Q&A: Kenya's Elections a Political Thriller

Map of Kenya i i
Alice Kreit, NPR
Map of Kenya
Alice Kreit, NPR
Kenya President Mwai Kibaki and his wife, Lucy

Kenya President Mwai Kibaki and his wife, Lucy, wave to supporters after Kibaki presented his nomination papers to the Electoral Commission of Kenya in November. Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images
Presidential hopeful Raila Odinga

Presidential hopeful Raila Odinga salutes surpporters after he is nominated to vie for the presidency of Kenya in September. AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption AFP/Getty Images

Kenya is set to choose its next president and other political leaders Dec. 27. Several candidates are up for the country's main leadership role, but it is coming down to a battle between the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, and the main opposition candidate, Raila Odinga.

Here's more on the elections and the issues at stake:

What's on the ballot?

Kenya's 14 million eligible voters will choose a president, more than 200 members of parliament and more than 2,000 local councilors.

What's at stake?

The election will determine political control of one of the most vibrant economies in East Africa. Kenya's capital, Nairobi, is the main financial, transportation and communications hub for the region.

Kenya is also one of the most stable countries in an unstable area. It borders Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia, all of which are currently involved in violent internal struggles or tensions with other nations.

Why should Americans care?

The Kenyan government's cooperation is critical to U.S. efforts to combat terrorist groups such as al-Qaida. Kenya has been a way station for terrorists and the site of violent attacks, including the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, which killed 213.

Who are the key candidates for president?

Current President Mwai Kibaki is running for a second five-year term. His strong points include an economy that has grown steadily over the past five years, and a record of working for social reforms, such as free primary education. His weak points include his advancing age — he's 76 — and a failure to deal with widespread government corruption.

Kibaki's leading opponent is Raila Odinga, 62, who served as a minister in Kibaki's government but has been campaigning as an agent of change. He says he can improve conditions for Kenya's poor majority. Odinga spent nine years in jail for opposing the government of former dictator Daniel Arap Moi.

The third-ranking candidate is Kalonzo Musyoka, 53, whose campaign has stressed his evangelical Christianity. Musyoka trails the leading candidates in the polls, but he could influence an election that's expected to be very close.

What are the main issues?

Economic inequality is a key issue in a country the economy has been improving, but most people still live in poverty. Corruption is considered widespread at all levels of government, and several major government procurement scandals have taken place over the past five years. Violent crime is also a serious issue in major cities, especially car-jackings and robberies. Tribalism will play a major part in the voting, because Kenya has more than 40 tribes. The dominant Kikuyu tribe is supporting Kibaki, who is one of its own. The Luo, the second largest tribe, and most other minority tribes have given their support to Odinga.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.