Kenyans go to the polls on Tuesday, August 9 to elect a new president. There are two main contenders: Deputy President William Ruto and veteran politician Raila Odinga. In Nairobi, RFI’s political editor for the Kiswahili service, Victor Abuso, offers his insight into the candidates and the issues.
Ruto and Odinga are both familiar to Kenyans. There is no love lost between Ruto and outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta, accused by Ruto of vote fraud. Although Ruto serves as deputy leader, Kenyatta has placed emphasis on former rival Odinga.
Like Kenyatta, Odinga comes from a Kenyan political dynasty, and is one of the richest men in the country. The 77-year-old, who is a veteran politician and former prime minister, may be facing his last chance for the presidency.
It’s the economy
Kenya, an economic powerhouse on the continent, was severely 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 programmes.
Odinga plans to finance the poorest and give them 6,000 shillings a month, or 60 euros, editor Abuso says Africa is calling podcast.
“Ruto says he wants to change the economic model in this country, calling it ‘bottom-up’,” says Abuso, adding, “he is focusing on bodaboda (motorcycle) drivers, but he has said he wants to empower women. who sell vegetables.”
His program will also allow people to borrow money from the government.
Another candidate who pollsters predict will get some votes is George Wajackoya, also known as ‘ganga man’, “because he wants to legalize the cultivation and smoking of cannabis in Kenya. The money will be used to pay off national debt,” said Abuso, who speak Kiswahili with others editor Emmanuel Makundi.
“There is a feeling that Wajackoya can surprise Kenyans during the elections and resonate with the youth of Kenya,” he adds.
Youth voter apathy
Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has confirmed there was an increase in registered voters from the last presidential election, but a lack of younger voters surprised many, says RFI Kiswahili’s Abuso.
Each candidate’s program empowers the youth economically to revive the country, but the low number of registered voters between the ages of 18-35 indicates that young people have no faith in electing their president, especially after recent economic difficulties.
“The Electoral Commission says that widespread corruption among politicians, as has been experienced here for the past five years, means that they do not trust that even if they cast their vote, their vote will not count,” says Abuso.
The concern that the election will be “stolen” by one party or another weighs heavily on young people’s minds, Abuso adds, so they don’t bother going to the polls.
“A large number of young people say that politicians do not tell the truth: they promised them jobs, they will create millions of jobs, but when they come to power they do not,” he says, indicating that this is the main reason why they did not register themselves.
“That means we will see people between the ages of 36 and 90 voting on August 9 and young people will be left out,” he adds.
Free and fair, revisit
In a bid to avoid a repeat of the 2017 election fiasco, the IEBC has reiterated that it will ensure that the elections are free and fair. In 2017, the opposition refused to accept the results, and took their claim to the Supreme Court, where the results were annulled. People vote manually in Kenya, but the count 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 are ready, but time will tell,” he says, adding that there have been discussions about using the manual voter register versus an electronic format.
Peace in our time
Post-election violence in 2007-2008 killed around 1,100 people, and clashes erupted in 2013, which is what everyone is trying to avoid this time, says Abuso.
The candidates, especially those vying for the presidency, are all asking for peace.
“In Kenya, the problem is not the voting. It is when the results are announced,” says Abuso.
“Ruto says 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 halted due to the splitting of the dominant Kikuyu community’s vote; no Kikuyu is a candidate, although both Ruto and Odinga have chosen Kikuyu running mates.
With the calls for peace from all parties, voters gain confidence this time, says Abuso.
One thing is for sure – this will be a close race and some believe outsider George ‘Ganga Man’ Wajackoya could push the vote to a second round finish.
Anyway, RFI Kiswahili’s Abuso says the atmosphere in the country has changed around the polls.
“I want to believe that in this election, people put the country first.”