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Kenyans prepare for elections amid optimism and high expectations

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In the heart of Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, cars with mounted loudspeakers roll by pouring out political messages. On the other hand, billboards and advertising screens are flooded with political candidates.

These scenes are being played out across the country as politicians face off in the latest push for votes as Kenyans head to the polls on August 9 to choose the next generation of leaders.

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

“I remain expectant as the day approaches as it is an opportunity to revamp leadership. I will be voting for leaders who have shown integrity, courage and patriotism while our country was in difficulty over the past two years with the impending COVID-19 and the threat of food insecurity,” said Zabron Kioma, a medical pharmacist based in downtown Nairobi.

This election year, a nation is still recovering from the brunt of the pandemic, the invasion of locusts on cultivated fields, persistent drought and inflation.

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

The electorate will choose between four presidential candidates, including leader William Ruto, the incumbent vice president, and Raila Odinga, a veteran opposition.

Kioma, like many sampled Kenyans, urged the new leadership to expand or improve infrastructure, hailing the Chinese-built Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) that links the coastal city of Mombasa to Nairobi, the capital, to stimulate economic and social growth.

“I have a pharmaceutical business in Mombasa so I travel a lot between Nairobi and Mombasa. The RMS allowed me to reduce the travel time between the two cities. It’s efficient and fast. We need more such developments to develop the country,” Kioma said.

Kenya’s economy has risen to sixth on the African continent from 12th when incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta came to power in 2013.

Under Kenyatta’s leadership, the gross domestic product (GDP) fell from US$37.6 billion to US$109 billion, according to official government data.

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

By the end of July, the country had reached a milestone in the vaccination against COVID-19 where more than 20 million doses had been deployed. Active cases remain low according to statistics from the Ministry of Health.

Apart from the development, Jasmine Oluoch, a spa manager, is delighted that Kenya has been in harmony with its neighbors as internal conflicts have been brought under control.

“I preach the message of harmony and cohesion and urge Kenyans to vote peacefully. We have enjoyed relative peace within our borders and I hope that status will be maintained by the new leadership,” said said Oluoch.

Local polls in recent weeks have put Odinga, 77, ahead of his main competitor, Ruto.

“It will be a peaceful election because the political divide that existed in previous elections is not there. Again, the electoral body, Independent Electoral and The Boundary Commission (IEBC) has learned a lot from past elections and has since taken care of the technicalities that could cause a dispute,” Kagwanja said.

There is however a segment of Kenyans who are uneasy with the current high cost of consumer goods and fuel, appealing to the new leadership to address this burdensome issue.

“Motorcyclists will expect a drop in the cost of fuel from the current retail price of $1.3 from the new government. It is very difficult to earn a meaningful income at the current rate,” remarked Mike Mugendi, a motorcyclist.

In late July, the government stepped in to protect Kenyans from the high cost of food by lowering the cost of maize flour, the country’s staple food, by activating a subsidy program. The cost of goods has been reduced by 50%.