This year’s election promises to be one of the most competitive in Kenya’s history. It pits Deputy President William Ruto against the doyen of opposition politics Raila Odinga. Although there is the fear that the cut-throat competition between the two might result in a run-off, Professor George Wajackoyah’s (Roots Party) unexpected popularity with the electorate is shaking up the presidential race.
On June 6, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IBEC) concluded its vetting process. It settled on four contestants from an initial list of 55, the other being lawyer David Waihiga of the Agano Party. Here is what is known about each one of them.
William Ruto – Kenya Kwanza Alliance
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s deputy for ten years, Ruto served in Parliament between 1997 and 2013, holding ministerial roles until 2007. He cut his political teeth in the early 1990s – after a brief stint as a teacher – becoming the treasurer of the YK92 campaign group that lobbied for the re-election of President Moi in 1992.
Elected with Uhuru in 2013, the duo’s bromance has since become a bitter divorce following President Kenyatta’s handshake with Mr Odinga, culminating in allegations and counter-allegations of betrayal, graft, and dishonesty.
Uhuru has painted Ruto as corrupt and greedy for power. In contrast, the latter has claimed that the president has relied on the ‘deep state’ – the perception of a powerful cabal overseeing the country’s affairs – to frustrate him, including plotting to kill him.
The 55-year-old Ruto has centred his campaign on a bottom-up economic model, which he says will put money in the pockets of common people. He argues that the model, which has promised a Sh50 billion annual kitty to uplift micro and small enterprises, will uplift low-income earners out of poverty.
Raila Odinga – Azimio la Umoja Alliance
A perennial candidate, Raila is taking his fifth stab at the presidency, first running in 1997 under the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) banner. He finished third, behind Mwai Kibaki’s DP and President Daniel Moi’s party.
Seen as the patriarch of a political dynasty started by his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Kenya’s first vice president, Raila is one of Kenya’s most popular politicians.
The 77-year-old served as prime minister between 2008 and 2013 to President Mwai Kibaki in a grand coalition government that was formed after the peace talks following the disputed 2007 general election that saw at least 1,300 people dead and at least half a million families internally displaced.
Raila has been endorsed by the outgoing Kenyatta, to whom he lost in 2013 and 2017. By the time of press, he is the only candidate who has officially launched a manifesto. His campaign agenda is focused on tackling corruption and fixing economic and governance loopholes he says are to blame for denying the common Kenyan essential services like education, water, and security. He has also promised judicial reforms, national reconciliation, and a social welfare fund for poor households and unemployed youth.
George Wajackoyah – Roots Party
George Wajackoyah, a seasoned lawyer with five degrees, has become famous for his controversial political stunts and remarks. The 61-year-old scholar is advocating for the legalisation of cannabis, which he says will help offset the huge debts Kenya is grappling with.
Wajackoyah, a law professor and former spy, has also proposed snake farming to improve the economy. He says, if elected, he will suspend the constitution for six months to allow him to overhaul the country’s governance and justice sectors, including having corrupt public officials hanged in public.
Wajackoyah has been gaining considerable support from the youth, even as it is clear that he does not enjoy the massive support he needs to win.
In a recent survey across 17 Nairobi constituencies, polling agency Trends for Insights Africa (TIFA) found that Wajackoyah had an approval rating of 7%, translating into 150,000 votes if replicated nationwide. Although 7% won’t deliver a win for the Roots party, it is a testament to growing support for the unconventional candidate.
“Kenya is not free. It is under siege by the political class and people who think they can give direction forever,” Wajackoyah in a TV interview last month.
Although observers seem rather amused by Wajackoyah’s ideas, his narrative of a once-poor child roaming the streets of Nairobi and later a refugee in the United Kingdom, has struck a chord with youthful voters, who recognise their struggle in Wajackoyah.
David Waihiga – Agano Party
The least known of the four candidates, David Waihiga, a lawyer with more than 35 years of experience, first vied in 2013. He is also a clergyman who believes that the government needs fresh blood to address Kenya’s many problems, and believes he is that person. (