Kenya's General Elections for President and other positions will be held on Tuesday August 8th 2017. Excitement and tension is building up towards that day, especially with regard to the Presidential election.
The incumbent President, Uhuru Kenyatta will be vying for a second term. Mr Kenyatta was declared the winner of the 2013 elections, after his main rival at the time, Raila Odinga, disputed the results of those elections and filed a suit in the Supreme Court of Kenya. The Supreme Court upheld the declaration of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in as President a few weeks later.
President Kenyatta is running on the recently formed Jubilee Alliance Party - a party formed out of the coalition of parties under which he vied for presidency in 2013. Mr William Ruto, the Deputy President, will be his running mate once again.
Before the 2013 elections, the current opposition formed the CORD coalition (Coalition for Reforms and Democracy). The principals of this coalition were Mr Raila Odinga, who was then Prime Minister and is the leader of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), Mr. Kalonzo Musyoka, who was then vice-president and is the leader of the Wiper Democratic Movement and Mr. Moses Wetangula, who is currently the Minority Leader in the Senate and is also the leader of the Ford Kenya party
Mr Odinga was the presidential candidate of the CORD coalition and Mr Musyoka was his running-mate.
A few notable political leaders have now teamed up with the CORD coalition to form what they have called the National Super Alliance (NASA). 'Nasa' also means 'to seize' or 'capture' in Swahili, Kenya's national language, and the opposition has declared their determination to capture the Presidency this year.
One of the NASA leaders is Mr. Musalia Mudavadi, 56, the leader of the Amani National Congress, who was also a presidential candidate in 2013 and came third in those polls.
A recent addition to the NASA coalition is Mr Isaac Ruto, the current governor of Bomet County, and former member of the URP party that was part of the Jubilee coalition. His entry to NASA is seen by some as a blow to Jubilee and a boost to NASA, at least in terms of perception and possibly in terms of votes as well.
The NASA coalition has publicised an agreement on positions that each principal will get if they win the Presidency and form the next government.
As many people expected, once again, the 72-year-old Raila Odinga will again be running for president this year - for the fourth time. Mr. Musyoka will once again be his running-mate.
Mr. Musyoka served as Vice-President of Kenya from 2008 to 2013. He was a presidential candidate in the 2007 elections, and after those elections, he was appointed Vice-President, even as the country was engulfed in violence as the opposition disputed the election results that declared Mr, Mwai Kibaki the winner of the Presidential race.
This violence eventually led to the current President, Uhuru Kenyatta, and his Deputy, William Ruto, (the two being in opposite political camps at the time) being brought, with others, to the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity. The cases against them were eventually dropped due to lack of evidence.
Mr. Odinga, who believes he was the actual winner of the 2007 elections, was appointed Prime Minister in April 2008 in a power-sharing deal with Mwai Kibaki. Mr. Odinga was Prime Minister until 2013.
The fact that Mr. Odinga and Mr. Musyoka were in government between 2008 and 2013 is often cited by Jubilee and their supporters when pointing out perceived failures of the administration of that time, and by extension, the failures of the two, though these supporters often don’t also point out that their own leaders were also in the same government.
Officially, there are 18 people in total who have registered with the IEBC as presidential candidates. Only a few are comparatively well known such as Dr. Ekuru Aukot, former member of the Committee of Experts on Constitution Review that worked on Kenya's 2010 Constitution and Mr Peter Ondeng’, who is expected to get at least some votes from evangelical Christians. The effect of these less prominent candidates on the presidential vote and if they might cause a run-off is yet to be seen.
Kenyan politics, to a significant extent, is based on tribal affiliations. Presidential candidates usually get major support from the areas largely inhabited by their ethnic communities. It is likely that tribal arithmetic – the number of voters from each tribe and their turnout at the polls - will play a significant part in the 2017 elections, but there are also emerging voices of opposition to this approach. A number of people in their forties and younger, are declaring that supporting a candidate based on tribe does not benefit them in their personal lives, and they would rather vote in competent leaders from whichever tribes.
For example, there was a strike by doctors serving in public hospitals, which resulted in their union leaders being jailed for a few days (for failing to call off the strike). The fact that the doctors come from various ethnic backgrounds and they stood together for their cause may be seen by some as an indication that the tribal mindset may be weakening, at least among the younger generation.
Corruption in government will certainly be among the top issues harped upon by the opposition. USAID recently withdrew funding for government health projects citing corruption and the opposition will likely point this out as an example of government corruption being visible even to outsiders.
The current rising food prices will also likely be raised and the opposition will probably cite this as an example of failure by the government and probably also state that this failure was deliberately orchestrated to allow well-connected cartels to sell food to the public at exorbitant prices.
The Jubilee response to these accusations seems to be that the food shortage is caused by drought and that is beyond the government’s control. Some supporters also say that there was a similar hike in food prices when many of the opposition leaders were in government, so food shortage and high prices are not something new.
The opposition has often said that the Jubilee government has recklessly borrowed money, especially from China, and indebted the country beyond reasonable levels. They have also claimed that a lot of this money is then misdirected to individuals after it is received.
The incumbent side usually responds by saying that the borrowed money has been used to start long-term projects that will lay the foundation for the country’s future growth and prosperity. The Standard-Gauge Railway (SGR) project is one of the main projects that the Jubilee administration proudly takes credit for. It is supposed to ease transport of goods and services between the port town of Mombasa and the interior of Kenya and has created jobs for those working on the project.
However, some claim that the cost of the SGR project was inflated and that it did not yield good value for money, when compared to a similar project in neighbouring Ethiopia, for example.
Apart from the polls themselves, IEBC, the body mandated to manage the elections, has been under criticism about its preparedness. In 2013, the polls faced challenges of failure of its machines and officials were later accused of negligence in procuring equipment. The commissioners of that time were compelled to resign following pressure by the opposition and new commissioners were selected and sworn into office. The IEBC recently admitted that it had as many as 128,000 records with shared details in its voter register. This register is currently undergoing audit by an independent audit firm.
In elections like Kenya, predicting elections isn't a straight forward business; but we will be keeping our eyes on the campaign and the results and the opportunities that can come from it it to engage with this part of Africa.