Kenya’s top presidential election candidates were due to take their final push to vote on Saturday, capping months of a frantic campaigning ahead of the August 9 election.
Vice President William Ruto and Raila Odinga, a veteran opposition leader now backed by the ruling party, are fighting for a chance to command the force in East Africa as it grapples with a cost-of-living crisis.
Violence marred previous elections and continues to cast a dark shadow over the country, where 22.1 million voters will now choose the next president as well as senators, governors, legislators, women’s representatives and nearly 1,500 county officials.
The battle for votes was dominated by mud tossing, mutual allegations of fraud, and a freebie reward for their supporters, who were washed with umbrellas, groceries and money to attend the rallies.
After traversing the vast country in recent months, the main candidates will stage their last campaign in the capital, Nairobi under tight security, with Ruto speaking at the 30,000-seat Nyayo National Stadium, while Odinga addresses a crowd at the 60,000-capacity Kasarani Stadium. seat. .
The two candidates had initially announced plans to speak at Nyayo’s headquarters on Saturday afternoon, raising fears of a pre-election day confrontation.
Lawyers David Moore and George Wajakoyah – an eccentric ex-spy who wants to legalize marijuana – are also in the fray.
The fierce competition has fueled speculation that Kenya could see its first presidential runoff, with many worried that defying the outcome could lead to street violence.
A wealthy businessman with a poverty-to-riches background and an opaque reputation, he was long expected to be the successor to President Uhuru Kenyatta, but lost ground when his boss – who cannot run again – joined longtime rival Odinga in 2018. .
The endorsement of Kenyatta Odinga, 77, gave access to the ruling Jubilee Party’s powerful election machinery, but it also dealt a blow to the former political prisoner’s anti-establishment credentials.
However, some analysts believe Odinga will emerge victorious in a tight race, with Oxford Economics highlighting the fact that he has the support of “several influential political leaders” including Kenyatta.
Ruto has portrayed himself as a “supreme prankster”, targeting the “dynasties” who run Kenya – a reference to the Kenyatta and Odinga families, who gave the country its first president and vice president.
He has promised to create a “bottom-up” economy in a country where three out of 10 people live on less than $1.90 a day, according to the World Bank.
Meanwhile, Odinga has made fighting corruption a central campaign item, noting that Ruto’s running mate is fighting a corruption case.
“We expect from the next president that the economy and living standards will improve as well…We need jobs,” Evans Odaw, a 23-year-old tailor who is taking part in Odinga’s walk, told AFP.
The elections will open a new chapter in Kenya’s history, as none of the candidates belong to the dominant Kikuyu tribe, which has produced three of the country’s four presidents.
Both men sought to appeal to Kikuyu, who account for nearly six million votes, but analysts say the economic crisis is likely to compete with tribal loyalties as a major factor in voter behavior.
With large ethnic voting blocs, Kenya has long suffered from politically motivated communal violence around the time of elections, particularly after a disputed election in 2007 when more than 1,100 people died, straining the psyche of the nation.
The run-up to this year’s election was largely quiet, with police planning to deploy 150,000 officers on election day to ensure security, and the international community calling for a peaceful vote.
Since 2002, every Kenyan presidential election has been followed by a dispute over the results. The Supreme Court annulled the 2017 elections due to extensive irregularities in the counting process and mismanagement by the Independent Commission for Elections and Boundaries.
The Independent Election Commission (IEBC), which is under pressure to ensure free and fair elections, insists it has taken all necessary precautions to prevent fraud.