Why August race is a contest of character, not party manifestos

Deputy President William Ruto meet Azimio One Kenya Alliance flag bearer Raila Odinga during Former President Mwai Kibaki  State Funeral Service at Nyayo national stadium on April 29, 2022. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

In the ongoing governorship and presidential debates, issues of governance and integrity have reigned supreme.

Instructively, failure in governance and integrity has greatly defined Kenya’s political history. This explains why manifestos and the ongoing debate might not influence the voter’s decision. If anything, it can only crystalise their choice.

Now, if the past is always a prologue, then the August elections present two individuals whose pasts are diametrically opposed. In sum, the difference between presidential contenders Raila Odinga and William Ruto has been said to be like day and light.

To some, Ruto and Raila are faced with agony. For Ruto, the agony has everything to do with the fact that Raila, like the Lernaean Hydra, is not easy to slay. That when you think you have finished him, like a phoenix, he rises from the ashes.

On the other hand, Raila has to deal with the agony that after all he’s done for Kenya, he would have to face serious opposition from an individual with the history and character of Ruto. We say so considering our analysis of the two campaigns. Whilst the political extinction of Raila and Uhuru remains the top agenda of Ruto’s campaigns, Raila has built his platform upon governance and integrity concerns to which Ruto is a collateral. Let’s examine these two positions.

First, it seems according to the Azimio campaign, everything that is wrong with our society can be encapsulated in the quest by Ruto to become the fifth President.

This remains true to some Kenyans who are shocked by the fact that Ruto, with all the integrity concerns, has risen to be a serious candidate for the highest office.

If this agony by Raila is anything to go by, then, it’s only fair to say, that, as an individual, Ruto captures the failures in our political system. Granted the history of Ruto and his running mate, Rigathi Gachagua, we can say without any qualms that Ruto’s candidature represents everything that is wrong with our society.

Our political system, like Victor Frankenstein in the 1818 novel by Mary Shelley, has, over time, created and fed ‘monsters’ that now threaten our nationhood. And like Frankenstein who created a monster that in the end destroyed him, our political system has raised a people that are undemocratic, unpatriotic and unethical. 

Many are the youth who do nothing but scout for the next tender in government. Given an opportunity to join formal employment they refuse considering money ain’t as quick as in their other street ventures. As such, the country basically has an entire generation that doesn’t believe in hard work. A worrying number of our youth believe in making money and not earning money.

This explains the concern of the Interior Cabinet Secretary that this election could end up laundering criminals of unprecedented standards into our elective office. Is it coming as a surprise to us, as the CS claims, that over 40 per cent of elected officeholders could be persons, mostly youth, in the business of ‘wash wash’ and other criminal enterprises? Are we not to blame like Frankenstein?

However, this is not to say that the Raila and Karua ticket represents the best of our society. Looking at the options available for Kenyans in this election, a majority, if not all, of the candidates have their own shortcomings. For instance, some may argue that the Raila and Karua ticket is but a political marriage of convenience. And Ruto has said as much.

But to some, the threat of a Ruto presidency has the potential of making the worst of enemies the best of friends. In fact, the Raila-Karua ticket can only be compared to the impossible union during World War II when the Soviet Union, the US and Great Britain joined forces to fight Nazi Germany.

Second, and according to the Kenya Kwanza campaign, for Kenya to move forward and grow her economy, we must start with chasing Raila, Uhuru, Karua and the team out of town. Why? They say this team is clueless, aged and forms part of the status quo.

Further, Kenya Kwanza argues that Raila and Karua are a project of Uhuru and thus will not be independent to rule. Ironically, Ruto has argued that the failures of the Jubilee government can be attributed to Raila joining the government and his influence within the government that made the president disregard him.

Now we ask. If Raila has had so much influence in Uhuru’s government, but from the outside, how then will Uhuru influence a government that Raila will form?  

In addition, Ruto has argued that we must focus on the manifestos and the “issues” that they bring to the table, which is a rendition of ‘don’t listen to the voice, listen to the words’. Finally, why we should not focus on manifestos and debates is the fact that a thorough analysis of the issues Raila and Ruto are talking about are the same. As such, Kenyans have to look at the character of those who can deliver on these issues. The only question Kenyans have to answer, as asked by Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli, is ‘in whose hands will Kenya be safe?’

Prof Manyora is a lecturer at the University of Nairobi while Otiato is a political scientist