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Everywhere in Kenya these days, people are jamming, on corners, at gas stations, and even on buses. That’s because there’s a presidential election Tuesday and appealing to the youth vote – 40 percent of the electorate – is critical for a win.
But irrespective of the catchy tunes, the mood is anything but frivolous in East Africa’s economic hub. Instead, it’s tense as many worry about looming violence, as occurred in many of the country’s past elections.
This time, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta can’t run for a third term, according to the country’s constitution. But Kenyatta’s influence on Kenya’s presidential election on Aug. 9 reflects his outsized political influence in the East African country. And he’s decided to use it to endorse his former rival, Raila Odinga, over his deputy president, William Ruto, causing a furor among those who normally would have taken anything Kenyatta said as gospel. Ironically, Ruto had helped Kenyatta defeat Odinga in the last two presidential ballots.
Speaking to the BBC, attorney Wahome Gikonyo said that Kenyatta had stabbed Ruto in the back. “Ruto did the donkey work in 2013 and 2017,” Gikonyo said. “Were it not for him Uhuru would not have become president. Is that the way to repay a friend?”
Those sentiments are one reason why Odinga has a slim lead in polls, but is falling short of topping the 50-percent mark he needs to avoid a run-off election.
Kenyatta and Odinga joined forces after the 2018 presidential election when civil unrest erupted over allegations of unfairness over the vote, explained the New York Times. Police cracked down brutally on protesters who called for Kenyatta to step down, killing dozens and injuring scores of others.
Since Kenyatta distanced himself from Ruto, some voters are having second thoughts about the president’s legacy. “Not only is he a scion of the richest and most influential of Kenya’s kleptocratic political families, but the record of his 10 years in power consists largely of an unbroken procession of corruption scandals and graft-ridden projects,” argued Kenyan cartoonist Patrick Gathara in an Al Jazeera opinion piece.
Even Kenyatta admits that corruption is endemic in the country. He has claimed that people steal more than $16 million a day from public funds, according to the Nation, a Kenyan newspaper.
Odinga, whose nickname is “Baba”, or “Father”, has promised to stamp out corruption and institute a universal healthcare program called Babacare as well as other social welfare service improvements. Ruto, meanwhile, refers to himself as a would-be “Hustler-in-Chief” on the campaign trail, repeating how he once sold chickens in the Rift Valley in order to highlight his knack for getting things done, CNN wrote.
Corruption might alter the direction of the vote as the Conversation noted in a piece that drew from many experts in portraying the state of things before the vote. Fears of vote rigging, gender violence, vigilantes and militia groups taking to the streets and targeting members of specific tribes have caused concerns of a repeat of 2018 or even the 2007-2008 crisis when as many as 1,500 people died in post-election violence.
The conditions are ripe for a rocky transition.
Still, despite its recent history of turbulent elections, Kenya stands out for its relative stability in a region where some presidents-for-life pull out all stops to stay in power, the Associated Press noted.
And there lies hope in the millions of Kenyans under 35, whose tribal loyalties are considerably weaker than their elders, analysts say. Over the weekend, for example, young local artists organized a community-wide celebration of ethnic diversity in Nairobi’s diverse Kibera district, one of the world’s largest slums, and a center of election violence in the past.
“We know what happened in previous elections in this country and we as young people cannot go back to where come from,” Esha Mohammed, a director of the National Youth Council, told Al Jazeera. “We cannot allow ourselves to be in that situation (again).”