Kenya’s general election is set for 9 August, Kenyans are as interested and involved in politics as Indians, they are politically active on social media, they talk about being a middle-income country, ideology, and leadership. 2007 was a violent election year nobody wants to repeat, following the riots the ICC withdrew charges against Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto for orchestrating crimes against humanity. President Uhuru Kenyatta and rival Raila Odinga and have buried their many differences and formed a “Quest for Unity” alliance or “Azimio la Umoja”, joining up the Jubilee Party with the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and allied to 15 other political parties. Today Kenyatta and Odinga are a team. Last week at the National Delegates Convention the President declared his Jubilee Party had chosen Odinga to be his Presidential successor. This amity began in 2018 with the famous handshake between political opponents that was supposed to symbolise a new national unity/inclusiveness and the end of past injustices, known popularly as the BBI, the Building Bridges Initiative, that is unfortunately held up in Kenya’s Supreme Court. The BBI proposal would expand the executive and overturn the winner-takes-all electoral system, which supporters say will improve fairness and stop political rioting; detractors say it could undermine democratic institutions at the same time as creating opportunities for further corruption and patronage. The Supreme Court has to decide whether President Kenyatta had the right to initiate the constitutional changes required.
Kenya’s vibrant democracy revolves around political dynasties, tribal power-brokers, and changing inter-ethnic alliances; grievances about ethnic, financial, and vote-rigging corruption are existential. Despite all the efforts given to healing the past, voting is likely to be on tribal lines, Raila is a Luo and supported by some Kikiyus (Uhuru is a Kikiyu- they are 17% of Kenya’s population) and Ruto is a Kalenjin, a network of the eleven tribes from the Rift Valley, the most populous region of Kenya.
A deciding factor will be the 7million plus new young voters and the cost of living. As the cost of living in Kenya goes up both domestic and external factors get the blame, despite Covid-19 Kenya’s economy rallied during 2021 with GDP growth at 5%, but drought and US-EU sanctions on Russia are contributors to the high cost of food, fuel and electricity.
At present there are approximately 100 British investment companies based in Kenya, valued at more than STG £2.0 billion. Kenya mainly exports tea, coffee and horticultural products to UK, accounting for 27% of the fresh produce and 56% of the black tea market in the UK.
On the other hand, motor vehicles, printed materials, machinery and chemicals form the bulk of imports from the United Kingdom. Additionally, the British Army Training Unit Kenya has a permanent training deployment north of Nairobi with about 400 personnel. Under an agreement with the Kenyan Government, up to six infantry battalions per year carry out eight-week exercises in Kenya. Also, the Royal Engineers carry out civil engineering projects, and medical deployments, which provide primary health care assistance to the civilian community.
Uhuru Kenyatta is the son of independent Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta and was the protégé of Daniel Arap Moi, he has been President since 2013 and he will remain as the Jubilee party leader, thus still influential in national politics after his retirement as President. Uhuru as he is known in Kenya will be remembered for passively carrying forward his father’s anti-colonialist sentiment combined with pro-western style capitalism. Uhuru’s development program has transformed Kenya, with a property boom in Nairobi, increased agricultural exports, new major link roads, the Nairobi-Mombasa railway, Mombasa and Lamu ports, a new Jomo Kenyatta airport, oil and gas exploration, all this with a little help from China; he also presided over the transition to Devolution and earlier attempted a corruption review. Uhuru’s legacy is infrastructure and internationalism, he has frequently been the face of African countries at world events.
Raila Odinga is older at 77, a veteran politician serving as Prime Minister from 2008 until 2013 under Mwai Kibaki, a three times Minister and presently the African Union High Representative for Infrastructure. Raila’s presidential bid has failed four times in 1997,2007,2013 and 2017, but with Uhuru’s endorsement which is thought to influence 60% of voters, he looks to be the favourite. In the past two weeks, Odinga hosted a brief meeting with officials of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, the gist of his message being: “My vision is to see the country empower the private sector and make the sector turn Kenya into a trading nation.” The ODM describe themselves as a centre-left party and perhaps this fits with Raila, who believes in less central government at the local level, who has in the past has assured he is pro-markets, privatisation included and that he would be open to neo-liberal policies; this is contrary to the demonisation of Raila by his detractors who claim he is a communist because he studied in East Germany during the Cold War. Raila has been in London meeting with Lord Tariq Ahmad, Minister for South Asia, North Africa, the United Nations and the Commonwealth, James Heappey Minister for the Armed Forces, Theodora Clarke The PM’s Trade Envoy for Kenya, and Justin Welby the Archbishop of Canterbury, Raila is a born again Christian. Raila also gave a speech at Chatham House where he called for diplomacy and dialogue between Russia and Ukraine, he referred to the skills he has used to settle political disputes and community conflicts in the past. Raila claims Kenya stands to lose Kenya Sh10Billion worth of exports if the war is not resolved. He said Kenya imported $406Million from Russia in 20202 and sanctions might impact Kenya and Africa, although he said supported sanctions on Russia.
In what is increasingly seen as a two-horse race as other candidates drop out, the current Deputy President Dr William Ruto, is the other contender representing the United Democratic Alliance. Ruto is never referred to as William, supporters currently referred to him as the DP; Uhuru and Ruto have had a very public falling out. Uhuru claims Ruto was too hasty in his hunger for power and had an unbridled ambition which was undermining the Kenyatta government. There was some reporting that the disagreement began with the two banks contesting for the roll-out of the M-Pesa Fuliza service, Uhuru favoured the national Commercial Bank of Africa and Ruto preferred the Kenya Commercial Bank.
DP Ruto did not agree with the handshaking with the opposition and the BBI; with election succession already a hot topic in Kenya, Ruto began nationwide campaigning under the guise of inspecting development projects. Ruto founded the UDA in December 2020 and has become the de-facto head of the “Hustler movement”, which represents young, working-class, and marginalised citizens who reject the established dynastic political families. Ruto does not make a big deal about his rise from selling chicken on the street to Deputy President but it is an inspiring trajectory for disaffected youth. On the downside, he has a less than distinguished reputation for land grabbing, inciting violence, and corruption, which could frighten off British business investments. The spectre of multinational land repossessions under a Hustler presidency is alarming. Ruto also made a speech at Chatham House, he said “the diaspora is the largest contributor to Kenya’s foreign exchange and the BBI required “72 amendments” to the constitution, and that his bottom-up “inclusive economic model” would create millions of jobs and empower young Kenyans. He also suggested that dairy farming in Kenya could be more profitable. Ruto continued his attacks on President Kenyatta saying the President’s alleged failures in his second term were his alone as he (Ruto) was “not allowed to play a significant role.” He went on to say he would win the election and defeat Raila Odinga, who is “a project of the system and the deep state.”
It is unusual to have a President and his Deputy campaigning against each other, the Hustlers vs Dynasties narrative has found traction and created a new socio-economic division. Looking closely none of Kenya political class seem squeaky clean, all the candidates have imbroglios in the closet, but both candidates say they will respect and adhere to the results of a free and fair election.