- The tightly contested race follows years of electoral violence
- 35% of Kenyans expressed confidence in the honesty of elections in 2021
- 69% of Kenyans reported not having enough money for food
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A peaceful transition of power after Kenya's election on Tuesday may say more about the country's future -- and the future of stability in the region -- than whom voters ultimately choose as their next president.
Ahead of what's expected to be a close race between Deputy President William Ruto and longtime opposition leader and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Gallup surveys show Kenyans lack faith in the honesty of their elections -- which have been tainted by irregularities and violence for decades.
Quick Summary: The two leading presidential candidates are offering Kenyans competing solutions to the host of crises facing Kenya. Odinga, the erstwhile opponent of the current president, has now secured his endorsement and hopes to win the support of the electorate by promising monthly stipends of 6,000 Kenyan shillings ($50 U.S.) to vulnerable households. He also hopes to implement a new affordable healthcare system across the country.
Ruto, in contrast, portrays himself as a champion of the poorest Kenyans, having risen from poverty selling chickens in his youth. A major part of Ruto's platform is focused on supporting farmers by investing billions of dollars in agriculture, a sector that employs more than 40% of Kenyans. Although Ruto has faced repeated accusations of corruption throughout his political career, the candidate dismisses these accusations as biased and has pledged to fight corruption if elected.
Trust in Elections Continues to Decline: Both candidates will need to overcome skepticism about the electoral process that has been brewing since 2019. Overall, 35% of Kenyans had confidence in the honesty of elections in 2021, including just a quarter (26%) of those in the richest 20% of households.
Still, Kenyans' relatively low confidence today is much higher than it was in the aftermath of the hotly contested election in 2007, when more than half a million Kenyans were displaced from their homes and more than 1,000 were killed in widespread violence. This crisis lasted until April 2008, when a power-sharing agreement was established and Odinga was installed as prime minister.
After Kenyans' confidence dropped to an all-time low of 10% in 2009, it slowly started to recover, only to be tested again in both the 2013 and 2017 elections, which were marred by sporadic violence and irregularities. Allegations of misconduct in the 2017 election resulted in a rerun, in which incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta was again declared the winner. Kenyatta's running mate was Ruto.
Most Kenyans, Rich and Poor, Are Struggling to Afford Food: Apart from electoral integrity and stability, the next president will need to deal with economic headwinds bearing down on the country. The war in Ukraine has limited grain and fertilizer supplies worldwide, with Africa in particular bearing the brunt. This has been compounded by the worst drought in 40 years. Crop output has declined by 70% in Kenya, further stressing diminishing food reserves.
Rising prices have added to food insecurity woes, with annual inflation climbing to 8.3% in July. More than two-thirds of Kenyans, 69%, reported not having enough money for food in 2021, while more than half said they could not afford shelter.
While the poorest Kenyans continue to struggle most with meeting their basic needs, Kenyans in all income brackets are feeling the pain. In 2021, majorities of Kenyans in the poorest 20% of households (76%) and richest 20% of households (54%) said there were times in the past year when they could not afford food they needed.
The newly elected president will have no time to spare in dealing with the multitude of crises facing Kenya. Apart from ensuring a peaceful transition of power, he will need to immediately implement plans to provide relief to an increasingly frustrated and downtrodden electorate. However, the global nature of many of these ills may limit the ability of either candidate to fully deliver on the lofty campaign promises he has been pushing out to the electorate this year.
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