from MARK OLOO in Nairobi, Kenya
NAIROBI, (CAJ News) – THE forthcoming Kenya presidential election is not only a contest between two politicians that are sons of the founders of the country’s democracy but a defining moment for an incumbent reeling from indictment for war crimes and a rival who has failed in three previous attempts to wrestle power.
The East African country will hold polls in a fortnight with President Uhuru Kenyatta (aged 55) and perennial challenger for the throne, Raila Odinga (72), involved in a two-horse race for the presidency.
Odinga and Kenyatta’s fathers – Jomo Kenyatta and Oginga Odinga – were Kenya’s first president and vice president respectively at independence from Britain after about a century of colonialism.
Pollsters have predicted a run-off, suggesting none of the two contestants will garner outright victory.
Runaway corruption, insecurity, ballooning public debt, surging unemployment and the rising cost of living are a threat to the incumbent’s prospects who is running neck to neck with his main rival, who himself has a bad record 20 years after he first entered the race.
Kenyatta , who won in 2013, succeeding Mwai Kibaki, despite his indictment by the International Criminal Court following the blood-spattered election in 2007, will know his fate on August 8 when 19 million registered will either give him a new mandate or hand him the ignominy of being a one-term president.
Kenyatta has retained his deputy, and fellow ICC indicted and eventually exonerated colleague, William Ruto as his running mate, while it remains unclear who Odinga will pick to run with in the opposition ticket.
The battle lines are drawn.
Kenyatta has collapsed all affiliate parties that support him to form one big alliance called the Jubilee Party (JP), which will face a joint opposition made up of five parties coalescing around Odinga under the National Supper Alliance (NASA).
Both camps are confident of victory.
“Kenyans will vote for us,” Ruto projected.
“They have seen what we have done and they trust we will continue changing their lives. Our competitors were once in government but they can hardly tell you what they achieved.”
“The public has seen what we have done. They should give us a second term to complete the projects we started,” the incumbent said.
With a history of politically-instigated violence every election year, Kenyans are waiting for the polls with bated breath.
The rival coalitions are already digging in for a fight, with the opposition questioning the impartiality, preparedness and ability of the country’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to conduct a credible election.
The IEBC is operating with a new set of commissioners.
Predecessors were hounded out office following months of street protests by opposition supporters, who accused the team of loading the dice in favour of Kenyatta.
Ahead of the defining polls, East Africa’s biggest economy has shrunk from a growth rate of 5,7 percent in 2013 to 5,3 percent last year due.
This is related to a plunge in tourism earnings, agriculture and manufacturing.
Again, only some 40 000 jobs have been created yearly from 2013. Only 615 megawatts of power were added to the national grid.
Corruption is rife.
Kenya loses nearly a third of its budget to graft in government annually.
This loss is valued at $6,5 billion.
Last year, Kenyatta yielded to public pressure and fired five ministers over alleged graft.
However, none of the fired officers was prosecuted.
Hence the opposition alleging Kenyatta has a knack for protecting his corrupt allies.
There has also been discontentment over the margin of public debt, now standing at 57 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Ratings agency Moody’s has raised the red flag, saying the country’s Sh4 trillion (US$9,62 billion) debt could rise from 56,5 percent to 57,1 of the GDP in the next year.
The administration’s biggest achievement is the building of a Sh500 billion standard gauge railway that is set to connect the Kenyan port city of Mombasa to the western part of the country.
The Chinese government is funding the project, which is near completion.
When he launched a new manifesto in Nairobi last month, Kenyatta pledged free secondary education and free maternity services in public hospitals.
Odinga says in 100 days, he will restructure the National Treasury to ensure it serves the national and county governments better.
He also promised free secondary education and immediate withdrawal of Kenyan troops currently engaged in the Africa Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia.
To many Kenyans, the latest round of polls rekindles memories of the 2013 duel between Kenyatta and Odinga.
Kenyatta attained the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff as he won 6,17 million of the 12,3 million cast. Odinga won 5,34 million. Third-placed Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi, formerly the deputy of erstwhile President Daniel Arap Moi secured about 484 000.
Odinga challenged the outcome in court.
The Supreme Court would later knock out on a technicality Odinga’s petition.
The election results became a subject of dispute after all the biometric voter register systems as well as the electronic vote tallying failed on voting day. Results from some of the 290 constituencies were not authentic, even by the IEBC officials’ own admission.
In 2007, the disputed outcome of the presidential elections, again pitting Odinga and Kibaki led to violence that claimed 1 500 lives and displaced 120 000 civilians.
Kenyatta, Ruto and a local journalist stood trial for crimes against humanity at the ICC but the cases crumbled due to lack of evidence. Prosecutor Fatou Besouda accused the two leaders of using state machinery to tamper with evidence.
– CAJ News