Kenya’s presidential contender Raila Odinga has added a social welfare plan to his campaign agenda, looking to counter Deputy President William Ruto’s populist ‘‘Hustler’’ narrative that is being used to grow his appeal among the economically struggling class.
In a move to endear himself to low-income earners and unemployed youth, Mr Odinga is promising monthly cash transfers of Ksh6,000 ($54) to vulnerable households, and a longer grace period for repayment of student loans.
The former prime minister, whose campaign has gained momentum in recent weeks, first promised the stipend to the jobless at a whistle-stop tour of Nakuru and Laikipia counties last week.
But his critics dismissed the proposal as unrealistic, citing Kenya’s high unemployment rate.
The deputy president, who considers Mr Odinga his toughest challenger in the 2022 presidential race, said the proposal is a copycat attempt to hijack his economic revival strategy.
Mr Ruto’s “hustler” narrative, which promises to help micro businesses and farmers grow their wealth by offering them capital money, has won him a following especially in central Kenya, popularly referred to as Mt Kenya region, where cash crop farmers are unhappy with low prices. But he has recently faced a backlash from a club of wealthy individuals under the Mount Kenya Foundation, who accuse him of trying to foment a social class war by framing the 2022 presidential race as a contest between peasants or “hustlers’’ and “dynasties’’ or rich people.
Like in past elections, voting patterns in 2022 could follow regional or ethnic coalition lines.
However, concerns about the state of the economy, ravaged by the pandemic and a growing mountain of public debt, and the battle for swing votes, have seen issues such as social protection, corruption and business incentives dominate public conversations with 10 months to the August 9, 2022 general election.
Mr Odinga has since clarified that his cash transfer plan, whose details are being fine-tuned by his economic advisers, would benefit about two million households identified as most vulnerable under the state social protection programme.
Mr Odinga says that he will raise part of the billions he will need to roll out his ambitious social welfare package from, among others, savings from curbing corruption and ministry budget cuts.
President Uhuru Kenyatta in January said about Ksh2 billion ($18 million) is stolen from the government every day.
The current administration of President Kenyatta has been implementing a state social security programme targeting persons aged above 70, those living with severe disability, and orphaned children. Some 1.09 million Kenyans were reported to have been receiving the monthly Ksh2,000 ($18) stipend by mid last year.
More people are believed to have benefited from the social protection programme last year.
December 2020 when the government rolled out an economic stimulus package in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But suspicions of corruption have engulfed the programme, with people identified as beneficiaries often complaining about delayed disbursements or the stipends ending up in the wrong hands.
Past reports of the Auditor-General have also questioned the accuracy of the beneficiary numbers and financial figures by the social protection department, citing missing bank transaction records