Kenya’s election rips open scars of inequality, corruption
Nairobi(Kenya)- In the shadow of a glossy, thousand-dollar campaign billboard, one of many across Kenya’s capital, street vendors struggle to make even 200 shillings ($1.68) a day and often pocket none.
Kenya’s Aug. 9 election is ripping the scars of inequality and corruption as East Africa’s economic hub chooses a successor to President Uhuru Kenyatta. The vastly wealthy son of the country’s founding leader, Kenyatta, has deflected graft allegations by calling for transparency but has done little in a decade in power to enable it.
The vendors on a barren patch along Nairobi’s Outer Ring Road can hardly grasp the enormous amounts of money spent on next week’s election. Few can. In Kenya, candidates aren’t required to account for campaign donations or spending publicly. But voters have watched the helicopters and long convoys that have whisked top candidates around the country for months.
“They’re spending millions of dollars, but I’m not sure if it’s their own money or the public’s money,” said Martin Wambua, who sells secondhand clothes and rarely is able to save anything from his earnings.
“I know the (election spending) can fund more than 10 people a day,” estimated Joseph Kaguthi, who walks everywhere selling baked goods and says he often eats just one daily meal. “But I’m a poor man, and maybe the way I talk is distant from the way it is.”
Rising prices for food and fuel, exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and following the economic pain of the COVID-19 pandemic, add to the traditional ethnic tensions in a vote called so closely contested that Kenya might go to a runoff election for the first time.
How the country of 56 million people will cope with extended uncertainty is a major question after a recent history of turbulent elections.
The 2017 vote saw results overturned by the courts, a first in Africa. Longtime opposition contender Raila Odinga boycotted the ordered re-vote and declared himself the “people’s president” in a mock swearing-in that led to allegations of treason. The standoff ended when Kenyatta and Odinga, the son of Kenya’s first vice president, shared a public handshake.
Now, in the latest twist of Kenya’s shifting alliances, Kenyatta is backing former rival Odinga to succeed him after falling out with his deputy president, 55-year-old William Ruto, the other main presidential candidate and a former Odinga ally.
Ruto was indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity for his role in violence following the 2007 election that killed more than 1,000 people after Odinga alleged he had been cheated out of victory. An ICC indictment is hardly a bar to the presidency; Kenyatta was indicted over the turmoil, too. Both men saw their cases terminated amid allegations of witness tampering.
Said to be one of Kenya’s richest men after a decade as deputy president, Ruto promotes himself to the young and poor as a “hustler” who rose from humble beginnings as a chicken seller in contrast to the elite backgrounds of Kenyatta and Odinga. Ruto says he seeks greater agricultural productivity and financial inclusion. Agriculture is a main driver of Kenya’s economy and about 70% of the rural workforce is in farming, while informal street vendors make up the majority of non-farm work.