Kenya: Top 7 election issues facing Raila and Ruto

By Jeff Otieno
Posted on Monday, 16 May 2022 18:25, updated on Tuesday, 28 June 2022 11:28

Raila Odinga and William Ruto (Reuters and TAR)
Raila Odinga and William Ruto (Reuters and TAR)

As Kenya’s election date draws closer, the two leading presidential candidates, William Ruto and Raila Odinga, are promising Kenyans the world. Even so, from a weakened economy to affordable healthcare, can either one of the top candidates realistically follow through on their electoral pledges?  We look at the top seven issues facing the two men.

1.     Economic growth

When the government recently released a report showing the economy had recorded its highest growth in 11 years, many Kenyans were baffled.

The ‘Economic Survey 2022’, launched earlier this month, stated that the economy bounced back from recession in 2020 to grow by 7.5% last year – the highest since 2010.

“They say the economy grew, yet I have not felt it in my pocket. My purchasing power has been declining since the Covid-19 outbreak,” says Joseph Ochieng, a mechanic in Nairobi’s Embakasi estate.

The high cost of living, driven by skyrocketing prices of basic commodities, has plunged many Kenyans into poverty, leaving them feeling hopeless and frustrated by their political leaders.

It’s a problem dominating this year’s campaigns even as Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga promise a double-digit economic growth if elected president.

“The economy should be growing by 10% and I will meet the target by ensuring there is ease of doing business in the country,” said Raila at a campaign rally in Mt. Kenya.

2.     Unemployment dilemma

Related to the weak economy is the unemployment problem, which some economists have termed a ticking time bomb. According to the World Bank, an additional nine million people aged between 18 and 35 years are expected to be added into the labour force between 2015 and 2025, aggravating the crisis.

The problem of not having a job is tearing me apart physically and mentally.

26-year-old Francis Njoroge explains the magnitude of the unemployment headache. He has been moving from one town to another for the past three years looking for work, but without success.

“I have knocked office doors and even sent more than 100 job applications but all efforts have failed. The problem of not having a job is tearing me apart physically and mentally,” says this university graduate.

To help jobless youth like Njoroge, Ruto has promised to expand employment opportunities by establishing a KSh100m ($860,585) development fund in all the 290 constituencies.

“The money will be allocated to vegetable sellers, cart pullers and all others at the bottom of the econom[ic] ladder to give them an opportunity to set up businesses and be self-reliant,” said Ruto at a rally in Western Kenya.

The fund is part of the deputy president’s bottom-up economic model which he believes will spur growth and create five million new jobs over the next five years.

On the other hand, Raila has promised a KSh6,000 ($52) monthly stipend to jobless youth and poor families as a way of solving the unemployment problem and ensuring more Kenyans have money to spend.

“The jobless will get KSh6,000 monthly stipend. This is not just a say, it is a pledge that will be fulfilled. I know where to get the money and a promise is a debt,” said Raila.

3.     Affordable healthcare

Access to affordable healthcare remains elusive to many Kenyans and like in the 2017 general election it is once again a major campaign issue.

A study titled ‘Catastrophic healthcare spending and impoverishment in Kenya’ revealed that each year the poorest households spend a third of their resources on healthcare payment, compared to only 8% by the richest households.

“About 1.48 million Kenyans are pushed below the national poverty line due healthcare payments,” the research says.

To remedy the situation, Ruto has promised a public health insurance scheme that “ensures any person walking into a hospital can walk out with their medical bills having been paid by the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF).”

Raila, on the other hand, has pledged to establish a scheme called ‘Baba Care’ which he says “will address the all-consuming strain that accompanies the ill-health of a family member”.

4.     Waning agriculture sector

The poor performance of the agriculture sector – a leading employer and foreign exchange earner – is also dominating campaign speeches.

The double-digit growth target set by the Jubilee administration for the sector has remained a mirage. Last year, the sector recorded a mere 5.2% growth due to poor rainfall, high prices of inputs and attacks on crops by pests.

In fact, production of staples like wheat, rice and maize has been on the decline, threatening the country’s food security. The sector’s poor performance in recent years has affected the livelihoods of millions of Kenyans, aggravating the rural-urban migration.

 

Agricultural experts have already warned of another poor harvest this year due to vagaries of the weather and high cost of fertilisers that have risen sharply from KSh3000 ($26) to KSh6000 ($52).

Both Ruto and Raila have promised to lower food production cost by subsidising prices of inputs like fertilisers, seeds and chemicals and also guaranteeing a steady market for farm produce at attractive prices.

“Our priority is to safeguard the affairs of the common man and we will ensure that a bag of fertiliser does not exceed KSh2700,” said Musalia Mudavadi, a principal in the deputy president’s Kenya Kwanza alliance.

5.     Quality education

Access to quality and affordable education have also featured prominently on the campaign trail. Though Kenya introduced free primary education in 2003, the goal of achieving a 100% transition rate to secondary school remains a challenge due to high tuition fees and inadequate school infrastructure.

Head teachers, for example, are already pushing for an increase in tuition fees, lamenting that boarding secondary schools are struggling to pay suppliers, non-teaching staff and even buy foodstuff to maintain students.

Though Ruto and Raila have pledged to address the problem, a remark by Mudavadi that Kenya Kwanza – if it clinches power – will scrap the competency-based curriculum (CBC) system that was introduced in 2017 received backlash from education experts forcing the alliance to make a quick about-face on the issue.

6.     Growing insecurity

High unemployment rates normally breed increased insecurity. According to the ‘Economic Survey 2020’, there was a 16.7% rise in reported crimes last year. Nairobi County was the most insecure of Kenya’s four cities followed by Nakuru, Mombasa and Kisumu.

Conflicts over water and pasture have left dozens dead and displaced hundreds from their homes in parts of Baringo, Isiolo and Laikipia counties.

Raila has pledged to unite the warring pastoral communities in Rift Valley mainly Turkana, Tugen, Marakwet, Pokot and Samburu “by first ensuring civilians are disarmed and adequate security personnel deployed”.

7.     Haunted by corruption

Corruption, of which previous and present administrations have failed to tackle, is yet again dominating campaign podiums. Early last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta shocked many Kenyans when he revealed that over KSh2bn ($17,211,704) is stolen from public coffers every day.

In fact, according to the latest global Corruption Perception Index (CPI) released by Transparency International, Kenya scores a dismal 28 out of 100 and ranks at position 137 out of 180 countries.

Raila has vowed to jail those found guilty and seal all gaps that unscrupulous individuals use to steal from the government. Ruto, on the other hand, has pledged a new approach that is evidence-based devoid of witch-hunt tactics and blackmail.

The two politicians have so far not told us where the money will come from and that is important given the economic challenges facing the country.

However, some political analysts doubt whether either candidate will decisively tackle the vice, given that each has allies connected to scandals.

“It will be difficult for [Raila] Odinga and Ruto to effectively fight corruption because some of their staunchest allies have been mentioned in scandals, which have cost the country millions of shillings,” says political analyst John Charo.

Kwame Owino, the chief executive officer of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), is also sceptical about the promises so far made. He urges Kenyans to carefully interrogate the respective campaign pledges before casting their votes.

“The two politicians have so far not told us where the money will come from and that is important given the economic challenges facing the country,” says Owino.

Karuti Kanyinga, a professor from the University of Nairobi, adds that most of the pledges made by Raila and Ruto will not go far if the issue of governance is not considered.

“The need to focus on improving governance and strengthening the culture of rule of law is important because the problems of unemployment and mismanagement of the economy are linked to governance failure.”

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