A new season, but same old campaign promises

election campaign

Women dance during a campaign rally in Siaya town on May 29, 2022. The two main presidential candidates, William Ruto and Raila Odinga, are recycling perennial election promises that they or others have used in past battles for State House.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The two main presidential candidates, William Ruto and Raila Odinga, are recycling perennial election promises that they or others have used in past battles for State House.

War on corruption, creation of one million jobs, industrialisation, money for social welfare programmes, agriculture subsidies, universal health cover, money for small business, youth and women groups, are among campaign issues that feature every election cycle.

The campaign promises are full of the same old issues that past regimes have failed to address.

From coffee, tea and miraa in the Mt Kenya region to maize, banditry and cattle rustling in the North Rift, the Mau Forest and tea in the South Rift, sugar in Nyanza and Western, water scarcity in Eastern, and land issues at the Coast, politicians have had a field day stirring up emotions with promises of solving these age-old problems.

Intractable issues

Though voters know that these are intractable issues, politicians still promise to solve them so as to get their vote, said Prof Amukowa Anangwe, a former Cabinet minister now with the Regional Centre for Strategic and Policy Studies.

“Politics is a seduction process and just like [former President Daniel arap] Moi once said, ‘when you are interested in a lady, you can promise her all sorts of things, but the moment she accepts you, things do not work as you had promised’”.

At the heart of it, he argues, is hope. “Campaigning is about giving people hope and making desirable pledges according to the expectation of the electorate, whether feasible or not,” he said.

“This happens even in the West. Look at what former US President Donald Trump did. When it comes to delivery, many challenges arise. The person who was promising does not understand the nitty-gritty of the problem and the mechanism of achieving desirable change, it is the bureaucrats who do,” Prof Anangwe said.

Pledges made then forgotten

He added: “An average voter does not remember what was promised in the past election. Once pledges have been made, they are forgotten.”

For instance, with the Mt Kenya region lacking a clear heir to take over from President Uhuru Kenyatta as he serves out his second and final term, both Deputy President Ruto and former Prime Minister Odinga have promised to address the plight of the region’s farmers.

They say they will prioritise value addition to improve earnings from harvests and protect businesses with lower taxes and cheaper loans.

The contenders have also promised guaranteed minimum returns to regions like the Rift Valley and Central, where agriculture remains the main economic lifeline.

On his visits to the breadbasket counties of the Rift Valley, Mr Odinga said cereal farmers are suffering because cartels have infiltrated the maize business and the local market has been flooded with imports. He promised that his administration will kick out the cartels.

Subsidise farm inputs

The former premier is also promising that his administration will subsidise farm inputs.

But these campaign promises are hardly likely to lead to votes, argues Prof Macharia Munene of United States International University (USIU). “Campaign promises are slogans with few vote magnetisms. It is a point of personalities, not issues,” he told the Nation.

Politicians are only interested in winning votes and are not held accountable for failing to achieve what they promise, says Prof University of Nairobi’s Karuti Kanyinga. “Politicians will always speak what they think will earn them more votes because we have lost values as a society. We say what we don’t mean and mean what we don’t say,” said Prof Kanyinga of the university’s Institute for Development Studies (IDS).

In Western Kenya, DP Ruto and Mr Odinga have made similar promises, including for the revival of collapsed sugar factories.

It is the same situation in Nyanza, where the focus is the sugar industry, the Lake Victoria economy, reinvigorating cotton growing and high-value crops, among others.

The two leaders have also promised to tackle the issues of land title deeds in areas like Coast, Maa counties, Trans Nzoia and West Pokot, as well as marginalisation, environmental degradation, poverty and historical injustices.


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