an overview

Kenya 2022: What to expect in this year’s most competitive elections

in depth

This article is part of the dossier:

Kenya 2022: Who will win the great race?

By Jeff Otieno

Posted on June 21, 2022 16:38

William Ruto and Raila Odinga
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta holds hands with Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto and Opposition leader Raila Odinga during the launch of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), in Nairobi, Kenya, November 27, 2019. REUTERS/Monica Mwangi

Political analysts have billed this year’s election as one of the most competitive in Kenya’s history, pitting deputy president William Ruto against the godfather of opposition politics Raila Odinga. There is already fear that the cut-throat competition for the top seat might fail to produce an outright winner hence forcing a run-off.

When presiding over his last Madaraka (internal self-rule) Day celebration on 1 June, President Uhuru Kenyatta breached protocol by barring his deputy from addressing the crowd as is normally the case during national events.

Kenyatta even avoided mentioning the names of  other top politicians who were present, including former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka and Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi.

The radical decision caught many by surprise, with the president’s close allies insisting he did not want his last national function as the head of state to be overshadowed by election politics, hence the reason why he neither gave Ruto nor Raila a chance to address the crowd. Ruto and Raila are involved in a fierce political battle to succeed Kenyatta, whose term comes to an end this year.

“There is no written law that the deputy president must be allowed to speak at national functions. It was the president’s last Madaraka day celebration [and] he did not want it to be politicised in the presence of the President of Sierra Leone, Julius Bio, who was our guest,” says Peter Munya, the cabinet secretary for agriculture and a close ally of Kenyatta.

Competitive politics

The president’s action is proof that the stakes are too high in this year’s election and can only be compared to that of the disputed 2007 plebiscite that plunged the country into violence, leaving more than 1000 people dead.

It is also a unique election given the fact that it is the first one to be held in an environment where a sitting president and his deputy do not see eye to eye.

Under the new constitution, the president and his deputy are elected under a joint ticket hence the former has no powers to sack the latter as was the case under the old order.

Emboldened by the new constitutional order, Ruto has openly defied his boss, blaming him and his handshake partner Raila for all the socio-economic mess bedevilling the country, while taking credit for the achievements made by the outgoing government.

The deputy president has even managed to inspire dissent against the head of state in his Mt Kenya backyard, resulting in mass exodus of area legislators from the ruling Jubilee party to Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA).

“President Kenyatta betrayed Ruto by supporting his fierce rival [Raila] Odinga and that is why many of us abandoned the Jubilee party. We decided that we are going to keep the promise we made in 2017 to support Ruto for president in the 2022 general election,” says Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, one of the Mt Kenya legislators who abandoned Jubilee for UDA.

Politics of betrayal

Kenyatta’s allies however term their colleagues as betrayers who are thankless for the help they received from the head of state.

“These rebels actually won their parliamentary seats in 2017 by riding on President Kenyatta’s popularity. They are in fact the real betrayers,” says Kieni MP Kanini Kega, an ally of Kenyatta.

President Kenyatta betrayed Ruto by supporting his fierce rival [Raila] Odinga and that is why many of us abandoned the Jubilee party

It is also the first time the populous Mt Kenya will not be fielding a strong presidential candidate since the advent of pluralism in 1991 making it a swing-vote region.

So important is the region that the two top candidates – Ruto and Raila – nominated persons from Mt Kenya as running mates to attract the 5-million plus registered voters. Ruto nominated Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua while Raila settled on former Justice Minister Martha Karua.

Both Ruto and Raila have crafted formidable coalitions attracting nationwide support. Raila’s Azimio coalition comprises 29 political parties while the deputy president’s Kenya Kwanza alliance has 12.

Though 47 Kenyans had expressed interest for the top seat, only four met the stringent election requirements. Apart from Ruto and Raila, the other two are Prof George Wajackoyah of Roots party and David Waihiga of Agano party.