Toilets, funerals, rap: Kenya's no-stone-unturned campaign

A hawker in Nairobi sells second-hand shoes next to campaign posters of various candidates ahead of the August 9 election

A hawker in Nairobi sells second-hand shoes next to campaign posters of various candidates ahead of the August 9 election. AFP/Simon Maina

NAIROBI - At funerals, in rap videos or even inside public toilets: Kenya's election candidates are leaving no stone unturned in their fight for votes.

In addition to traditional election convoys blasting slogans and giant posters plastered along roads, candidates have looked for ingenious ways to excite weary voters.

On August 9, 22.1 million Kenyans will elect hundreds of representatives, including senators, governors, MPs and the East African nation's next president. 

Six elections will be held, capping a campaign blitz that has punctuated the life of the country for several months.

In the capital Nairobi, the race for the post of governor has taken an unexpected turn thanks to ruling party candidate Polycarp Igathe.

A former top bank executive, Igathe is a familiar face to Nairobians, who elected him deputy governor in 2017.

The 49-year-old resigned in 2020 over disagreements with his boss, the scandal-hit Mike Sonko.

Since then, he has made a no-holds-barred bid to win the governorship, doing everything from cleaning public toilets and washing cars to selling chapatis (an Indian flatbread) in the street.

- 'Show up and talk' - 

The unusual campaign has prompted a torrent of comments on social media, occasionally enthusiastic, but more often making a joke at Igathe's expense.

"Nairobians beware there is somebody known as Polycarp Igathe he can easily walk into your house as early as 5am to cook breakfast for you and even wash your utensils," one Twitter user wrote.

"He is accompanied by 10 cameramen and security. So don't confuse them with THIEVES."

The frontrunners in the Kenyan presidential election are Raila Odinga (left) and William Ruto

The frontrunners in the Kenyan presidential election are Raila Odinga (left) and William Ruto

AFP/File | Simon MAINA

Another Twitter user joked: "I plan to go to the salon tomorrow; why am I telling you this? I'm just putting it out there in case Polycarp Igathe is on shampoo duty."

The candidate is unfazed.

"The way I have designed my campaign, my first phase was to ground myself and root myself in Nairobians' day-to-day lives," he told The Standard newspaper in May.

For those less inclined to get their hands dirty, funerals have become a key staging ground for stump speeches, offering a captive audience.

The practice dates back decades, with funerals providing a rare opportunity for people to gather and speak freely during the 1978-2002 rule of autocratic president Daniel arap Moi.

"Campaigning in funerals has become a culture," political analyst Nerima Wako-Ojiwa told AFP. 

"A funeral is where you find a lot of people present, a ready public. You just show up and talk, it's easy."

When former president Mwai Kibaki died in April, the two leading presidential candidates Raila Odinga and William Ruto used his funeral to advertise their credentials.

- Rap battle - 

The two men have also turned to another staple of Kenyan politics, music, to lure prospective voters.

Ever since Kibaki adopted the hip-hop hit "Unbwogable" (a riff on Luo and English words meaning "unbreakable") as his party's anthem in 2002, music has become an indispensable part of Kenyan political campaigns.

This year, Odinga (77) made an appearance in several music videos, including the popular "Leo ni Leo" ("Today is the day" in Swahili), which has headlined many of his rallies.

Dressed in a bomber jacket and surrounded by twentysomethings, observers say the video aims to broaden the veteran politician's appeal among young Kenyans.

One rap number, "Sipangwingwi" ("You don't decide for me" in Swahili), has even sparked a battle of its own, with its two teenage creators splitting up over their political differences.

Since its release late last year, the song by two high-school students has accumulated more than 7.5 million views on YouTube and featured in thousands of TikTok videos. 

But the duo soon went their separate ways, with one supporting Odinga and the other backing Ruto, who used a version of the song as a campaign slogan.

Ruto's riff on the rap hit "Hatupangwingwi" ("You don't decide for us") was aimed at the political "dynasties" represented by Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose families have dominated Kenyan politics for decades.

A government watchdog barred the use of the term "hatupangwingwi" in April, saying it amounted to hate speech.

Within hours of the announcement, a defiant Ruto tweeted "Hatupangwingwi!" accompanied by a remixed version of the song.

In July, a court overturned the ban, inadvertently helping his slogan go viral less than a month before voting day.

- by Simon Valmary

Source
AFP

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