There are eight candidates for the presidency in Kenya’s 2017 election. Of these, two are the main contenders; Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and Raila Amolo Odinga. This is a replica of the 2013 polls where the two presidential candidates were the dominant opponents.
The running mate configuration has not changed either, with both retaining their previous partners. William Ruto for Kenyatta and Kalonzo Musyoka for Odinga. The only thing that has changed is their party identities.
Kenyatta’s 2013 Jubilee coalition is now the Jubilee Party, comprising most of the constituent parties that had been part of the coalition. The 2013 Jubilee formation was an alliance between parties loyal to the president, and his deputy William Ruto.
For its part Odinga’s camp underwent a coalition overhaul, morphing from the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy to the National Super Alliance. The coalition brings together several parties, both old and new, led by the Orange Democratic Movement, Odinga’s longtime party.
Latest polls have indicated that the two candidates are neck-and-neck. Both have factors working for and against them.
A few things are in Kenyatta’s favour. At 55 years of age, he is a young president who represents generational change. Kenyatta also comes from one of the wealthiest families in Kenya. Forbes Magazine ranks him as the 26th richest person in Africa, with an estimated fortune of $500m. This means that he’s been able to contribute financially to a vibrant campaign.
As the incumbent some would also argue that he has had access to state resources and agencies to facilitate his re-election. Incumbency has also allowed him to drive his campaign on the steam of his development record and flagship projects in infrastructure, the energy sector and public service delivery.
In terms of voting blocs, Kenyatta has the support of Kenya’s two most populous ethnic groupings: the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru (GEMA) and the Kalenjin. The registered voters in the GEMA grouping are approximately 5,588,389, in the Kalenjin are 2,324,559.
Combined, that’s 7,912,948 votes, which is equivalent to 40% of the electorate. That’s a formidable start when you consider that presidential strongholds have historically recorded a higher voter turnout during elections.
The Jubilee presidency is seen as a two-man show. This has contributed to the perception that Jubilee is not ethnically representative.
Odinga has many things going for him. High up on the list are his charisma and strong political mobilisation skills. Historically, Odinga has always been a formidable opposition politician; not being an incumbent has enabled him to galvanise effectively.
Odinga enjoys wider ethnic support compared to President Kenyatta, comprising among others the Kamba, Luhya, Luo and Maasai tribes. These communities comprise over a third of the voting population. But the disadvantage is their historically lower record of voter turnout.
At 72 years of age, Odinga represents the older generation of Kenyan leaders who joined politics in the 1970s and 80s. And this being his fourth attempt at the presidency, there’s lethargy among some of his supporters.
He’s viewed by some as power hungry and untrustworthy, especially because of his alleged association with Kenya’s 1982 coup. His calls for mass action after the contentious 2007 election, during a period that saw the displacement and death of thousands of Kenyans, also contributed to this perception.
The main political formations
There are two main formations in the 2017 election – the Jubilee Party and the National Super Alliance.
The Jubilee Party, formed in September 2016, followed a merger between The National Alliance and the United Republican Party representing two ethnic communities – the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin. The Jubilee Party also has the support of other political parties including the Kenya African National Union, NARC Kenya, the Labour Party and the Democratic Party amongst others.
The National Super Alliance is a coalition of political parties formed in April 2017. Its leading lights are Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement, the Wiper Democratic Movement led by Kalonzo Musyoka, the Amani National Congress led by Musalia Mudavadi, Ford Kenya led by Moses Wetangula and Isaac Ruto’s Chama Cha Mashinani. The coalition brings together the Luo, Kamba and Luhya ethnic groups, and a section of the Kalenjin community.
In this election cycle party manifestos have become increasingly important. This explains the Jubilee administration’s scramble to complete promises outlined in its 2013 document.
The Jubilee Party has made even more promises in its recently launched manifesto. Three that have caught the public attention include the creation of 1.3 million jobs a year, free public secondary education and the expansion of Kenya’s food production capacity.
The National Super Alliance’s promises are more political. They include a constitutional amendment to provide for a hybrid executive system to foster national cohesion. Two other notable promises are to lower the cost of rent by enforcing the Rent Restriction Act and to implement free secondary education.
Strengths and weaknesses
The strengths of the Jubilee Party lie mainly in its incumbency and its development track record over the last four-and-a-half years. But the party has been weakened by divisions within its ranks. These were amplified during the campaign as disagreements broke out over the leadership of campaign teams. The ruling party is also handicapped to the extent that it’s not as ethnically diverse as its competitor.
The National Super Alliance’s main strength lies in its ethnic diversity. Its five principals represent different ethnic communities.
The super alliance also creatively captures the zeitgeist of a section of the electorate, with some of its campaign slogans such as vindu vichenjanga (‘things are a-changing’ in the Luhya dialect) making their way into popular use. It is riding on the euphoric wave that usually accompanies the hope of regime change.
One of its weaknesses, however, includes a perceived predilection to violence because the opposition has previously resorted to mass action. In 2016 for example, it organised a series of protests to mobilise for the removal of key members of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries commission, the body responsible for organising the general election.
Another weakness is its close association with allegedly corrupt financiers.
There is a perception that historically, the presidency has been the preserve of two ethnic groups – the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin. This feeling of disenfranchisement has become a key campaign issue.
There are however, some non-tribal issues that have taken the foreground. These include corruption, economic and social stability, lower cost of living and improved security.