Sunday, June 23, 2024

President William Ruto: A Year in Power Leaves Kenya Disenchanted

President William Ruto: A Year in Power Leaves Kenya Disenchanted

He has taken dozens of trips abroad boosting his credentials on climate change, while raising taxes at home. He pledged to send his country’s police to quash gang violence in Haiti, though they stand accused of brutality at home. And he recently hosted an eight-course state dinner for King Charles III, amid skyrocketing food and fuel prices.

Kenya’s president, William Ruto, is facing searing criticism and mounting public anger just over one year since he took power after a tightly contested election. The rising discontent has rattled the East African nation, a close Western ally that has long been an economic powerhouse and a pillar of stability in a tumultuous region.

Mr. Ruto, who grew up poor and attended school barefoot, campaigned on a platform to improve the economy for the millions of striving Kenyans, whom he called “hustlers.” But now, even some of his most ardent supporters say the president, a wealthy businessman, has made life more onerous by imposing higher taxes, removing fuel subsidies and raising electricity prices.

“The president is a liar, a serial liar,” said Antony Ikonya Mwaniki, a former local official in Kiambu County, north of the capital Nairobi, where Mr. Ruto held his final campaign rally last year.

“I am a very disappointed person,” Mr. Mwaniki said. “We are all suffering.”

Mr. Ruto initially scoffed at his critics, saying he assumed office when Kenya’s economy was already encumbered by growing debt, high unemployment and a prolonged drought that shriveled crops

“We have had to take hard decisions and make painful choices because we owe it to Kenyans to do the right thing,” Mr. Ruto said in November in his first State of the Nation address. “The new direction may not be easy, but it is ethical, responsible, prudent, and most importantly, necessary.”

Mr. Ruto’s plan to charge taxpayers 1.5 percent of their monthly incomes, along with an equal match by employers, to build affordable housing, was declared unconstitutional by the High Court on Tuesday. A separate plan to promote universal health care was also suspended by the court, on Monday.

As Mr. Ruto tries to solve foreign problems, domestic challenges mount.

Esther Kwamboka is the kind of “hustler” Mr. Ruto promised to help.

“If the president really cared about us, he would bring the cost of food and doing business down,” she said. “Otherwise, people will start committing suicide soon.”

The president has faced disapproval for his foreign travels, too. Since taking office last September, Mr. Ruto has traveled to more than two dozen nations, hobnobbing with political leaders in Africa, Asia and Europe, as well as in Silicon Valley, with business leaders like the Apple CEO, Tim Cook.

For now, Kenyans hope Mr. Ruto will find a solution to their economic pains.

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