The backdrop to Kenya’s vote is anger over cost of living and debt


Kenyans will elect a new leader on August 9, with the race between Vice President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga too close to announce. Whoever wins will inherit a daunting set of problems: growing public anger at the soaring cost of living, rampant unemployment, runaway public debt, and a drought that has left millions starving. Most previous elections have been marred by violence and allegations of voter fraud, and investors are on the lookout for any threats to the democratic process.

Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta has invested heavily in new rail links and other infrastructure, which has helped shore up East Africa’s largest economy, but has also resulted in public debt which has since increased more than fivefold. his entry into office. The International Monetary Fund considers Kenya to be at high risk of debt distress. Inflation was fueled by higher energy and grain prices resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as the worst drought in at least four decades. Thousands of farmers have lost their crops and animals, and the United Nations estimates that nearly 3 million people are in urgent need of assistance.

2. Who are the key players?

Ruto, 55, started his business selling live chickens by the side of the road, later owned one of the largest poultry farms in the country and expanded into hospitality and real estate. He entered politics in his twenties, securing a seat in parliament in 1997. Ruto and Kenyatta were opposed in a disputed 2007 vote that sparked ethnic fighting and the International Criminal Court charged them with crimes against humanity . Both men denied wrongdoing and the cases were eventually dropped due to lack of evidence. Ruto later backed Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 elections with the understanding that there would be quid pro quo after the incumbent resigned. But the two fell out in 2018 after Kenyatta switched allegiance to 77-year-old Odinga. Odinga already came close to the presidency in 2007, when he and many observers claimed he got the most votes even though Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner. Odinga eventually agreed to become Kibaki’s prime minister in a power-sharing deal that helped end two months of violence. Before entering politics, Odinga studied and taught engineering and co-founded his own business. Kenyatta, who steps down after serving the maximum two terms, remains a key power broker – in part because of the influence he wields in his Kikuyu community, the largest of more than 40 ethnic groups in Kenya.

3. What do the candidates promise?

Ruto pledged to channel more money into industries that have the potential to create jobs for the 5 million young Kenyans who he says are not working or studying, including investing at least 500 billion shillings ($4.2 billion) in agriculture and small businesses. He ruled out restructuring Kenya’s debt – something Odinga plans to do to free up resources for development. Odinga’s other promises include increasing social spending, achieving double-digit economic growth and paying monthly allowances of 6,000 shillings to the country’s poorest households. Gender equality was a key issue in the election campaign. Odinga has chosen former justice minister Martha Karua as his running mate, and she could potentially become the country’s first female vice president. Ruto said half of his cabinet positions would go to women if he won.

4. Will the election be credible?

The electoral commission is adamant that the problems encountered in previous votes have been ironed out. But campaign officials are concerned that replica booklets used to record vote tallies could be used to fabricate results – a concern the commission says it has addressed. The commission meanwhile accused police of interference after arresting three people entering the country with voting materials, but later said the issue had been resolved.

5. Could there be violence?

While tensions have risen as the vote nears, there are no discernible signs that the contest could escalate into widespread violence, and most analysts see a low risk of that happening. The unrest following the 2007 elections showed just how much worse things can get: at least 1,100 people died and an estimated 350,000 were forced to flee their homes. The economy has also been hit hard, with the growth rate collapsing to 1.7% in 2008 from 7.1% a year earlier. Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group, has warned that failure to hold police accountable for rights abuses committed in previous votes makes it more likely that such abuses will recur.

6. How is the election going?

The president and his deputy are elected on the same list for a term of five years. A candidate must win an absolute majority of the popular vote and at least a quarter of the votes cast in more than half of the country’s 47 counties to avoid a runoff. The competition takes place at the same time as the election of 47 governors, 47 senators and 290 members of the National Assembly. The final result must be announced within seven days of the vote.

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