On Tuesday, August 9, Kenyans will go to the polls to elect a successor to President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is constitutionally barred from running for a third term. The fight against the high cost of living, corruption and youth unemployment are some of the many challenges that await the future leader of this East African state, recognized for being a stable country and considered a model of democracy in the region.
Kenya, a country of about 55 million people located in East Africa, between the Great Lakes region and the Indian Ocean, is about to elect its new president. The 22.1 million citizens eligible to vote will also choose deputies and local representatives of the country.
Four candidates compete for the supreme position, with the two favorites being the current vice president William Ruth and the former leader of the opposition, now supported by the government, Raila Odinga.
Odinga, 77, is a veteran politician running for office for the fifth time. He is also an opposition figure who has held some positions in the government. Although he has a significant support base, he is widely associated with the Kenyan political dynasties, which have led the country since its independence in 1963 and are today rejected by a section of voters.
Ruto, 55, presents himself as a self-made man with an exceptional destiny: that of a peasant’s son who has climbed the ladder of Kenyan power. But this candidate, with accusations of corruption behind him, has also been the president’s right-hand man for nine years, before falling out with him after his alliance with Odinga.
A stable country, but with several challenges to face
Considered the most democratic country in East Africa, Kenya is also one of the most important engines of the African economy and the largest economic power in the region, thanks in part to its dynamic financial sector, a thriving technology sector and its economy based on services.
However, despite its stability and its good economic results, the country remains highly unequal and is currently experiencing political despondency on the one hand and rising cost of living on the other.
The main issue for the future and the issue that has most marked the electoral campaign is the economic crisis aggravated by three factors: the Covid-19 pandemic -which has disrupted trade and damaged the tourism sector, a vital source of income-, a drought not seen for 40 years and the impact of the war in Ukraine.
Therefore, the future leaders of the country will have to face a large number of challenges:
1. The economy and purchasing power
“The first thing Kenyans expect is for the current situation to change,” says David Soler, director of the media outlet ‘Africa Mundi’ in an interview for France 24. “There are many people who have gone from two meals to one a day” , Add.
In early July, Kenyans demonstrated and threatened to boycott the general election if prices of basic goods, which have skyrocketed due to the war in Ukraine, do not come down. Kenya typically imports a fifth of its grain from Russia and 10% from Ukraine.
On July 20, government aid was promised to reduce the price of corn flour, with which the basic food in the country is prepared; a measure that many considered insufficient.
“The typical bread has been reduced to half its size in order to maintain a price of 10 Shilling”, describes David Soler.
According to the World Bank, growth is expected to fall from 7.5% reached in 2021 to an average of 5.2% in 2023-2024.
Agriculture, one of the pillars of the Kenyan economy, is currently in the doldrums due, among other factors, to the decrease in the supply of fertilizers – whose price has skyrocketed – and the unprecedented drought that has affected the country.
After three rainy seasons, drought is ravaging many counties in northern and eastern Kenya, where wells have dried up and herds have been decimated. According to the UN, more than 465,000 children under the age of 5 suffer from malnutrition and food insecurity already affects 2.5 million people.
2. The debt problem
To support the country’s development, since 2008 successive governments have carried out an ambitious program called Vision2030, a development plan focused mainly on large infrastructure projects. To this end, under the two mandates of Uhuru Kenyatta, the debt has more than quadrupled to nearly $70 billion.
China is now Kenya’s second largest donor, behind the World Bank. For the emblematic railway line that links Nairobi with the port of Mombasa, Beijing lent 5,000 million dollars.
While the IMF – which lent Kenya $2.34 billion last year – welcomed the country’s increased tax revenue in July, it also warned that “Kenya remains exposed to high debt risks.”
A high debt for investments that do not always translate into improvements in the daily lives of citizens.
“In recent years, although Kenya has grown a lot macro-economically, ordinary citizens don’t notice it,” David Soler underlines. “Citizens see that there are big projects, infrastructures, that the country seems to be making progress, but they don’t see the money,” he insists.
3. Corruption on a staggering scale
In its latest global corruption perception index, the NGO Transparency International ranked Kenya 128th out of 180.
And it is that the embezzlement of public money is vertiginous. Among the transactions that have shocked public opinion is, for example, the purchase in 2018 by the National Youth Agency of a single tire for an amount of one million dollars, or orders of meat for 8, 5 million dollars.
In the last ten years, corruption has skyrocketed: + 240% in public contracts aloneaccording to Transparency International, which has a high cost: every year 6,000 million dollars are lost from the State budget, thus slowing down investment projects in public health and education.
4. Unemployment reigns among the young
With three quarters of the population under the age of 34, youth is one of Kenya’s strengths, but their integration into the labor market is also one of its main challenges.
Employment is central to most of our lives that enables us to get by in the world, but also the key to how we define ourselves and to our sense of self-worth. In Kenya, the youth unemployment rate stands at 26%.#MaishaNiNgumu pic.twitter.com/RqnrOHsd0W
— Siasa Place (@siasaplace) January 24, 2020
According to official figures published in 2020, five million young people were unemployed. Around half a million of them graduate from higher education each year, with corruption and nepotism as obstacles to their integration into the professional world.
5. The challenge of unity in a country with more than 40 ethnic groups
Kenya is a country with dozens of different ethnic groups where elections have been violently contested at times. In 2007-2008, more than 1,100 people died in political-ethnic clashes and hundreds of thousands were displaced.
For the first time since 2002, the next head of state will not be a Kikuyu, the country’s largest ethnic group. Raila Odinga and William Ruto are Luo and Kalenjin, respectively.
Kenyatta’s successor must therefore build a new political-ethnic balance and avoid the risks of confrontation in a country where community belonging, instrumentalized since colonial times, is an essential element of the political and social chessboard.