For months the Kenyan presidential succession contest appeared to be a race between the two leading candidates: former prime minister Raila Odinga and Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto.
But the entrance of Wajackoyah and Waihiga has added a new dimension to this presidential race, suggests new polling.
According to poll results released by TIFA Research on 11 July, Wajackoyah garnered a national popularity rate of 4% reaching a high of 8% in the South Rift region.
Waihiga didn’t manage any significant showing in the poll, but the polsters did state: “Their [Wajackoyah and Waihiga] presence on the ballot could deny either of the front-runner(s) a clear, first round win, thus triggering a second round, and unprecedented, run-off contest.”
George Luchiri Wajackoya
He is famously known in Kenya as Professor Wajackoyah, a man who has captured the minds of many over the past few weeks and months, since he declared his interest in the top political seat. He has become a talking point on social media and beyond because of his controversial proposals on how to deal with corruption, and galloping public debt.
“Thieves of public resources, […] (and) corrupt judges who have skewed cases will be executed,” Wajackoyah said while on campaign tour in Kirinyaga on 13 June.
- Cannabis cash and alternative ideas
By June 2022, Kenya had an estimated KSh8.6trn ($73bn) public debt from both local and international markets. In June, parliament raised the debt ceiling from KSh9trn to KSh10trn as proposed by the government. And as other presidential contenders propose “normal” strategies to address the debt crisis, Wajackoyah has opted for a different path.
“We shall legalise weed. If we grew bhang (cannabis/weed) in Nyeri County, the residents would earn $45bn or KSh4.6trn per harvest; a harvest takes six months. If we grew bhang for export, Nyeri in one year would earn KSh9.2trn,” Wajackoyah said, suggesting marijuana farming would be a way to pay off Kenya’s debt.
He has proposed to rear venomous snakes for anti-venom vials’ harvesting, largely for export. “Each venomous snake farmer will earn an average of KSh600,000 per vial. You just twist the snake and the venom comes out, you store it in a small bottle and send [it] to China,” Wajackoya said at the unveiling of his manifesto on 30 June.
A lot of people think that I am crazy but the almighty God created me this way. -Wajackoyah
He also proposes to export dog meat and hyena body organs to an Asian country; proposals so controversial that he has attracted the attention of fact-checkers who have faulted him and attracted the wrath of animal rights organisations.
“We urge Wajackoyah to consult closely with the Veterinary Professionals before making proposals that are impractical, un-implementable and which jeopardise the existence of our wild animals,” wrote Miheso Mulembani, the Secretary General of the Union of Veterinary Practitioners Kenya.
At 62, Wajackoyah hopes to use his extensive academic record and teaching experience in the US to prescribe “different” solutions to the country’s challenges that are centred on the economy and social inequalities.
“A lot of people think that I am crazy but the almighty God created me this way,” Wajackoyah told a gathering in Nairobi on 11 July.
- Youth vote
Tom Wolf a lead research analyst at polling firm TIFA Research says the latest poll results for Wajackoya is cause for concern for the leading presidential candidates.
“He [Wajackoya ] has about four times more support among people in the younger age group of between 18-24 than he does from people over 35 years,” Wolf says. “[But] from historical data, people in the younger age group are less likely to vote than older people.”
David Mwaure Waihiga
Wajackoyah’s fiercest critic on the presidential race has been David Mwaure Waihiga. He believes Wajackoya’s policy proposals pose a threat to the country’s societal values.
“To the young people, don’t be excited by somebody telling you that we will plant bhang and you can smoke a little,” Waihiga said in a video posted on Facebook. “This is someone who is exciting your emotions but does not care about your lives.”
- ‘A man of god’
Waihiga describes himself as “a man of God”. He heads the Agano Party, Swahili for Covenant. He founded the party more than 16 years ago. For years he has fashioned himself as an advocate of religious values, having advised the church in 2010 in its stand against the then proposed new constitution. The No-campaign lost the referendum and it has been 12 years of the new constitution.
Waihiga has practiced law in Kenya for nearly 40 years. Over the last 10 years, he has made attempts to be the country’s Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice (2016). He has also run for parliamentary offices including in 2017 when he unsuccessfully contested the Lamu County Senate seat. He is married to Anne Mwaure, a judge of the Employment and Labour Relations Court in Kenya.
Waihiga is campaigning on a change platform promising to recover stolen public resources. In his manifesto that he unveiled on 4 July, Mwaure said: “Within the first ten days we shall give a moratorium to anybody who is holding any money they got corruptly,” he said. “We shall (also) institute a Truth and Recovery of Stolen Money Commission.”
At 77 years of age, Raila will be the oldest presidential candidate on Election Day in the history of Kenya’s multiparty democracy of 31 years. A veteran politician in many aspects, he is credited largely for his role in the now famous, “second liberation” of Kenya, meaning reforms to the political and constitutional culture.
He has been campaigning on a “third-liberation” platform, of which he dedicates to the economic transformation of Kenya. At a time when the country is struggling with the high cost of living, underperforming business environment, and a largely unequal society, Raila hopes his promises in transforming the economy can yield support for his fifth bid at the presidency.
- Pros and cons to Kenyatta’s support
His relationship with President Kenyatta however stands in his way, partly benefitting him as what his elder brother Oburu Oginga once referred to as “backing of the system”, but also hurting his bid in what the Ruto campaign has described as an incumbency baggage.
In June 2022, Ruto told a campaign meeting in Narok: “In 2018 the price of unga (maize flour) was 75 shillings. Today it’s over 200 shillings and they keep telling us they have a plan? If they had a plan as the handshake government, we wouldn’t be where we are,” in reference to the March 2018 political truce between himself and Kenyatta that heralded the sidelining of Ruto in government by the president and other senior members of the cabinet.
Raila has from time to time had to defend his post-2018 legacy. “I am not in (the) cabinet. I can only advise the president but it’s up to him and those in government [to take action],” Raila told a joint media interview in June. “We can only advise but sometimes you find they have certain difficulties in government that I cannot interfere with.”
- Financial worth
In January 2020 Raila revealed his financial worth. “They say that Raila Odinga is very rich, that is not true. I am worth 2 billion shillings ($16.89m) which is not very rich,” Raila said. “I own property and some shares in some companies.”
Apart from several homes under his name in Nairobi, Kisumu and other parts of Nyanza region, Raila is the owner of a gas cylinder manufacturing company, East African Spectre limited; Spectre International limited – a molasses plant; and Pan African Petroleum company limited that deals with importation and distribution of petroleum products.
For the last 10 years the 55-year-old Deputy President has been a key figure in Kenya’s politics. Known for his political mobilisation skills, Ruto now stands at the brink of becoming the second youngest Kenyan president on election day after Uhuru Kenyatta. He is a man who has fashioned himself as a pro-poor candidate in a manner than mirrors Raila Odinga from previous years in his political messaging and criticism of a government.
Ruto sprung into politics in the early 1990s as a mobiliser for the then ruling party KANU as part of the “Youth for KANU 92” (YK ‘92) – a lobby group that campaigned for then president Daniel Moi.
“Daniel Moi was to become my mentor politically, Ruto said in February 2020. “Even in our university days we interacted with him a lot as student leaders from different districts of Kenya”
At only 25, Ruto was the executive officer of YK ‘92. When Moi died in February 2020, Ruto said: “Moi was a very generous person. He really went out of his way. Maybe even some of the traits some of us have of giving, were inspired by him in some way.”
- ‘Ruto is anything but a low-income Kenyan’
The Kenyan Deputy President has in recent years fashioned himself as a giver, though his opponents have at times accused him of acquiring his wealth through corrupt means. Authoritative records of what he owns are hard to come by in Kenya, but he is believed to own several huge swaths of lands across different parts of the country.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i in September 2021 enumerated before a Parliamentary committee a list of Ruto’s properties guarded by government security to the tune of 257 police officers.
According to Matiang’i, Ruto’s business interests are in farming, gas, and hospitality industries. His properties include Kitengela Gas company, Weston Hotel in Nairobi, Murumbi farm in Narok (1,000 acres), ADC farm in Laikipia (15,000 acres), Mata Farm in Taita Taveta (2,500 acres), and Kwae Island Development limited, a firm that owns two hangars and five helicopters at the Wilson Airport in Nairobi.
- Hustler nation
Though younger, Ruto appears to have quickly learned from the older generation of Kenyan politicians who accumulated their wealth in similar sectors.
Despite running on a hustler’s narrative, Ruto is anything but a low-income Kenyan. And yet millions of young Kenyans are moved by his narrative. Pollsters however show a tight race for the youth vote between Raila and Ruto.
State of the race
In recent months Raila has been gaining in poll popularity, but he has not yet achieved the threshold of comfort. For a candidate to win the presidential election, he/she must win more than half of all votes cast, meaning more than 50%.
According to TIFA’s 11 July release, 43% of Odinga’s supporters are between the ages of 18-24 while 42% are above 35 years. For Ruto, 38% of his supporters are in the 18-24 age bracket while 41% are over 35 years.
It remains a tight race: two politicians, both key players in the country’s multiparty democracy, divided by age but both united by a need to boost voter turnout from their stronghold areas.
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