Opposition Leader Prepares Bid for Kenyan Presidency
(Bloomberg) -- Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga announced his fifth bid to become president in elections scheduled for next year.
The declaration by Odinga at a rally on Friday sets him up for a likely run against Deputy President William Ruto, who’s said he plans to be a candidate in the August ballot. Odinga, 76, first ran for the top office a quarter century ago.
“I do hereby accept to present myself as a presidential candidate,” Odinga told tens of thousands of supporters in the capital, Nairobi. “I ask for nothing and will never ask for anything apart from opportunity to serve.”
Whoever wins the race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta will have to contend with a growing government debt burden that’s been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. The new leader may also have to deal with the aftermath of a potentially divisive election, with previous votes being marred by violence that tainted Kenya’s stature as a stable nation in an unstable region.
Kenya’s political landscape has shifted in the past three years as Kenyatta reconciled with Odinga after a bitterly contested election in 2017 -- a decision both men said was necessary to deliver the nation from the brink of conflict. However, a detente between the two former rivals fractured the ruling Jubilee Party, with Ruto’s supporters saying it was orchestrated to deny him the opportunity to succeed Kenyatta.
Ruto led Odinga 38% to 23% among likely voters in a November survey by Nairobi-based pollster TIFA Research. About a quarter of respondents were yet to decide on who they’d vote for, while another 10% were unwilling to identify their preferred candidate.
Odinga and Ruto, 54, have both pledged support for marginalized communities if they become president, using policies that will increase government spending to spur economic growth. Odinga has proposed a rural development policy and a monthly stipend of 6,000 shillings ($53) for about 2 million of the poorest families, while Ruto has suggested a fund of at least 100 billion shillings to support small businesses.
Odinga presented a 10-point plan that was heavy on social protection measures, including money transfers and universal healthcare. He said his manifesto will detail steps on fighting corruption and managing public debt.
The impact of the pandemic on Kenyans will make the economy a key election issue, according to Edward Hobey-Hamsher, a senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft. East Africa’s largest economy contracted in 2020, the first time in nearly three decades, as restrictions imposed to curb the Covid-19 spread hit businesses and homes.
“If implemented effectively, the financing of social spending would restore the productivity of Kenya’s borrowing and improve the country’s debt-carrying capacity,” Hobey-Hamsher said.
Ruto and Odinga haven’t articulated plans to reduce the debt burden -- the fiscal deficit is expected to expand to 8.2% of gross domestic product in the year through June, compared with an earlier target of 7.5%. While Kenya’s debt remains sustainable, there is a high risk of debt distress, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Kenyan administrations have repeatedly fallen short of IMF targets, “and perhaps at the moment an election win is a bigger priority than long-term fiscal sustainability,” Jacques Nel, head of African macroeconomics at Oxford Economics Africa Ltd., said in emailed responses to questions.
A coalition that includes former vice presidents Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi has yet to announce whether it will field a joint presidential candidate or support either Odinga or Ruto.
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