Sunday August 7, 2022
Flanked by cheering crowds, the frontrunners in Kenya's
presidential election sought to make their final push for votes Saturday under
tight security, capping months of frenetic campaigning ahead of the August 9
Deputy President William Ruto and Raila Odinga, a veteran
opposition leader now backed by the ruling party, are fighting for the chance
to lead the East African powerhouse as it grapples with a cost-of-living
Previous polls have been marred by violence and continue to
cast a dark shadow over the country, where 22.1 million voters will now choose
the next president, as well as senators, governors, lawmakers, women
representatives and some 1,500 county officials.
The battle for votes has been dominated by mud-slinging,
tit-for-tat claims of rigging and a freebie bonanza for supporters, who have
been showered with umbrellas, groceries and cash for attending rallies.
After criss-crossing the vast country in recent months, the
two candidates staged their final offensive in the capital Nairobi, with Ruto
holding a rally at the 30,000-seat Nyayo National Stadium and Odinga
campaigning at Kasarani Stadium, which seats 60,000. Lawyers David Mwaure and
George Wajackoyah -- an eccentric former spy who wants to legalise marijuana --
are also in the fray.
The bitterly fought race has sparked speculation Kenya may
see its first presidential run-off, with many worried that a challenge to the
result could lead to street violence.
A wealthy businessman with a rags-to-riches background and a
shadowy reputation, Ruto, 55, was long expected to be President Uhuru
Kenyatta's successor, but lost ground when his boss -- who cannot run again --
joined hands with longtime rival Odinga in 2018.
Kenyatta's endorsement has given Odinga, 77, access to the
ruling Jubilee party's powerful election machinery, but has also dealt a blow
to the former political prisoner's anti-establishment credentials.
Nevertheless, some analysts believe that Odinga will emerge
the winner in a close race, with Oxford Economics highlighting the fact that he
has the backing of "several influential political leaders", including
Ruto has cast himself as "hustler-in-chief",
taking aim at the "dynasties" running Kenya -- a reference to the
Kenyatta and Odinga families, who gave the country its first president and
He has promised to establish a "bottom-up" economy
in a nation where three in 10 people live on less than $1.90 a day, according
to the World Bank.
Odinga, meanwhile, has made the fight against corruption a
key plank of his campaign, pointing out that Ruto's running mate is fighting a
Evance Odawo, a 23-year-old tailor attending Odinga's rally,
told AFP: "We expect from the next president that the economy improves and
the living standards, too."
"There's no work. We don't have a job. We are the
hustlers," said Grace Kawira, an unemployed mother-of-two, who was waiting
for Ruto's arrival. "We are just surviving," she told AFP, echoing
concerns shared by many across Kenya.
The election will open a new chapter in Kenya's history,
with neither candidate belonging to the dominant Kikuyu tribe, which has
produced three of the country's four presidents.
Both men have sought to appeal to the Kikuyu, who account
for roughly six million votes, but analysts say the economic crisis will likely
compete with tribal allegiances as a key factor driving voter behaviour.
With large ethnic voting blocs, Kenya has long suffered
politically motivated communal violence around election time, notably after a
disputed poll in 2007 when more than 1,100 people died, scarring the nation's
The run-up to this year's poll has been largely calm, with
the police planning to deploy 150,000 officers on election day to ensure
security and the international community calling for a peaceful vote.
Since 2002, every Kenyan presidential poll has been followed
by a dispute over results. The Supreme Court annulled the 2017 election due to
widespread irregularities in the counting process and mismanagement by the
Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
The IEBC, which is under pressure to ensure a free and fair
poll, insists it has taken all necessary precautions to prevent fraud, with
Kenyans hoping for a peaceful vote.
"I want (the politicians) to accept the election so the
country can continue in peace," said 32-year-old Kawira.