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S everal high profile elections are taking place on the continent in the second half of the year. On 9 August, Kenyans will cast their votes in a hotly contested general election. 55 year old Deputy President William Ruto and 77 year old former Prime Minister Ralia Odinga are the frontrunners in a four-man presidential race. Ruto, Odinga, law professor George Wajackoya of the Roots Party, and lawyer David Waihiga of the Agano Party were the only contenders to satisfy Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) criteria and make the final list.

Notably, this is the the first time that a Kikuyu candidate has not stood for the presidency. The Kikuyu constitute the country’s largest voting group, account for over 17 percent of Kenya’s population, and dominate the economy. In such a fiercely contested election, ensuring high voter turnout in key constituencies is front of mind for the campaign teams. Ruto and Odinga have chosen running mates with  resonance in the Kikuyu community. Ruto’s running mate, Rigathi Gachagua, a wealthy businessman and former personal assistant to Kenyatta, is a first-term parliamentarian and veteran political campaigner. While Odinga chose Martha Karua, a former justice minister who served in parliament for two decades. If Odinga is elected, Karua would become the first woman elected to the office of deputy president.

Switching sides

Outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta is not backing Ruto;  the origin of the rift between the two men is hard to pin down. A few months after the 2017 elections, their relationship rapidly deteriorated and Kenyatta shifted his support and forged a sudden alliance with his former opponent, Odinga. The impetus was seemingly to calm tensions in the country but it also sent a clear signal early on that Kenyatta would not back Ruto as his successor.  Since then, the two have repeatedly accused each other of betrayal. A secret deal is rumoured to have been struck to allow Kenyatta to serve his second term without Odinga’s opposition in return for backing his long-time rival ahead of the 2022 poll. Some argue Kenyatta was motivated by national interest – Ruto’s presidency would potentially damage the country’s image due to his historic corruption allegations – while others assert personal motivation – protecting Kenyatta’s family’s extensive business interests from an unpredictable Ruto presidency.

Odinga is closely associated with the push to restore multiparty democracy, expanding rights, and enacting a new constitution because of his detention and torture during the Daniel Arap Moi dictatorship. Karua, his running-mate, also has an extensive record of fighting authoritarianism as a lawyer and opposition legislator. She is widely considered to be one of the few politicians who are not corrupt. Odinga hopes his loyal support base, particularly in urban areas, the west, parts of the east and the coast, will deliver the presidency on his fifth attempt. Kenyatta’s backing may also help him draw support from the ruling Jubilee Party base.

President Uhuru Kenyatta (far left) and presidential hopeful Raila Odinga (2nd left) on the podium together. Sourced from The Africa Report.

Ruto has organised a populist campaign focused on anti-Kenyatta sentiment and growing concerns about the country’s mounting debt. He enjoys a large following in Mount Kenya, the largest voting bloc, and carries the reputation of being a powerful orator who draws huge crowds at rallies. Ruto has tried to present the election as a battle of the “dynasties”, referring to kleptocratic families that have dominated the political and economic landscape since independence in 1963, and the “hustlers”, the impoverished Kenyans.

Deputy president since 2013, he has cast himself as a self-made man who understands the poor’s grievances. Throughout his campaign he has contrasted his humble beginnings with the privileged upbringings of Odinga and Kenyatta who both come from political dynasties and have benefited from considerable family fortunes. However Ruto was accused of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) linked to violence following the disputed 2007 election. The case was dismissed in 2016 due to “a troubling incidence of witness interference and intolerable political meddling,” according to ICC judges. In addition to this high profile case, he has weathered several domestic corruption allegations and questions about his source of wealth.

Predictable promises, unexpected outcomes

The economy is the key subject across all the candidates’ manifestos. Campaign pledges include providing stipends to low income families, access to cheaper credit, land reform, and farm subsidies among other interventions. Odinga has promised to advance Kenyatta’s development agenda and improve the lives of vulnerable people by providing a KES 6,000 (USD 50) monthly stipend from a new social protection fund. To counter this, Kenya Kwanza – a coalition fronting Ruto for presidency –  promised to make KES 50 billion (USD 217 million) in credit available to “hustlers”. In both instances the selection criteria for beneficiaries, governance and oversight mechanism of the intervention and duration of the support is unclear.

Deputy President William Ruto harbours presidential ambitions. Sourced from BBC.

Ruto and Odinga have similarly tapped into the rural populace’s concerns. They have made comparable promises to lower food production costs by subsidising the prices of inputs such as chemicals, seeds, and fertilisers as well as reviving collapsed sugar factories. They have also committed to prioritising value addition to improve earnings from harvests. Land reform and providing access to title deeds has been a central issue for both candidates but substantive detail that could lead to any meaningful structural changes is scant. A wholesale land reform programme akin to the kind that sparked investor jitters and capital flight in the southern part of the continent is highly unlikely in Kenya if either frontrunner wins.

There is a latent threat of a flare up in tensions once the results are announced. According to the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), politicians are exploiting the high youth unemployment by paying youth groups to incite violence to intimidate opponents. Human rights organisation Haki Africa has noticed an increase in attacks by armed groups in Mombasa in April and May; NCIC has categorised Mombasa and Nairobi as highly vulnerable to election-related violence.

Odinga’s extensive campaigning experience, coupled with support from Kenyatta and vested political and economic interests in maintaining the status quo, strongly suggest that he will win the presidential election. The issues raised by Ruto’s rhetoric and the Kenya Kwanza’s activism will influence Odinga’s domestic policy agenda, which we expect to prioritise development of the agriculture sector, facilitate healthcare access and boost support to small and medium enterprises.

New political configurations, same expected result

Moving to the west coast of the continent, Angolans will also head to the polls on 24 August to elect the president and National Assembly. The opposition Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) is looking to use socio-economic frustrations to improve its chances at the polls. The recession, which began in 2015, was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led to a gradual decline in living standards and sparked an increase in youth unemployment levels. High population density in poorly planned urban areas has placed strain on public infrastructure, particularly housing and sanitation, and exacerbated dissatisfaction with the government.

UNITA has joined forces with fellow opposition party Democratic Bloc (BD) and political project Angolan Renaissance Party – Together for Angola (PRA-JA Servir Angola) – to create the United Patriotic Front (FPU). This opposition coalition is seeking capitalise on public discontent and usurp power from the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola’s (MPLA). Emerging amid growing popular frustration, FPU could narrow the gap between UNITA and the MPLA.

Joao Lourenco in the shadow of long serving leader Dos Santos. Sourced from BCC.

One way to look at Angola’s election is a contest between FPU and the MPLA. Another perspective is to view it as a referendum on the MPLA under President João Lourenço’s rule. Lourenço has initiated several political and economic reforms since taking office in 2017 and has improved the general ease of doing business. There has been a marked improvement in economic management, transparency and investor-friendly policies. Additionally, foreign relations, particularly the US and regional neighbours, have also improved, which has been essential in promoting Angola’s privatisation agenda. A second term would allow Lourenço to consolidate gains made and build on his first term’s successes.

Although opposition parties have changed tact, we expect the MPLA to maintain its majority largely on the back of Lourenço’s achievements during his first term. Based on his election promises, his second term agenda will include completing the ambitious privatisation programme, accelerating economic diversification, doubling down on fighting graft, and improving supply of and access to public health services.

Casting more ballots

Looking to the north, Tunisia’s parliamentary elections will be held on 17 December. On 25 June, the country voted in favour of a new constitution via a referendum. The vote was held a year after President Kais Saied dismissed the government, froze the legislature, and assumed emergency powers. The new constitution codifies a presidential system which will give executive more power and authority than the legislature and judiciary. The December parliamentary election will be one of the final pieces in consolidating Saied’s control over all branches of the government.

Former President Jacob Zuma, President Cyril Ramaphosa and former Helath Minister Zweli Mkhize during the ANC  5th national policy conference. Sourced from News24.

In the same month, South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) will hold its elective conference. Tourism Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, strong contender for the ANC presidency, has faced strong backlash following her opinion piece on  the legitimacy of South Africa’s constitution, the rule of law, and concentration of wealth. Although the article created strong public debate, the real ideological battles will be fought behind the scenes. Deputy President David Mabuza, an influential king-maker, is playing his cards close to his chest, while former Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has stepped up his efforts to win the party presidency. President Cyril Ramaphosa won the party presidency with the slimmest margin in the party’s history. Any scenario planning should include the possibility that he may not be as lucky this December.