Photos show Kenyan deputy president at a cultural festival, not visiting a witch doctor

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Two images of Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto donned in traditional attire have been shared multiple times on Facebook and Twitter alongside a claim that he sought divine power from witch doctors ahead of the 2022 general elections. But this is false: the photos were taken at an annual cultural festival in Turkana County in December 2021.

A Facebook post published on December 11, 2021, shared the images of Ruto in what appears to be a thatched house. It alleged that he visited a witch doctor in Kitui County, an area located in Kenya’s eastern region and stereotypically associated with black magic.

“Uchawi na uganga (translates to sorcery). Ruto in search of power. Ruto, the chairman of Jehovah Complex theory and stage-managed religious stunts has decided to get help from a powerful witch doctor from Kitui County to help him win presidential elections (sic),” the caption reads.

A screenshot of false Facebook post, taken on January 20, 2022

Similar claims were shared on Facebook here and here. On Twitter, Kitui governor Charity Ngilu shared the pictures and threw a political jab at Ruto noting that he had no right to refer to others as “waganga”.

“And he will still refer to others as waganga. Earth is hard,” she wrote.

The Swahili word “waganga” (plural) originally means doctors but over the years has been used casually to refer to witch doctors. 

In Kenya’s political scene, the word is used as a label for some politicians—suggesting they are invested in sorcery. This has been deployed as a tactic to instil fear in voters, who are largely religious and dismissive of witchcraft.

Politicians, including Ruto, have referred to his arch-rival and opposition leader Raila Odinga as “mganga” on multiple occasions.

Annual celebration

But the picture of Ruto in traditional regalia has nothing to do with witchcraft.

A reverse image search shows the photo was captured on December 11, 2021, when Ruto attended a cultural festival in Kenya’s Turkana county. In this news report about the cultural festival, we see Ruto dressed in traditional attire.

The Turkana cultural festival is an annual celebration where locals exhibit cultural heritage, including songs, food, dance costumes, rituals and artefacts. The festival also fosters peaceful co-existence among communities within neighbouring counties.

Kenya’s upcoming election  

Kenya is scheduled to hold its general election on August 9, 2022, to elect its fifth president.

Former prime minister Odinga announced in December 2021 that he would make his fifth bid for the presidency. Odinga will likely face off against Ruto, who has been actively campaigning countrywide, despite not yet officially announcing his candidature.

Ruto, 54, has positioned himself as a leader looking to upend the status quo and stand up for the "hustlers" trying to make ends meet.

Online misinformation has been on the rise in the lead-up to the much-anticipated polls. AFP Fact check has debunked claims here, here and here.