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EXPLAINER: Why Kenya’s presidential election is important

Supporters of Kenyan presidential candidate William Ruto wait for their candidate at his final electoral campaign rally at Nyayo stadium in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. Kenya is due to hold its general election on Tuesday, Aug. 9 as the Eas

NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenyans are voting Tuesday to choose a successor to President Uhuru Kenyatta after a decade in power. The race is close and could go to a runoff for the first time.

One top candidate is Raila Odinga, an opposition leader in his fifth run for the presidency who is supported by his former rival Kenyatta. The other is William Ruto, Kenyatta’s deputy who fell out with the president.

Both tend to focus far more on domestic issues, raising the question of how either will follow up on Kenyatta’s diplomatic efforts to quell the tensions in neighboring Ethiopia or disputes between Rwanda and Congo.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

Kenya is East Africa’s economic hub and home to about 56 million people. The country has a recent history of turbulent elections. Even then, it stands out for its relative stability in a region where some elections are deeply challenged and longtime leaders such as Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni have been declared the winner with almost 99% of votes, or been widely accused of physically cracking down on contenders.

Kenya has no transparency in campaign donations or spending. Some candidates for Parliament and other posts are estimated to be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to gain access to power and its benefits, both legal and illegal.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN CANDIDATES’ PLATFORMS?

The 55-year-old Ruto promotes himself to the young and poor as a “hustler” who rose from humble beginnings as a chicken seller in contrast to the elite backgrounds of Kenyatta and Odinga. He seeks greater agricultural productivity and financial inclusion. Agriculture is a main driver of Kenya’s economy and about 70% of the rural workforce is in farming. In his final campaign speech on Saturday, he said if elected, his government will deploy 200 billion shillings ($1.6 billion) a year to increase job opportunities.

The 77-year-old Odinga, famous for being jailed while fighting for multi-party democracy decades ago, has promised cash handouts to Kenya’s poorest and more accessible health care for all. In his final campaign speech on Saturday, he said that if elected, his government in its first 100 days would begin paying 6,000 shillings ($50) to families living below the poverty line.

WHAT DO VOTERS CARE ABOUT?

Odinga and Ruto have long circled among contenders for the presidency, and there is a measure of apathy among Kenyans, especially younger ones in a country where the median…

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