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Kenya Chooses a New President

A contest between elites rests on who voters believe can deliver for those on the bottom.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A Kenyan election official prepares electoral material at the county hall in Eldoret, Kenya, on Aug. 8, ahead of the country's general election.
A Kenyan election official prepares electoral material at the county hall in Eldoret, Kenya, on Aug. 8, ahead of the country's general election.
A Kenyan election official prepares electoral material at the county hall in Eldoret, Kenya, on Aug. 8, ahead of the country's general election. SIMON MAINA/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Kenya’s elections, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and a potential new Iran nuclear deal.

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Kenya Goes to the Polls

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Kenya’s elections, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and a potential new Iran nuclear deal.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Kenya Goes to the Polls

After almost 10 years under President Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenyans go to the polls today to decide on his replacement.

As FP’s Nosmot Gbadamosi wrote in last week’s Africa Brief, the election is full of paradoxes: Raila Odinga, a five-time opposition presidential candidate, is the establishment pick, while William Ruto, the current deputy president, has marketed himself as the outsider.

Those positions were set in motion by the term-limited Kenyatta, who crossed party lines to endorse his old nemesis Odinga, fracturing the president’s own ruling Jubilee Party, whose splintered factions also face voters today in legislative elections.

Ruto has turned the snub into a campaign line, taking the position of a populist bent on disrupting the elite levels of Kenyan politics. With his rags-to-riches story (which includes a history of corruption allegations), Ruto has branded himself as one of the country’s “hustlers,” in contrast to the elite “dynasties” he has railed against.

Today’s election is unique in Kenya’s history in that neither main candidate is Kikuyu—the country’s largest ethnic group. (Odinga comes from the Luo ethnic group, Ruto from the Kalenjin.) Both men have attempted to court the influential bloc by naming Kikuyu running mates. Martha Karua, Odinga’s deputy presidential pick, would be the first woman to hold the role.

Ethnic politics may partly explain why neither man can seem to regularly beat the other in opinion polls, raising the specter of another first for Kenya—an election runoff.

As has become common in elections worldwide since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine, the cost of living has been the driving concern of Kenyan voters. Food prices are up 15.3 percent compared with last year, while inflation climbed to a five-year high of 8.3 percent in July.

Odinga and Ruto will have to deal with those concerns at a national level, even if neither will experience them directly; both men are extremely wealthy. They belong to a class of superrich Kenyans that is growing at a faster rate than in almost any other country. That wealth isn’t spreading, however; less than 0.1 percent of Kenya’s population now owns more than the other 99.9 percent, according to Oxfam.

Odinga has pledged to begin direct cash transfers to the approximately 30 percent of Kenyans living below the poverty line while also expanding health care access. Ruto has focused on the agricultural sector, which employs 70 percent of the country’s workforce. He has promised to spend $4.2 billion over five years to boost the sector and increase food security.

Neither man will have free rein when it comes to spending, however. The country is still in the midst of a loan program with the International Monetary Fund; it’s facing the worst drought in 40 years; and it’s a net fuel, wheat, and fertilizer importer, leaving it exposed to price shocks driven by the Russia-Ukraine war. Kenya’s economy is expected to slow this year but will still post a respectable 5 percent growth rate, according to World Bank projections.


What We’re Following

Iran deal finalized? EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday that the text of an agreement to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement had reached its final form following a weekend of talks in Vienna. “What can be negotiated has been negotiated, and it’s now in a final text. However, behind every technical issue and every paragraph lies a political decision that needs to be taken in the capitals,” Borrell tweeted. “If these answers are positive, then we can sign this deal.”

Blinken in Congo. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken travels to the Democratic Republic of the Congo today as he continues his Africa tour. Blinken’s visit comes a day after he launched the Biden administration’s sub-Saharan Africa strategy document. (The most mentioned country? Russia.)

More aid to Ukraine.
The United States announced a further $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine on Monday, with the majority of the assistance going toward artillery ammunition. The new commitment means that the United States has now provided $9.8 billion in security assistance since President Joe Biden took office, an amount that eclipses Ukraine’s annual defense budget.


Keep an Eye On

Ukraine nuclear tensions. Russia said on Monday that it would allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to access the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine, following concern over the site’s safety after facilities on the plant site were hit by shelling last week. Ukraine’s nuclear chief has backed an IAEA inspection while also calling for the plant to be made a “demilitarized zone.”

Taiwan drills. China has announced another round of military drills around Taiwan, almost immediately after drills in response to U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island ended. The exercises will take place on both air and sea, but China has yet to give specific dates. Taiwan has announced its own live-fire exercises in response.


Pacific Competition

The Pacific islands are emerging as an increasingly important theater of great-power politics between the United States and China, as well as an example of the transnational challenges of climate change. As U.S.-China relations steadily deteriorate under mounting economic, military, and technological competition, the Pacific island countries are caught between global superpowers vying for regional influence, all while trying to advance their economies and withstand the accelerating impacts of a warming world.

This FP Insider Brief explores Chinese and U.S. strategic and security interests in the Pacific region, the potential economic and security impacts of climate change on the Pacific island countries, and the role of climate development finance in their economies.


Odds and Ends

Australian airline Qantas has called on senior executives to take temporary postings as baggage handlers in a bid to tackle a shortage of ground staff.

Qantas executive Colin Hughes said the winter flu and COVID-19 were making it difficult to find workers and led to the unorthodox demand on head-office staff.

Labor unions beg to differ and cite a 2020 decision by Qantas to outsource its baggage operations away from its unionized workforce as the cause of the shortage. The lack of trained workers is already stretching Qantas’s Sydney airport operations, with one handler telling the Guardian that 10 percent of bags do not reach their destinations.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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