Kibera, Kenya – On the eve of the August 9 elections, Joyce Achieng stood for hours outside the town hall centre at Kamukunji in the heart of Kibera, in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. The 41-year-old mother of 10 went home only to cook for her children in the morning before returning the next evening and repeating the cycle until Monday, she said.
She was ready to spend another week celebrating if former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, her candidate for president and a massive favourite in Kibera, won, she told Al Jazeera on Monday afternoon.
Just after 6pm (15:00 GMT), Wafula Chebukati, chairperson of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), announced that Deputy President William Ruto had won the election with 50.49 percent of the vote to Odinga’s 48.85 percent.
Achieng and hundreds of others took to the streets of the densely populated slum, home to an estimated 250,000 people, to protest. “I can’t talk to you,” she said, her voice hoarse from all the screaming and wailing. “My voice is gone. I can’t speak.”
Beside her, Maureen Akinyi’s voice was loud and her speech was succinct. “They steal [the election] from us all the time,” the Kibera resident told Al Jazeera. “This time, no Raila, no Kenya.”
Around them, there were bonfires and youths hitting zinc walls with roads and sticks, angered by the turn of events.
Their disappointment reverberated across many parts of Nairobi, widely considered an Odinga stronghold. But it was especially strong in Kibera, which until 2013 was part of the Langata constituency that the former prime minister represented in parliament for many years.
Residents said he has been crucial in the push against their eviction from the slum. They also said the town hall square hosted many strategy meetings in the ’80s for Odinga and fellow comrades in the struggle to end single-party politics in Kenya.
In 1992, their struggle ended in triumph as Daniel arap Moi, president at the time, reinstituted a multi-party democracy.
Seven years later, when he won another term as president, the second runner-up was Odinga, who won only 10 percent of the votes in that election.
Subsequent attempts in 2007, 2013 and 2017 also ended in failure for Odinga.
A 2018 truce with longtime foe President Uhuru Kenyatta, who handed him two of those defeats, was seen as a chance for the serial aspirant to finally find success this August.
Opinion polls predicted a win for Odinga ahead of the elections, and some media houses that collated results from the IEBC’s portal also placed him in the lead in the days after the election.
However, he and the incumbent president were outwitted by Ruto, who got his first break as a popular campaigner for President arap Moi in 1992, but first got into government as an Odinga ally in the 2008 coalition government – where the latter was prime minister.
Ruto, who called himself a hustler, promised to revive the economy and give more opportunities to everyday citizens, a message that resonated in a country with high unemployment and massive debt.
He referenced his poor beginnings as a chicken seller, compared to Odinga and Uhuru, whose fathers became the first vice president and president of Kenya, respectively, back in 1963 when the country became independent from British colonial rule.
Drama and divergence
Ruto’s victory did not come without drama.
The results were due to be announced at 3pm Nairobi time (12:00 GMT), but the IEBC moved it twice, first to 4pm and then 5pm.
Around that time, four of the IEBC’s commissioners broke ranks to stage a brief press conference at the plush Serena Hotel in the heart of the capital and disown the results.
IEBC Deputy Chairperson Juliana Cherera said they left the tallying centre “because of the opaque nature of how this phase has been handled”.
“We therefore cannot take ownership of this result that is going to be announced,” she told the press at Serena.
Cherera and the other three commissioners were appointed to the commission last year by President Kenyatta.
Just as their press conference ended, residents of Kibera and neighbouring areas mobilised to go there. Young men on motorcycles, some with vuvuzela horns and others with Maasai fleece blankets, stood outside the premises singing until a couple of police vehicles drove and parked in front of the hotel, which had quickly locked its gates.
There were also ongoing demonstrations across parts of the capital.
And Martha Karua, Odinga’s running mate tweeted: “It is not over until it is over”.
In his acknowledgement speech, the president-elect seemed eager to move on with the task of dousing tension in the country and on to governance itself.
“There is no room for vengeance,” Ruto said, while praising the electoral commission for publishing results on its portal. “I am acutely aware that our country is at a stage where we need all hands on deck.”
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa wasted no time in congratulating Ruto. “I have no doubt he will serve his country, his people and our continent with distinction,” he tweeted on Monday evening.
Congratulations to @WilliamsRuto on his election as the next President of Kenya.
I have no doubt he will serve his country, his people and our continent with distinction 🇿🇼🇰🇪
— President of Zimbabwe (@edmnangagwa) August 15, 2022
On the Langata road that connects to Bomas, the tourist village that moonlights as the national tallying centre during elections, to the upscale suburb of Nairobi where both Ruto and Odinga live, children stayed out past 7 pm to wave at a convoy of VIPs, believed to be Ruto’s.
“It is through prayers and trusting God that Ruto won this election, he was a David fighting Goliath” Martin Mwangi, a Nairobi bus driver told Al Jazeera. “His ethnicity doesn’t matter. He is self-made and has the interest of the common Kenyan.”
In Ruto’s hometown of Eldoret, thousands spilled onto the streets in celebration of their native son’s victory over the five-time veteran whose cause he once championed.