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Africa Last Updated: Aug 8, 2022 - 11:56:15 AM

Old Rivals Unite as Kenya Votes
By Nosmot Gbadamosi, FP, 2/8/22
Aug 4, 2022 - 11:56:46 AM

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Kenyans will cast their ballots on Aug. 9 in what is expected to be a closely fought presidential election. Kenyan opposition leader and fifth-time contender Raila Odinga, 77, is running against Deputy President William Ruto, 55, who is vying for the presidency for the first time.

Odinga, a former prime minister, has a narrow lead according to one opinion poll by the Nairobi-based TIFA Research, with around 46.7 percent support compared with Ruto’s 44.4 percent. The top two finishers will proceed to a runoff if no one receives more than 50 percent of overall votes and at least 25 percent of the vote in more than half of Kenya’s 47 counties. To win, both candidates must woo as many voters as possible over the next few days. Two other candidates, George Wajackoyah and David Mwaure Waihiga, polled 1.8 percent and 0.1 percent, respectively, according to TIFA.

Whoever succeeds President Uhuru Kenyatta will have to address acute drought in parts of the country, slow economic growth, and a global inflation crisis. Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics showed that inflation rose to 8.3 percent in July as food prices climbed 15.3 percent compared with last year, in large part due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Kenya’s economy has grown to be Africa’s sixth biggest, but debt has surged nearly fivefold to 67 percent of GDP since Kenyatta took office in 2013, with the International Monetary Fund having provided $2.34 billion last April in a 38-month program of arrangements that seeks to address the country’s debt vulnerabilities as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kenyatta has been at the center of the election drama. He broke a promise to back his deputy, Ruto, and has instead thrown his weight behind his onetime enemy and fiercest critic, Odinga, who ran against Kenyatta in the 2017 election.

Political observers consider Kenyatta and Ruto’s previous alliance as one of convenience. Both had been charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity after being accused of fueling violence in the aftermath of the heavily disputed 2007 election, which Odinga lost to Mwai Kibaki and after which approximately 1,400 people were killed.

Odinga claimed victory as the “people’s president,” with his supporters urging election officials to recount the votes. Kenyatta—who was then a Kibaki supporter and a member of Kibaki’s incoming cabinet—was accused of having ordered an armed gang known as the Mungiki to target Luo communities, of which Odinga is a member. Charges against Kenyatta were dropped in 2014, and the case against Ruto was abandoned in 2016 due to a “troubling incidence of witness interference and intolerable political meddling.”

Today, the bitter rivalry between the two has left many Kenyans wondering how they manage to run their administration. Ruto insists he and the president are “not enemies” but “see politics differently.”

Odinga hails from one of Kenya’s wealthy political dynasties and in his campaign has positioned himself as “baba” (father) to the nation, pledging that if elected he’ll enact a monthly stipend of 6,000 Kenyan shillings ($50) for the poorest households as part of a social protection program. He has also promised affordable health care through what he termed “Baba Care.” A victory for Odinga may result in Kenya having its first female vice president. In a historic first, Odinga picked Martha Karua, a former cabinet minister and lawmaker, as his running mate.

Ruto’s campaign has been marred by corruption scandals. His running mate, Rigathi Gachagua, a career public servant, had his accounts frozen in 2020 following a request by the government’s Asset Recovery Agency. A Kenyan court last Thursday ordered Gachagua to repay 202 million shillings ($1.7 million) to the state, which the court determined were the proceeds of corruption. Gachagua’s lawyers had argued that the funds were payment for the supply of goods and services to the government, but the court ruled that explanation lacked evidence. Gachagua has said he will appeal.

Ruto, whose background is in farming, has pledged a bottom-up approach to the economy, promising to invest at least 500 billion shillings ($4.2 billion) in agriculture, which employs more than 40 percent of the country’s labor force. This would cushion some of the pain being felt by farmers as the price of fertilizer reaches record levels. Accusations of land-grabbing also follow him. In June 2013, Kenya’s High Court ordered Ruto to surrender a 100-acre farm and compensate a farmer who had accused him of seizing the land during the 2007 post-election violence. He has denied any wrongdoing.

This is an important election not just for Kenya but for all of East Africa. Lately, Kenyatta has led talks within the East African Community (EAC) to broker peace between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. Congo accuses Rwanda of supporting a resurgent offensive by the M23 rebel movement in eastern Congo that has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.

The EAC—a seven-nation regional bloc that includes both Congo and Rwanda—has announced a new peacekeeping force in the region, though Kinshasa is insistent that it cannot include Rwandans. Kenyatta handed over the bloc’s leadership to his Burundian counterpart, Evariste Ndayishimiye, in late July. However, a change of guard in Kenya, the largest economy in East Africa, could shape the outcome of these peacekeeping efforts.

Source:Ocnus.net 2022

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