20 December 2007

Kenya: Campaign Promises - Are the Big Three Serious?


Nairobi — With exactly seven days to go and pollsters showing that up to 90 per cent of voters have decided who to vote for, the focus now shifts to the pledges by which the "Big Three" will be judged on December 27 - and thereafter as President.

But this season of pledges, marked with flowery manifestos and a huge measure of rhetoric at campaign rallies, isn't just about to end - even as the campaign period draws to a close.

President Kibaki (Party of National Unity), Mr Raila Odinga (Orange Democratic Movement [ODM]) and Mr Kalonzo Musyoka (ODM-Kenya) appear undeterred.

On a unique day that saw President Kibaki share a campaign platform with his predecessor, former President Moi - who's backing his re-election - pledges were still being made and the determination to win the top prize all too evident.

There are, however, analysts who have previously suggested that this year's elections will not be about issues, but a desire to change the status quo.

On Wednesday, the Head of State yielded to demands by Baringo North Kanu parliamentary aspirant, Mr John Lokorio, to create Baringo North District, whose headquarters will be in Kabartonjo.

In addition to promising tarmacked roads in the area, the President also issued title deeds to land owners in Mochongoi Division, saying the second batch would be completed in April.

Kibaki was on a tour of the retired President's Baringo District, where he addressed a public rally and begged local residents to vote for PNU.

He also campaigned for the immediate former Baringo Central MP, Mr Gideon Moi, who is contesting the seat on a Kanu ticket.

In Homa-Bay, Raila referred to the race to State House as "a matter of life and death" and appealed to voters to elect him, pledging to deliver what he described as "the all en-compassing change Kenyans so much desire".

Speaking at Silibwet Stadium in Bomet Constituency on Tuesday evening, Kalonzo said: "Kibaki was elected on the platform of change but when he entered State House, he became a prisoner of a clique of corrupt individuals".

He added: "Crime is at an all time high, corruption has permeated all sectors of the economy while tribalism and nepotism thrive in the Civil Service. But an ODM-Kenya government would reverse all that".

These pledges were, in essence, a repeat of numerous promises made either on the campaign trail by the top three presidential candidates, or contained in their various party manifestos.

Last night, two critical questions stood out: To what extent have the promises influenced the choice of the 90 per cent of voters, who pollsters say have made up their minds?

And secondly, are the pledges mere fantasies or reality?

These, however, will become clearer after the next President is elected and has taken office.

In their many vote-hunting forays across the country, President Kibaki and his chief rival, Raila, together with Kalonzo have also peppered their campaigns with specific regional promises.

Riding on incumbency, Kibaki has launched most of his campaigns with commissioning of development projects and promises of what he would do if elected for a second term.

But to his critics, he had five years to do so.

On his part Raila has adopted a regional strategy, unveiling 10-point development plans for each region and for the country as a whole.

For instance in Suswa, Wednesday, Raila told the largely pastoral community: "Pastoralists and farmers have no reason to be poor people. What they need are better prices for their products and an insurance scheme for their livestock during drought".

Kalonzo has been riding on promises of magical economic transformation, through development projects he says would put Kenya in the global map.

Most of the pledges have revolved around turning around the economy, building regional economies, fighting rampant poverty, building infrastructure, implementing free secondary education and the list goes on to the edge of the utopian promises that sound far-fetched.

The ideals the candidates have been selling on the campaign trail are extracted from their party manifestos but they have been given colour from the political rally platforms to appeal to the electorate.

An authoritative democracy and governance non-governmental organisation, the Institute of Education and Democracy (IED), has said most of the pledges made were achievable but would depend on a government's commitment to implement them and root out roadblocks that may hinder their successful execution, such as corruption.

In a 20-chapter manifesto, Raila outlines among other things a new constitution, devolution, fight against poverty, unemployment, inequality, insecurity, free secondary education and complete overhaul of dilapidated infrastructure as priority areas for an ODM government.

The outgoing Lang'ata MP's major pledge is to bring into force a new constitution in six months, a process that has proved elusive since 1997.

Raila has said that through devolution, an ODM leadership would bring about equitable distribution of resources in a country that ranks 30th on the list of most inequitable nations in the world.

For Kalonzo, a key pledge has been a radical devolution of power by establishing constituency assemblies and allocating them one third of the national budget.

The ODM-Kenya flagbearer is going to the polls with a pledge to introduce a new version of economic Majimbo, dubbed 'economic devolution'.

Kalonzo has said the nation will become a 24-hour working economy, in a bid to create more jobs and wealth. In his pledge against poverty, Kalonzo says food coupons - financed by State revenue - will be introduced for the poor in society.

On health, ODM-Kenya advocates for a national healthcare council to govern and manage healthcare.

On infrastructure, Kalonzo pledges to involve the private sector in improving and expanding the communication networks: Roads, railways and ports will be built by private developers, who will run them to recoup their investment and later hand them over to the state.

On Wednesday, the IED executive director, Ms Koki Muli, said the pledges were attainable but widespread corruption could prove a major hindrance "unless the winner deals with the vice first".

Muli observed that for the pledges to become a reality and not mere vote-getting fantasy, the new Head of State must seal all loopholes that have been used to siphon money through corruption.

She added: "If they can rein in corruption alone, at least within one year, that money is enough to finance road construction, provision of healthcare and improvement of the agricultural sector, without even touching donor funds".

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