Weary and wary Kenyans prepare for national elections

NAIROBI, Aug 4 (Reuters) – East Africa’s economic powerhouse will hold elections on August 9 to choose a new president, parliament, county governors and assemblies. President Uhuru Kenyatta will step down after serving his constitutionally permitted 10 years.

Many voters want change, frustrated by corruption and soaring prices. But the two favorites vying to succeed Kenyatta have ties to him.

Veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga received Kenyatta’s endorsement. William Ruto has been Kenyatta’s vice-president for a decade, although the two men have had a falling out.

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Odinga, a former left-wing political prisoner, served as prime minister and is the son of the country’s first vice president.

Ruto, a gifted orator who says he once sold chicken by the side of the road, portrayed the election as a fight between ordinary “scammers” and elite “dynasties”.

Both are courting voters in East Africa’s wealthiest and most stable nation by promising to reign in soaring foreign borrowing and help the poor. According to Oxfam, less than 0.1% of Kenyans own more wealth than the poorest 99.9% combined. The global spike in fuel and food prices has hit families hard. Read more

Candidates have also forged ethnic voting bloc alliances. These ethnic rivalries have led to deadly violence in previous elections after the results were disputed.

But unlike the last four elections, Kenyatta’s Kikuyu ethnic group, the country’s largest, has no presidential candidate to unite behind. Both Odinga and Ruto chose the Kikuyu Vice Presidents as their running mates.

The potential rift in Kenya’s largest ethnic voting bloc makes elections unpredictable, said Murithi Mutiga, Africa chief at global think tank International Crisis Group.

“The public got tired of all the Byzantine alliances between political elites,” he said. “Politicians are compelled to discuss issues that really matter.”

Young citizens are particularly disillusioned, he says; many did not bother to register to vote.

Voter apathy

They are Kenyans like Calvince Okumu, a 30-year-old motorcycle taxi driver, who is part of a demographic courted by both sides.

He’s one of the country’s 1.6 million moto-taxi drivers – the kind of badass young entrepreneur Ruto promises to give loans to. He is also from western Kenya, the stronghold of Odinga, and could benefit from his promise to provide a basic income for the poorest families.

He is not interested.

“Why should I queue for four hours to vote?” asked Okumu, a part-time student. “There is no difference between the two.”

The number of registered voters aged 18 to 34 has fallen by more than 5% since the 2017 elections, despite population growth of around 12%.

Okumu is more concerned with finding stable work. According to the World Bank, more than a tenth of Kenyans between the ages of 18 and 64 are unemployed and almost one in five are inactive, meaning they are not looking for work.

Endemic corruption has also angered voters; both sides include officials accused or even convicted of corruption. Read more

In the northeast, the worst drought in 40 years has dried up pastures and forced 4.1 million people to depend on food aid. Their fate was barely mentioned as would-be leaders buzzed across the country in fleets of helicopters. Read more

DISORDERS

The shadow of violence that followed the disputed 2007 elections, which killed 1,200 people and displaced an estimated 600,000 people, hangs over every election cycle.

Kenyatta and Ruto were among six Kenyans indicted by the International Criminal Court for their alleged role in the 2007 violence. Both have denied the charges and their cases have collapsed.

The violence also followed the 2017 elections, in which more than 100 people were killed.

This time there was less pre-election violence; communities are working hard to defuse tensions. Read more The Supreme Court’s decision to void and rerun the last election also means there is greater confidence in the justice system – so disputes are more likely to go to court than in the street.

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Editing by Alexandra Hudson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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