On Tuesday, August 8, 2017, the 19.7 million citizens of Kenya will decide who will govern them for the next five years. Out of eight presidential candidates, Kenyans essentially have two familiar choices – President Uhuru Kenyatta and his archrival, Raila Odinga. This will be the second time that the two men will be meeting in a presidential contest.
In 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta received 50.07% of the votes while Raila Odinga received 43.7% of the votes. The 2017 election is different because the Odinga-led opposition party, National Super Alliance (NASA) has been strengthened by a merge with other minor parties.
The 2007 presidential context turned bloody with over 1500 killed and another 600,000 displaced.
The stakes this time are even higher. This is the last chance for Raila Odinga to be president - the man is 72 years and will be 77 years when the 2021 election takes place. This election will be his fourth time.
Odinga’s NASA is trying to replicate Ghana’s opposition party’s successful defeat of the incumbent in the 2016 election. Yesterday, the government deported two Ghanaian IT experts helping the opposition to secure votes in Tuesday’s election. The deportation followed a raid by masked men on opposition party’s offices in Nairobi. Amongst those deported were two American political operatives in Kenya to help the opposition strategize. Those deported were accused of flouting immigration rules.
Like it happened in Nigeria in 2015 and in Ghana in 2016, citizens of another African country will try to defeat an incumbent president. The issues in the Kenyan elections are similar to the issues dealt with by voters in Nigeria and in Ghana. Should they go for continuity or for change? In matters of corruption and good governance, which of the political parties are better placed to make a dent in that perennial problem that has devastated Africa from East to West, North to South?
On a flight from Dubai, in United Arab Emirates, SaharaReporters noted that the flight was virtually empty. Most of the people on the flight were foreigners. There were Americans going for medical mission to rural parts of Kenya and other tourists who chose an interesting time to visit.
A Kenyan woman on the flight pointed out that irony. She added, “for us, it is home no matter what?”
The Kenyan National Cohesion and Integration Commission Crisis Prevention Commission warned that tension has not been this high in the country, not even on the eve of the 2007 election. It calculated that Kenya is at its worst peace index of 40%. Already a high profile murder of Chris Msando, the man in charge of information, communication and technology with the Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission (IEBC) and an attack on the country home of the Vice President William Ruto has set an already tense nation on the edge.
At Kenya’s airports, the lines for citizens returning were shorter than the lines of non-citizens applying for visa on arrival. Immigration officers at the airport efficiently performed their task without any display of anxiety of any form. There were not any unusual queries as to why these foreigners were coming into Kenya at this election period.
While flights coming into Kenya were empty with scanty number of Kenyans, it wasn’t so with flights leaving Kenya in the last two days. Norman Muliko who just returned to Kenya from Dubai this week said that his flight leaving was full. The elites of Kenya who are jittery about the prospects of violence have since left. There were more departures happening on Saturday night than arrivals.
Like other African countries, Kenya is facing a heightened ethnic nationalism and a feeling of maginalization by ethnic groups left out in the equation of power. Behind Raila Odinga’s support is the combination of dissatisfied members of the Luo, Luyha, Kamba and other ethnic groups who have never produced the president of Kenya in all of the countries over 50 years of independence.
The largest ethnic group in Kenya, the Kikuyus, has their man in President Uhuru Kenyatta. With Ruto, a Kalenji, as Deputy President, the Kalenji are behind Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party hoping that after Uhuru Kenyatta’s second term, Ruto will take over as president.
As the son of the first president of Kenya, Kenyatta faces resentment from those who feel that the same group of privileged elite has been dominating Kenyan politics since independence. A picture that has gone viral on social media shows the first Kenyan president Jomo Kenyatta holding the hand of his son, who is now the current president of Kenya. In the same picture were Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki, the other two men who had been president of Kenya beside the Kenyatta.
For a candidate to win outright, he needs to get 50% of the votes cast plus one and also 25% of the vote in at least 24 counties. Also on the ballots in Tuesday’s elections are 337 members of the National Assembly and 67 members of the senate. County governors and ward representatives are going to be elected too.
On the eve of the election, campaigning has been suspended according to law. The opposition and government are in a neck and neck situation in the polls.
“People are nervous,” said a foreign political observer in Nairobi who doesn’t want to be named else the government comes after him. “Nairobi residents leaving en-mass. People are moving to their ethnic enclaves to either vote or feel safe.”
Speaking to SaharaReporters, Julius Rotich, a Kenyan resident in San Diego, said that he wished that the election would go smoothly and peacefully. “The best possible outcome is an election free of tribal violence that usually end up displacing people from their homes,” he said. “I want to see new regime, new leadership and new hope. I have no doubt that Raila is the man for the job. As for Uhuru, he failed to attend the debate, the interview, so why should we hire him?”
Like Nigeria, the presidential debate scheduled between the two leading candidates held without one of the candidates attending. The president, Uhuru Kenyatta did not attend the debate so Raila Odinga debated all by himself.
Andrew Nghtho, another Kenyan in Dallas, Texas told SaharaReporters that he too wished for a peaceful election. On who he was rooting for, Nguma said, “tough but for now, Uhuru has done enough to deserve a second term.” He continued, “Not the best candidate, but in Kenya, it always boils down to a lesser of the two evils.”
On Tuesday, Kenyans will make that choice.