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Nairobi's Sidewalk Political Debaters Discuss Elections

  • Jill Craig

Campaigning is under way in Kenya for the much anticipated August elections.

On the sidewalk near Nairobi City Hall, you can find the Bunge la Wazalendo, or People's Parliament, meeting morning, noon and night. This group is one of a few that meet in Nairobi's city center.

They discuss a variety of important issues and, of course, the upcoming elections.

"Actually, we talk about the high cost of living, and we also talk about our top leadership," said Margaret Anyango Wayona, a social justice activist. "Yeah, we discuss about almost everything around this area."

And the high cost of living is a big concern among Kenyan voters, says Gabriel Mayeye, chairman of the People's Parliament.

"You cannot get water, even if you want to get water," he said, "you cannot get the ambulance for you to be in hospital, you cannot get free health care, you cannot get food."

At the People's Parliament, the regulars take turns speaking. People walking by often stop and take the floor themselves. While it is mostly men, there are a few women.

Margaret Nganyi says she is fed up with corruption, and that will guide her vote for president in August.

"We are going to vote this man out because he is a thief, he has stolen from us, he is just taking us for a ride," she said of President Uhuru Kenyatta. "He is not taking care of us and we are taxpayers. We are paying taxes. Even if we are going without food, we are paying taxes."

FILE - Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) talks with Vice President William Ruto during the unveiling of a cargo train at the Mombasa, Kenya, port containers depot, May 30, 2017.
FILE - Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) talks with Vice President William Ruto during the unveiling of a cargo train at the Mombasa, Kenya, port containers depot, May 30, 2017.

But others support Kenyatta, often citing his infrastructure projects as proof of success.

"He has done a good job," said one voter, "and he still has a very long journey to do to take Kenyans to the final part of the journey."

Other Kenyans remain skeptical that either the ruling party or the opposition will bring positive change to the country.

Stephen Owoko attempted to run as an independent candidate in the presidential elections, before the electoral commission denied his application.

"For now, it is just a question, a matter of saying, 'Which one is a better devil?'" Owoko said. "Which one is a better devil? When the time comes, I will decide."

But there is one thing most Kenyans agree on: The overarching role of politics.

"By the way, politics is everything because when you look at what is going on in this country, the [biggest] contributor to what is going on in this country is politics," Wayona said.

Kenya's elections are slated for August 8, and members of the People's Parliament will be watching closely.

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