As giant colorful pictures of presidential hopefuls, running mates, and governors adorn Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, people’s opinion, however, is divided as to who settles the bill for the presidency.
Driving along the new express highway in Nairobi to the Jomo Kenyatta International airport, I felt like passing through a big photo album stacked with alternating images of Raila and Ruto. The two presidential hopefuls have their names for long in Kenyan politics.
Raila Odinga leads the Orange Democratic Movement party. He served Kenya as its Prime Minister from 2008 to 2013. Raila is popularly known as Baba (daddy), a nickname that even appears in his promotional pictures. Raila’s contestant, William Ruto is currently a Deputy President, often known for his illicit deals and is referred to as the Hustler.
Kenya’s Senate amendment bill 2021 allows candidates' to use their nicknames on ballot papers instead of their official names.
The description given to Ruto by many in Kenya as, "Arap-Mashamba" (a portmanteau meaning son of lands), is a metaphorical term coined to indicate his controversial involvement in land grabbing.
Despite the number of accusations, Ruto’s supporters hail him as a political strategist citing his early political career achievements as Daniel Arap Moi’s campaigner for KANU’s presidential candidacy and his service during Kenya’s constitutional reform. Kenyan informants whom I asked to share their thoughts on the August 9, 2022, Kenyan general elections have divided opinions.
However, they all agree on one fact, that both Daddy and the Hustler are veterans running to satisfy their thirst for power. Many make comparisons between the two. Cornald Museve, an African Studies scholar, is of an opinion that most Kenyans put so much trust in Raila Odinga to better handle the statesmanship than Ruto.
For him, Raila is someone with a proven record of keeping his promises to the people and does not dish funds even during campaigns. Cornald trusts Baba’s handling of funds over the Hustler.
However, Cornald do not contest Ruto’s commitment and fight for democracy. Unlike Makena, a woman Uber driver who shared me her opinions on job creation, Cornald believes that Raila has the knowledge and experience of generating more employment opportunities through attracting foreign investments and creating small and micro enterprises for youth in Kenya.
According to Achieng, a regional development specialist, Raila’s promise to establish job creation programs targets the informal sector, which will create employment opportunities mainly for the youth.
For her, such a move serves as a good strategy to promote entrepreneurship and reduce youth unemployment. Though serving the current government, Achieng believes, Ruto may not have the opportunity to steer the job creation sector.
She opines that evaluating both Raila and Ruto on job creation and improving the economy is difficult, as Kenyans have not had the chance to test their leadership with these issues. The only available document to do so becomes the assessment of their manifesto.
Beyond job creation, an agenda item and notable topic of Kenya’s 2022 election is the choice of women as presidential running mates. One such joint political venture is the partnership between Justina Wamae, of the Roots Party and the presidential hopeful Prof George Wajackoya.
The two are known for their controversial proposal to legalize and regulate Marijuana for export purposes. Many in Kenya ridiculed the proposal that intends to pay off Kenya’s debt while some take it seriously given Kenya’s outstanding debt.
Standing next to Raila is Martha Wangari Karua, social justice, and human rights advocate and former Minister of Justice; National Cohesion & Constitutional Affairs (7 December 2005 – 6 April 2009); and Minister of Water Resources Management & Development (3 January 2003 – 24 November 2005).
William Ruto, on the other hand, picked businessman Rigathi Gachagua, a controversial mate whose name is associated with cases over misappropriation of government funds.
The experience and rich background Martha has and the women card she holds will give the presidential couple an advantage over Ruto-Gachagua coalition in the 2022 election. Her reputation as a social justice advocate and her fight to protect the rights of women in Kenya grants advantage to Rallia-Martha coalition among women voters.
Achieng states that Raila’s choice of Martha as a running mate is mainly a strategy to particularly secure votes from the Kikuyu women. Coupled with Uhuru Kenyatta’s blessing of the Railla-Martha coalition, Raila will expand his voter base in the Kikuyu constituency.
It is to be recalled that President Uhuru Kenyatta ditched his deputy, William Ruto favoring his former rival Raila Odinga. Cornald, commenting on Martha, believes that she comes out to be tough and does not condone corruption. He further stresses the fact that there is a paradigm shift in Kenya that questions the political trust in men's leadership if women are not included.
Although people in the Ruto-Rigathi camp emphasize the strategic aspect of having Martha as a running mate, independent voters see the contribution of Martha as both a woman and seasoned politician.
Pristen, a single mother and bartender in Naivasha, reckons that all the men in the presidential race including Raila, Ruto, and Rigathi are after their self-driven interests. However, she is considering casting her vote for Raila not because he deserves it, but because of Martha, whom she thinks will do a great job.
In this regard, the Railla-Martha plan to boost the manufacturing sector, As Achieng declares, will increase investment opportunities. Regardless of her decision to vote for Ruto due to her lower confidence in Raila to represent youth interests, the Uber driver, Ms. Makena, also considers focusing on the manufacturing sector a good approach to increase employment opportunities in Kenya.
All my key informants unanimously agree that for Ruto, Rigathi is his main financier but do not consider Rigathi, beyond a resourceful reward, to be the best candidate as he has many corruption cases in court still pending.
Achieng firmly asserts that Martha is a better leader compared to Rigathi and as someone who is averse to corruption, she will come strongly in fighting it. Achieng further stated that Martha’s ascendance to the deputy president position is a threat to both ex-government and seating officials. She might take action against many such corrupt officials.
Further adding to the corruption note, Achieng does not rule out the possibility of Kenya electing corrupt leaders if Ruto-Rigathi coalition wins.
Like any other election in most African countries, all are of the opinion that the 2022 Kenyan elections will not be any different. Ms. Makena and Merty, an Ethiopian journalist who lived and worked in Kenya, share the trauma of the past post-election violence in Kenya. Both have fears that making it free and fair requires divine intervention.
Merty maintains Pristen’s view on the self-driven interests of men political rivals and that past post-election violence in Kenya is a result of the failure of conceding defeat. She also slammed Raila’s recent comments he made while addressing University of Nairobi lecturers in which described Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, and Uganda as among the worst countries in Africa that cannot be compared to Kenya.
His statement sparked anger and division among people in Kenya and outside. Merty further criticized his remark as uninformed and unexpected for a veteran politician who is set to be a president.
“The 2022 Kenya election is toughly contested with much propaganda and mistrust,” Cornald remarks. “We trust it will be free and fair, but people believe the government has already decided who will lead Kenya, and folks believe the age factor is leaving the youth in Kenya out of the race closing opportunities of representing them and their agenda.” Regardless, most Kenyans anticipate a peaceful transfer of power and hope that both rivals will accept the election results.
Raila and Ruto require votes from more than half of all votes in the election to secure the presidency. As the Election Day approaches, Raila and Ruto revealed their concerns on transparency, trust, and handling of polls.
However, the Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission announced that it made changes to the voting system to win the trust of concerned parties.
Achieng and Merty say that both key presidential candidates have an influence on the elections board and Kenyans are already seeing cases of malpractice mainly coming from the Ruto side. “So it’s a matter of who is the biggest and smartest vote thief,” Achieng says.
Citing a Nairobi-based pollster Tifa Research, a Bloomberg report back in May 2022 indicated that Odinga was favored by 39% of voters, compared with 35% for Ruto while about 14% of respondents have yet to decide on their choice.
Two months later, referring to opinions of ‘some observers’ on 28th July 2022 CNN reported a possibility of a run-off in the Kenyan election.
Following the presidential elections-triggered political violence and public unrest on 27th December 2007, Kenya experienced an unprecedented humanitarian and political crisis with a higher scale of economic impact that hit the nation with horrible consequences.
It, however, created platforms for a national dialogue that resulted in the establishment of the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation Process.
The process, upon Mwai Kibaki’s invitation to the then African Union chairperson and President of Ghana-John Kufuor in January 2008, resulted in the constitutional reform and devolution of power.
Kibaki’s agreement with Raila Odinga, the current Presidential hopeful, and the power-sharing agreement saved Kenya from further bloodshed.
As we in Ethiopia prepare to leap into a process of national dialogue and foresee elections ahead of us, there is so much to learn from Kenya and I have hope that the horrible past will not be repeated. The question of who, Daddy or the Hustler, makes it to the State House in Nairobi awaits the decisions of our brothers and sisters in Kenya on Tuesday, 09 August 2022.
I wish Kenyans to exercise a peaceful election and civilized conduct of transition into democratic leadership.