Political dynasties split Kenya as poll looms
Kenyatta, Odinga wrap up presidential campaigns
THEIR fathers were allies in the struggle for Kenya’s independence from British colonial rule, and then became adversaries. Now President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga are extending the family rivalry in a tightly contested election dogged by ethnic allegiances and personality politics.
The two men, who also faced off in a 2013 election marred by opposition allegations of vote-rigging, are vying for power in a relatively open society in tomorrow’s vote.
Yet for many observers, the historical divisions embodied in the competition between the Kenyatta and Odinga dynasties overshadow the promise of Kenyan democracy.
Unlike Odinga, Uhuru Kenyatta was not a candidate in a flawed 2007 vote, but ethnic-fuelled political animosity erupted into post-electoral violence that killed more than 1 000 people and forced 600 000 from their homes.
The two candidates held final campaign rallies on Saturday amid worries that the upcoming vote could also be violent, though more than 100 000 security officers have been deployed to voting centres.
Some in the nation of 44 million people have left the capital, Nairobi, because of the threat of chaos, while many simply went home to vote.
Kenyatta wrapped up his campaign for re-election with a massive rally at Nakuru’s Afraha Stadium in north-west Kenya where he urged Kenyans to re-elect him to continue with development projects.
Kenyatta’s main challenger, Odinga, addressed his supporters at a public park in central Nairobi where he expressed his commitment to free, fair and peaceful elections.
During the rally, Kenyatta said Kenya is much better than it was in 2013 when the Jubilee Party took power.
“We have laid down the foundation for prosperity and we now need to finish the job,” he said.
He listed the achievements Kenya had made over the past four years, including the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway and more than 7 000km of tarmac roads in the country.
Kenyatta said he would focus on poverty alleviation and job creation for youth by financing new infrastructure projects and special economic zones if re-elected.
For his part, National Super Alliance presidential flag bearer Odinga pledged to address the high cost of living, poverty, inequality and ethnicity once elected to occupy the highest office.
“Our main goal once elected will be to re-energise the fight against poverty, corruption, inequality and youth unemployment that has slowed down our progress,” he said.
He also promised to promote inclusive development if elected.
In the past week, the country’s two main polling organisations indicated a narrow race, with one saying Odinga was ahead by a percentage point and the other saying Kenyatta was ahead by three percentage points.
This could be the last big political push for both the 55-year-old Kenyatta, who by law cannot run for a third term if he wins next week, and Odinga, who at 72 has failed to win the top post in three previous attempts dating to 1997. Their personalities overshadow the groups they lead.
Although Kenya has a diversified and sophisticated economy, “its politics now remain really in the grip of a few ethnic, oligarchic families that essentially practice ‘machine’ politics”, said Murithi Mutiga, a Nairobi-based senior analyst for the International Crisis Group. He said the phenomenon creates a “very issue-free kind of politics” in which candidates rely on ethnic voting blocs and secure loyalty by bestowing on supporters the material perks of power.
Ethnic-based politics have been perpetuated in independent Kenya since the days of British rule, when colonists crafted ethnically homogenous districts as part of their “divide and rule tactics”, Mutiga said. Jomo Kenyatta, an ethnic Kikuyu and father of the current president, led Kenya from independence in 1963 until his death in 1978. His first vice-president was Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, an ethnic Luo who later fell out with him.
Main opposition leader Raila Odinga greets supporters through the sunroof of his vehicle as he arrives for his final electoral campaign rally at Uhuru Park in Nairobi on Saturday.