It was a clash of styles and strategy as Kenya’s leading presidential aspirants held their last election rallies in and around the capital, Nairobi, on Saturday.
With the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) stipulating August 6 as the deadline for an end to political campaigns, Raila Odinga made a last-minute plea at his afternoon rally to a crowd of supporters who almost filled two-thirds of the Moi Sports Centre in the suburb of Kasarani.
“There is no known fight to make Kenya a better place that has been led by the people on the other side,” he said in a prepared speech that was sandwiched by serenading from Tanzanian superstar Diamond Platnumz and the sound of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song from the speakers.
Odinga was referring to being jailed in the 1980s while fighting for the introduction of multiparty politics and his running mate Martha Karua’s reputation for having a hardline anti-corruption stance.
“We are running to make Kenya a first-class global democracy and economy,” the Azimio La Umoja coalition presidential candidate said in English. “We are running to build a Kenya of hope and opportunity.”
Around him, coalition supporters made colourful noise, including vuvuzela-blowing youngsters and a robot made of metal and rubber covered in posters.
“Whose hands will dismantle the bandit economy of corruption,” Odinga, 77, asked. “In whose hands are your families safe?”
One of those who applauded the speech was David Otieno, a 60-year-old carpenter and community leader in Mukuru Kwa Reuben slums on the outskirts of Nairobi who has voted for him in his previous four attempts.
He planned to vote for the former prime minister again on Tuesday, he said, wearing a crown and holding a blue wooden hammer with “Baba The Fifth” inscribed on it, because of a divine mandate.
“God revealed to me that Odinga is the chosen one,” the father of 10 who said he saw a vision of “the handshake”, the 2018 truce between Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta before it happened, “Ruto is not a bad person but a leader must be ordained by God.”
Emily Adhiambo, who does menial jobs across the capital, said she walked almost 10km (6 miles) from the Kiambiu slums to see “Baba” Odinga and hear him.
“I have voted for him three times before but he is rigged out,” said the 31-year-old single mother who lauded Odinga’s promise to give Kenyan shilling 6,000 (approximately $60) per month as part of a social protection fund to about eight million people in poor and vulnerable households nationwide. “On Tuesday, we try again.”
‘Put money in your pockets’
Elsewhere, Deputy President William Ruto kicked off proceedings by speaking from the open roof of an SUV at the popular market roundabout in Kirigiti, Kiambu county, later on Saturday, hemmed in on all sides by hundreds of supporters standing and dozens more on trucks.
Ruto, who has campaigned on dismantling dynasties, like the Kenyattas and the Odingas, blamed his opponent for the failures in government saying, “Our agenda and plans were bungled the minute that guy [Odinga] came with the handshake.”
“Elect us so that we can solve this economic challenge and put money in your pockets,” he said, moonlighting as master of ceremonies by passing to MPs from Kiambu and Nairobi after his freestyle remarks almost entirely in Swahili.
“We have more than five million youths who are professionals but do not have jobs,” he added. “We have set aside 200 billion shillings [approximately $200m] every year towards creating jobs for youths.”
The economic argument was one that Kimani Ichungwa, MP from the Kikuyu constituency, also hammered on, speaking from the bonnet of Ruto’s vehicle. “You have ditched us into an economic trench but only you, your family, and that of Odinga and that of Moi are the only ones who are out,” he said. “We will get ourselves out of the trench, with God on our side under Ruto’s leadership.”“We know you, Uhuru Kenyatta, you are the master of doublespeak,” he added, responding to claims that Kenya Kwanza supporters were inciting violence. “You are the master traitor in politics. Speak of peace only in action.”
The promise of jobs for the youth is what drew 25-year-old Kennedy Kirima, who holds a certificate in plumbing but is jobless, to Ruto. “If you are not connected and do not have money, you will sleep on your certificate and work at a construction site like me. Corruption is too rampant in this country,” he said.
Beside the crowd punctuating Ruto’s speech with chants of his name, Helen Mathii rearranged her wares. The 50-year-old vendor told Al Jazeera she was still undecided on who to vote for “because they [candidates] are making the usual empty promises,” she said. “Odinga looks too old to lead, while Ruto doesn’t sound honest, that is where my contention is.”