Kenyatta’s win had been stolen and ethnic clashes broke out.
Ruto has tried to calm fears by promising to accept the election results in August.
Kenya hosts the regional headquarters of international companies like Alphabet Inc. and Visa. It is East Africa’s most prosperous and stable nation, and is a close ally of the West.
A former lawmaker and minister for agriculture before becoming deputy president, Ruto hopes to break traditional patterns of ethnic voting by presenting the August election as a contest between poor “hustlers” and wealthy political “dynasties”. “If we take care of the bottom, we take care of everybody,” he said to his party’s delegates.
In contrast to Kenyatta and Odinga – the sons of the nation’s first president and vice president, respectively – Ruto says he began his career selling chicken on the roadside and pledges to shift government funding from large infrastructure projects to small businesses.
Ruto has been accused of corruption – none of which has ever been proven in court – and is charged at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for allegedly masterminding violence following the disputed 2007 elections.
The case was later dropped, but a Kenyan lawyer is currently on trial at the ICC for bribing prosecution witnesses against Ruto; the lawyer denies the allegations.
Kenyatta, Odinga, and Ruto hail from three of Kenya’s four biggest ethnic groups. Since independence from Britain in 1963, Kenya’s Kikuyu group, the nation’s most populous, has produced three of four presidents.
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