Kenya 2022: Could George Wajackoyah force a runoff between Ruto and Odinga?

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Kenya 2022: Who will win the great race?

By Jeff Otieno

Posted on Tuesday, 26 July 2022 08:11, updated on Monday, 8 August 2022 14:21
George Wajackoyah (photo: twitter0

Kenya's fringe presidential candidate George Wajackoyah is causing shockwaves in the political battlefield with some analysts fearing that his rising popularity might force a run-off for the first time in the country’s history. Is the Wajackoyah effect real or just a passing cloud?

On 30 June, Wajackoyah ruffled feathers by launching his manifesto on the same day and time that Deputy President William Ruto took to the podium to spell out his plans for the country if elected president.

Broadcast media were forced to cover the two events live using the split-screen option in the spirit of fair coverage.

However, unlike the Kenya Kwanza alliance meeting where Ruto explained his manifesto to a seated audience, Wajackoyah’s was more of a reggae concert.

Dressed in a jungle-green khaki outfit, military boots and a do-rag covering his grey hair, the goateed lawyer and his youthful supporters danced to popular reggae tunes played by the disc jockey. In fact, there was more dancing and chanting than there were speeches.

Wajackoyah’s decision to launch his Roots Party manifesto on the same day as the Kenya Kwanza alliance irked the deputy president who claimed that the move was deliberately planned to steal the thunder from his meeting.

“I want to be respectful to other candidates, but a fellow was parachuted so that we share the screens. The media ought to be fair,” said Ruto whose allies have accused the 63-year-old lawyer of being a government project.

Wajackoyah however hit back at the deputy president, accusing him of always crying foul after sensing defeat.

Since being cleared to run for the top seat, the Roots Party flag-bearer has caused a buzz with his radical proposals, which have resonated with the youth.

The ‘Wajackoyah effect’

According to the latest opinion polls conducted by research companies Infotrak and TIFA, the political newcomer is currently polling at 4% and there is a high chance that his ratings will continue to rise as the election day nears.

In fact, innovative businessmen are already cashing in on the excitement by selling T-shirts bearing his image and nickname  – ‘Wajackoyah the fifth’.

Drae Frank, founder of Permaprints – a print shop in Nairobi – is one of those making a killing from the Wajackoyah effect. “We are printing and selling Wajackoyah T-shirts to every part of the country and the demand is high,” says Frank. Each T-shirt goes for  KSh1000 ($8.4).

The Roots party’s presidential candidate might turn out to be the ‘Johnny-come-lately-spoiler’

Before being cleared to run for president, not many knew that Wajackoyah worked as an intelligence officer in President Daniel Moi’s administration, but was forced to flee the country in 1992 and seek refuge in Britain after falling out with his bosses. He came back to Kenya after the end of the Moi era to practice law.

Political analysts contend that the Roots party’s presidential candidate might turn out to be the ‘Johnny-come-lately-spoiler’ for the top two presidential candidates – Ruto and Raila Odinga – who want to win the August polls in the first round.

There might be a run-off for the first time in Kenya’s history if Wajackoyah’s popularity translates into votes. If that happens then none of the two leading contenders will achieve the 50% plus one vote threshold to be declared the winner,” says political analyst John Charo.

In fact, Wajackoyah recently alleged that one of the presidential candidates sent a woman with a KSh200m ($1,687,052) bribe to convince him to drop his presidential bid “but I chased the woman away”.

Marijuana and snake farming

Why is his candidature creating so much excitement among the youth, yet it seems to be a headache for his competitors?

Political analysts argue that his radical proposals have played a big role in catapulting him to stardom as a section of voters seeks alternative leadership outside the usual political circle.

Wajackoyah’s campaign is premised on legalising marijuana (cannabis), a substance that is illegal in Kenya but popular with Rastafarians and many poor youths in the country.

The 63-year-old lawyer promises to commercialise the growing of marijuana to spur economic growth and enable the country to pay its foreign debt.

“For example, a 90-kilogramme bag of maize sells at KSh2000 ($16.9), sugarcane is KSh4112 ($34.7) per tonne, coffee is KSh23 ($0.19) per kilogramme. On the other hand, the price of a kilogramme of industrial hemp is KSh159,000 ($1,340). Commercialising marijuana will not only provide employment for our youth but also earn us foreign exchange,” says the Roots Party presidential candidate.

I will smoke marijuana for the first time as a sign of liberation after I win the presidency

He says Kenya should follow the footsteps of Canada, Israel, South Africa, the Netherlands and Zimbabwe which have all legalised the ‘holy herb’.

What is ironic is that though Wajackoyah advocates for the legalisation of marijuana, he maintains that he has never smoked weed in his entire life and would not encourage his children to do so.

“I will smoke marijuana for the first time as a sign of liberation after I win the presidency.”

The lawyer also wants Kenyans to venture into the lucrative anti-venom market by farming poisonous snakes whose toxins can be extracted to locally manufacture antidotes for export.

“If we did snake farming in Kenya, each venomous snake farmer would earn an average of $6000 per vial of anti-venom. For example, a cobra farmer will make $6,300 from a vial of cobra anti-venom. If we harvest black mamba anti-venom, a Kenyan farmer will make $5,300 per vial,” Wajackoyah says.

Exportation of dog and hyena meat

The lawyer also promises to push for the export of dog and hyena meat, which he argues will earn the country more revenue in the international market than beef and mutton.

“We shall export dog and hyena meat to China. Hyena testicles are considered medicinal in China. One testicle is almost KSh6m ($50,569) and one kilogramme of dog meat costs six times more than a kilogramme of goat meat,” he says.

To sort out the never-ending corruption problem, Wajackoyah advocates the hanging of those found guilty of stealing public funds, to send a clear message to avaricious individuals.

“In China, if you steal somebody’s money they hang you, in Japan, you commit suicide and in America, Britain and Canada they jail you, but in Kenya are elected to parliament. We must stop this madness,” he says.

The lawyer says Rwanda rose from the ashes after the 1994 genocide to become a commercial hub because of President Paul Kagame’s strong economic policies and a zero-tolerance approach to corruption.

“Paul Kagame has become both an economic and corrupt dictator and that is why Rwanda has become a commercial hub in the region. In Kenya we are weak on both issues due to poor leadership,” he says.

The Roots Party presidential candidate promises to suspend the constitution for six months to allow a thorough review of the document.

“The committee of experts visited the capitals of South Africa, United States, and India and then came up with a copy and paste document which is defective. We need to do away with sections of the constitution that do not work,” says an alumnus of the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies.

Criticism against Wajackoyah

However, Wajackoyah’s radical proposals have not only angered politicians, but also religious leaders and animal rights activists alike.

Francis Mulinge, an animal rights activist, accuses him of trying to exploit the ignorance of many Kenyan voters on complex conservation matters.

“Hyenas clean up debris in the natural environment. They scavenge for anthropogenic waste, thereby reducing transmission of disease from wastes to humans and livestock,” says Mulinge.

You [voters] should stand up against leaders who propose destruction of our youth through the liberalisation of drug use

He dismisses Wajackoyah’s proposal on exporting hyena and dog meat as empty talk, saying the idea will only encourage illicit trade in animal parts and make Kenya a pariah state.

Catholic Bishops have also criticised him warning voters against electing leaders who promote immoral and unethical practices.

“You [voters] should stand up against leaders who propose the destruction of our youth through the liberalisation of drug use,” said Anthony Muheria, the Chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), at a recent church meeting.

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