will it be ‘baba’ Odinga, or ‘husselaar’ Ruto?

NOS

NOS Newstoday, 20:00

  • Saskia Houttuin

    correspondent Afrika

  • Saskia Houttuin

    correspondent Afrika

One day before the elections, it is already quiet in the streets of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Shopkeepers are pulling down their shutters tonight as a precaution, many offices are closed all week. Where minibuses and motorcycle taxis dominate the streets in normal times, gigantic billboards with political leaders now attract attention.

Tomorrow, the country will elect new representatives to the local and national parliament. But the most obvious are the presidential elections. Who will succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta, who will step down after two terms? Will it stay as calm as it is now, Kenyans wonder, or is it the calm before the storm?

Baba versus the hussy

A fist in the air, chin slightly lifted: “Vote for a better life” is written in large white letters on a poster of Raila Odinga (77), one of the two favorites for the presidency. He had been a candidate four times before; due to his advanced age, many Kenyans consider this year to be his last chance.

NOS

Election poster Raila Odinga in the Kibera slum

He is up against William Ruto (55), vice president of Kenya for nine years. Where Odinga presents himself in campaign time as ‘Baba’, a father figure who wants to connect the country, Ruto opts for a different approach: “Every Hustle Counts”. Kenya is a nation of hustlers, of young people who move from job to job in the hope of a better life.

In times of high youth unemployment, this message catches on: more than three quarters of Kenyans are younger than 35. Although a large number of them will not vote tomorrow, they recognize themselves in Ruto’s story. He was once such a boy himself: he sold chickens by the side of the road, and thanks to a portion of luck and perseverance he managed to make his way up.

class struggle

Ruto now belongs just as much to the political elite against whom he says he wants to fight. Under his leadership, corruption, which severely affects Kenya, continued to increase. Nevertheless, thanks to Ruto’s successful campaign, these elections have become more than ever a class struggle. While for a long time voting was mainly along ethnic lines, that seems to be a lot less important this year.

NOS

Billboard Ruto longs waking up in Nairobi

This also has everything to do with current President Kenyatta’s support for his former opponent, Raila Odinga. Both are representatives of groups that have been diametrically opposed to each other for decades: the Kikuyu and the Luo. The fact that they have now joined forces has completely turned the old political dynamics upside down.

Both Odinga and Ruto, in an effort to win the vote of the Kikuyu, have a Kikuyu as running mate designated. In Odinga’s case, it is even a first: for the first time, a woman is competing for the vice presidency.

High food prices

What connects both groups of voters are the concerns about the economy. Because if you ask Kenyans what concerns them most this election, they will most likely bring up the high food prices. Due to the corona pandemic, followed by the war in Ukraine, the costs for bread, oil and milk skyrocketed. The biggest pain is the price of cornmeal. ‘ugali’ is made from this in Kenya: a firm porridge that many Kenyans eat every day.

Last month, the government promised to improve, but announced subsidies have little effect in practice. The fact that the elections are taking place in these economically frustrating times is fueling fears of possible unrest. Fake news, widely used by politicians as a campaign tool, leads to further polarization.

Saskia Houttuin, correspondent in Africa, spoke to influencers who earn money by spreading fake news:

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Influencers spread fake news during Kenyan elections: ‘Sometimes I feel guilty’

In any case, the polls do not lie: it will be a neck-and-neck race. After tomorrow, the main question is how the losing party will react. Both Odinga and Ruto have in the past encouraged their supporters to take to the streets. And that had major, disruptive consequences: in the previous elections, when the polls had to be taken again after a court decision, more than a hundred people were killed in riots.

In 2007-2008 there were even more than a thousand. Outgoing President Kenyatta and his future Vice-President Ruto were indicted at the International Criminal Court for their role in the violence: both were not prosecuted due to lack of sufficient evidence.

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