It’s a bitter battle between former enemies turned allies turned enemies vying to lead the relatively stable nation in an unstable region.
Ruto dubs himself the “Hustler-in-Chief”, a reference to his humble beginnings as a chicken seller in Kenya’s Rift Valley a heartbeat away from the country’s most powerful office.
“I may not be anyone’s child, but we want to make this a country of everyone,” the Kenyan vice president told CNN from his sprawling official residence in Nairobi’s wealthy Karen neighborhood.
“We want to make this country a country of opportunity for every child in Kenya.”
Odinga, who says he is running for the last time, has unsuccessfully run for president four times before and contested his defeat in the last three elections.
“I had considered not running this time, but there was a lot of pressure on me from my supporters to run because of what I stand for,” he told CNN. , promising change if elected.
“I said that the aspirations and desires of the Kenyan people as expressed in our nation’s founding document, what you can call the Kenyan dream, have not been realized.”
The other two candidates allowed to run for the presidency are Professor George Wajackoyah and David Mwaure Waihiga. They are both considered long shots and unlikely to win.
Kenyatta ditched his deputy Ruto to support Odinga, became the campaign chairman of his Azimio la Umoja (Aspiration to Unite) coalition, and brought in influential figures from his powerful Kikuyu ethnic group.
But Ruto assembled his own formidable coalition named Kenya Kwanza (Kenya First), attracted many leaders from Kenyatta’s backyard, and garnered wide national appeal with an oft-repeated rags-to-riches story.
While retaining the title of Kenya’s vice president, Ruto lost most of his powers and responsibilities in 2018 when Kenyatta reconciled with his former rival Odinga, effectively neutralizing the opposition.
A symbolic handshake with Odinga ended Kenyatta’s alliance with Ruto, a well-orchestrated syndicate that had twice won them the presidency and scuttled their crimes against humanity cases at the International Criminal Court.
Ruto runs on this betrayal, as Kenyatta had repeatedly pledged to support his deputy at the end of the president’s term.
“I have a plan, he doesn’t”
“There’s a world of difference between me and my competitor. I have a plan, he doesn’t,” Ruto says of Odinga.
He accuses Odinga’s campaign of making sweeping statements about Kenya’s huge debt burden, high cost of living and unemployment crisis without details or clarity.
“He is a good old man, but I don’t think today he has the ability to pull this country from where it is. Kenya cannot afford to have a leader who is not impractical, who doesn’t know what they’re doing or what’s going on, who depends on others to make decisions.”
Odinga calls the stolen funds “budgeted corruption” and promises to close the corridors of corruption if he wins. “There’s a lot of theft. When we address this, the savings we get will be more than what we need to fund the projects we’re talking about,” the veteran politician nicknamed Baba told CNN.
“We are not going to compromise and no one, including myself, will be indispensable in the fight against corruption, because if you do it effectively, there is no reason why this country cannot achieve its goals. development goals,” Odinga said.
Because of their association with Kenyatta, Odinga and Ruto have to walk a fine line between taking credit for his administration’s achievements and promising to lead the country better if elected.
Ruto says their government was “overrun by the opposition” in the second term, derailing their agenda while Odinga denies a win for him would be an unofficial third term for Kenyatta.
The vice-president strongly criticized his boss and the administration in which he still works, while former prime minister Odinga mainly attacks Ruto.
“All he utters today is empty rhetoric – words – and we know there is no commitment or determination to deliver on what he promises the people of this country. “, Odinga said of Ruto.
The vice president is dismissive of any criticism and believes the election is already decided in his favor.
How will voting work?
To win, either candidate must win more than half of all votes cast in the election. Some observers say the result could be so close it could send Kenya into a second round for the first time. Both Odinga and Ruto told CNN they would accept the election result if they lose, as long as the process is free and fair.
Election results are expected to be announced by August 15.
But both expressed concerns about the way the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) handled aspects of the process, warning it could affect confidence in the ballot.
After Kenya’s Supreme Court overturned the 2017 presidential election and blamed the IEBC, the commission tried to be more transparent to build trust in the process.
Kenya has an electronic voter register, but voting and counting are done manually. Polling stations open nationwide at 6 a.m. on August 9 and end at 5 p.m.
For its part, the IEBC says it has made minor technological changes in this election period to regain confidence in the electoral system.
The race is expected to be tight, with neither leading contender significantly higher than the other. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the votes cast, the election will go to a second round for the first time in Kenyan history.