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Kenyans go to the polls on Tuesday, 9 August, to elect a new president. There are two main contenders: deputy president William Ruto, and veteran politican Raila Odinga. In Nairobi, RFI’s Kiswahili service political editor Victor Abuso offers his insights into the candidates and the issues.
Ruto and Odinga are both well-known to Kenyans. There’s no love lost between Ruto and outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta, accused by Ruto of vote rigging. Although Ruto serves as deputy president, Kenyatta has thrown his weight behind former rival Odinga.
Odinga, like Kenyatta, comes from a Kenyan political dynasty, and is one of the richest men in the country. A veteran politician and former prime minister, the 77-year-old may be facing his last chance for the presidency.
It’s the economy
An economic powerhouse on the continent, Kenya was gravely hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic, as many lost their jobs and businesses closed. Both candidates, Odinga of the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition, and Ruto of the Kenya Kwanza party, have promised to kick-start the economy with their own empowerment programs.
“Ruto says he wants to change the economic model of this country, calling it the’ bottom-up’,” says Abuso, adding, “he’s focusing on bodaboda (motorcycle) drivers, but he has been saying that he wants to empower women who are selling vegetables.”
His program will also allow people to borrow money from the government.
One other candidate who pollsters predict will garner some votes is George Wajackoya, also known as ‘ganga man’, “because he wants to legalise farming and smoking cannabis in Kenya. The money will be used to pay national debt,” says Abuso, speaking to fellow Kiswahili editor Emmanuel Makundi.
“There is a feeling that Wajackoya might surprise Kenyans during the election and resonating with the youth of Kenya,” he adds.
Youth voter apathy
Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has affirmed that there was an increase in registered voters from the last presidential election, but lack of younger voters surprised many, says RFI Kiswahili’s Abuso.
Each candidate’s program bolsters the youth economically in order to regenerate the country, but the low numbers of registered voters between the ages of 18-35 indicate that young people have no faith in picking their president, particularly after recent economic hardships.
“The electoral commission says widespread corruption among politicians, as experienced here in the last five years, means they don’t trust that even if they cast their votes, their vote won’t count,” says Abuso.
The worry that the election will be ‘stolen’ by one party or another weighs heavily on the minds of young people, adds Abuso, so they won’t bother going to the polls.
“A large number of youth says that politicians are not saying the truth: they promised them jobs, they’ll create millions of jobs, but when they come to power they don’t do that,” he says, indicating that this is the primary reason they didn’t register.
“That means that we’ll see people between the ages of 36 and 90 going to vote on 9 August and young people will be left out,” he adds.
Free and fair, revisited
In an effort to avoid a repeat of the fiasco of the 2017 elections, the IEBC has reiterated that it will ensure the elections are free and fair. In 2017, the opposition refused to accept the results, taking their claims to the Supreme Court, where the results were nullified. People vote manually in Kenya, but the tallying is electronic.
“Kenyans are asking and politicians are asking, ‘Is the country covered enough by 3G and 4G networks to do this?'” says Abuso.
“IEBC says they’re ready but time will tell,” he says, adding that there have been discussions regarding using the manual register of voters versus an electronic format.
Peace in our time
Post-election violence in 2007-2008 killed some 1,100 people, and clashes broke out in 2013, which is what everyone is trying to avoid this time around, says Abuso.
The candidates, especially those vying for the presidency, are all calling for peace.
“In Kenya, the problem is not the voting. It’s when the results are announced,” says Abuso.
“Ruto says that if he loses the election, he will accept the outcome, and the same sentiments have been quoted by Odinga,” says Abuso.
Some political analysts say that ethnic rivalry has been quelled due to the split of the dominant Kikuyu community vote; no Kikuyu is a candidate, although both Ruto and Odinga have selected Kikuyu running mates.
With the calls for peace from all parties, voters are gaining confidence this time around, says Abuso.
One thing is certain — this will be a close race, and some believe that outsider George ‘Ganga Man’ Wajackoya could push the vote to a second-round runoff.
Whatever the case, RFI Kiswahili’s Abuso says that the atmosphere in the country has changed around the polls.
“I want to believe that in this election, people are putting the country first.”