The challenges ahead as Kenyans prepare to choose a president

Kenyans go to the polls on Tuesday, August 9, to elect a new president. There are two main candidates: Vice President William Ruto and political veteran Raila Odinga. In Nairobi, RFI’s Kiswahili political service editor Victor Abuso offers his insights into the candidates and the issues.

Ruto and Odinga are well known to Kenyans. There is no love lost between Ruto and outgoing president Uhuru Kenyatta, accused by Ruto of electoral fraud. Although Ruto serves as vice 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 mainland, Kenya has been severely hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic as many have lost their jobs and businesses have closed. Both candidates, Odinga of the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition, and Ruto of the Kenya Kwanza party, promised to boost the economy with their own empowerment programs.

Odinga plans to finance the poorest and give them 6,000 shillings a month, or 60 euros, abuse editor it says Africa calling podcast.

“Ruto says he wants to change this country’s economic model, calling it ‘bottom-up,’” says Abuso, adding, “he’s focusing on bodaboda (moto) drivers, but he’s been saying he wants to empower women who are selling vegetables.”

His program will also allow people to borrow money from the government.

Another candidate that researchers predict will win some votes is George Wajackoya, also known as the ‘ganga man’, “because he wants to legalize cannabis farming and smoking in Kenya. The money will be used to pay the national debt,” says Abuso, speaking to a fellow Kiswahili editor Emmanuel Makundi.

“There is a feeling that Wajackoya could surprise Kenyans during the election and resonate with Kenya’s youth,” he adds.

Young voter apathy

The Independent Electoral and Border Commission of Kenya (IEBC) said there has been an increase in registered voters since the last presidential election, but the lack of younger voters surprised many, says Abuse of RFI Kiswahili.

Each candidate’s program economically strengthens the youth to regenerate the country, but the low number of registered voters between the ages of 18 and 35 indicates that young people lack faith in choosing their president, especially after the recent economic difficulties.

“The electoral commission says that widespread corruption among politicians, as has happened here for the past five years, means they don’t trust that even if they vote, their vote won’t count,” says Abuso.

The concern that the election will be ‘stolen’ by one or another party weighs heavily on young people’s minds, adds Abuso, so that they don’t worry about going to the polls.

“Many young people say that politicians are not telling the truth: they promised jobs, they will create millions of jobs, but when they come to power they don’t,” he says, indicating that this is the main reason why they did not register.

“This means that 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, revisited

In an effort to avoid a repeat of the 2017 election fiasco, the IEBC reiterated that it will ensure that the elections are free and fair. In 2017, the opposition refused to accept the results, taking their claims to the Federal Supreme Court, where the results were overturned. People vote manually in Kenya, but counting is electronic.

“Kenyans are asking and politicians are asking, ‘Is the country covered enough by 3G and 4G networks to do this?’” says Abuso.

“The IEBC says it’s done, but time will tell,” he says, adding that there have been discussions about using manual voter registration versus the electronic format.

peace in our time

Post-election violence in 2007-2008 killed about 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 running for president, are all calling for peace.

“In Kenya, the problem is not voting. That’s when the results are announced,” says Abuso.

“Ruto says that if he loses the election, he will accept the result, and the same sentiments were cited by Odinga,” says Abuso.

Some political analysts say ethnic rivalry has been quelled due to the division of the vote by the ruling Kikuyu community; no Kikuyu are candidates, although Ruto and Odinga have selected Kikuyu running mates.

With calls for peace from all parties, voters are gaining confidence this time around, says Abuso.

One thing is for sure – this will be a close race, and some believe that outsider George ‘Ganga Man’ Wajackoya could push the vote into a second round.

Whatever the case, Abuso of RFI Kiswahili says the atmosphere in the country has changed around the elections.

“I want to believe that in this election people are putting the country first.”

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