Kenyans gear up for polls amid optimism, high expectations

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 At the heart of Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, cars with mounted speakers drive by pouring out political messages. On the other hand, billboards and advertising screens are inundated with political candidates.

   These scenes are replicated across the country as politicians battle it out in the final push to secure votes as Kenyans head to the ballot on Aug. 9 to choose the next crop of leaders.

   As this key event unfolds, Kenyans share with Xinhua their aspirations and reflections as they prepare to elect political leaders in what has been touted as a defining election by local political pundits.

   “I remain expectant as the day nears because this is an opportunity to reorganize leadership. I will be voting for leaders who demonstrated integrity, courage, and patriotism when our country was in trouble in the past two years with COVID-19 looming large and the threat of food insecurity,” said Zabron Kioma, a medical pharmacist based in downtown Nairobi.

   This election year finds a nation still recovering from the brunt of the pandemic, locust invasion on crop fields, an ongoing drought, and inflation.

   But even with these challenges, patriotism and the spirit of Harambee, a Swahili word for tacit agreement on togetherness, has buoyed the country through these challenges.

   The electorate will be deciding between four presidential candidates, chief among them William Ruto, the sitting deputy president, and Raila Odinga, a veteran opposition leader.

   Kioma, like many sampled Kenyans, urged incoming leaders to scale up or enhance infrastructure, hailing the Chinese-built Standard Gauge Railway (SGR)which runs from the coastal city of Mombasa to Nairobi, the capital,  for spurring economic and social growth.

   “I have a pharmaceutical firm in Mombasa therefore I move a lot between Nairobi and Mombasa. The SGR has helped me cut the time of travel between the two cities. It is efficient and fast. We need more of such developments to grow the country,” said Kioma.

   Kenya’s economy rose to the sixth position in the African continent from 12 when the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta ascended to power in 2013.

   Under Kenyatta’s stewardship, the gross domestic product (GDP)  grew from 37.6 billion U.S. dollars to 109 billion U.S. dollars, according to official government data.

   “Kenyans would agree that the government has performed fairly well in its big four Agenda, a socio-economic transformation blueprint. It would have been difficult to overcome the pandemic without the kind of effort we saw in the health sector,” said Peter Kagwanja, a former government adviser and political analyst.

   At the end of July, the country had achieved a milestone in COVID-19 vaccination where more than 20 million doses had been deployed. Active cases remain low as per statistics from the Ministry of Health.

   Aside from development, Jasmine Oluoch, a spa manager is excited that Kenya has been in harmony with its neighbors while internal disputes have been put under control.

   “I am preaching the message of harmony and cohesion and urging Kenyans to vote peacefully. We have experienced relative peace within our borders and I hope that this status will be carried forward by the incoming leadership,” said Oluoch.

   Local polls in recent weeks have placed the 77-year-old Odinga ahead of his main competitor, Ruto.

   “This will be a peaceful election because the political divide that has been in past elections is not there. Again, the election body, Independent Electoral and  Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has learned a lot from past elections and has since taken care of technicalities that would cause a dispute,” said Kagwanja.

   There is however a segment of Kenyans who are in malaise following the current high cost of consumable goods and fuel appealing to incoming leaders to address this burdensome issue.

   “Motorbike riders will expect a lowering in the cost of fuel from the current retail price of 1.3 dollars from the new government. It is very difficult to make a meaningful income with the current rate,” Mike Mugendi, a motorcycle rider, remarked.

   In late July, the government moved in to cushion Kenyans from the high cost of food by lowering the cost of maize flour, the staple food in the country by activating a subsidy program. The cost of the commodity was brought down by 50 percent.

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