Kenyans, desperate for change, must choose new president from familiar faces

President Uhuru Kenyatta is stepping down from the helm of East Africa's economic powerhouse after reaching the end of his two-term limit

Duncan MiririReuters
Published : 9 August 2022, 03:45 AM
Updated : 9 August 2022, 03:45 AM

Kenyans start voting for lawmakers and a new president early on Tuesday, but many citizens desperate for relief from spiking food prices and deep-rooted corruption have little confidence the next government will deliver any change.

Large numbers of young people have not registered to vote, electoral commission figures show. Many say they are frustrated by widening inequality and an entrenched political system overseen by the same old elite.

"If you look at life now, the cost of living has really gone up, so we are sceptical if whoever will be elected will make any difference. Life is very hard," said Job Simiyu, a motorbike taxi driver.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is stepping down from the helm of East Africa's economic powerhouse after reaching the end of his two-term limit.

The main candidates vying to replace him are far from fresh faces. William Ruto, 55, has been Kenyatta's deputy for the past nine years, though the two men have fallen out.

Raila Odinga, 77, is a veteran opposition leader who, this time round, has won Kenyatta's endorsement.

Many outsiders are watching the election closely. Kenya is a stable nation in a volatile region, a close Western ally that hosts regional headquarters for Alphabet, Visa and other international groups.

But inside Kenya, some are dismissing the vote for president, parliament and local authorities with a shrug.

"There seems to be growing apathy. Turnout may not be as high as it should be, because of disillusionment," Macharia Munene, a professor of international relations at the Nairobi-based United States International University Africa, said.

LOANS, JOBS, VIOLENCE, CORRUPTION

Kenyatta has delivered an infrastructure boom - largely funded by foreign loans that will hang over his successors.

He once said there was nothing he could do to tackle corruption and the global rises in the price of food, fuel and fertilizers have hit Kenyans hard. Some voters wonder whether his deputy and the man he has endorsed will be able to offer any fresh solutions.

Kenya's traditional ethnic voting dynamics may also dampen turnout. The largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu, have provided three out of Kenya's four presidents. This time, there is no Kikuyu presidential candidate, although both front-runners have Kikuyu deputies.

Ruto comes from the populous Kalenjin community, based in the Rift Valley, while Odinga's Luo ethnic group, among the biggest, have their heartland in western Kenya.

Ruto has sought to capitalise on growing anger among poor Kenyans and says he plans to create a fund to provide loans for small enterprises.

"It is about creating jobs for the young people," he told his final rally in Nairobi this weekend.

Odinga, who has competed unsuccessfully in four previous elections, has promised to tackle corruption and make peace with opponents after the election. The 2007 and 2017 polls were marred by violence after disputes over alleged rigging.

"I will shake the hand of my rivals and pay the political price if I have to," Odinga said in his last rally.

The final four opinion polls published last week put Odinga ahead with a margin of six to eight points, but Ruto has dismissed them as fake surveys designed to sway the electorate.

To avoid a run-off, a presidential candidate needs more than 50 percent of votes and at least 25 percent of the votes cast in half of Kenya's 47 counties.

Polls open at 6 am local time (0300 GMT) for 22.1 million registered voters. Provisional results will start streaming in that night, but an official announcement will take days.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher