In Kenya, promises of marijuana heaven are electrifying voters: NPR


Kenyan presidential candidate George Wajackoyah on the campaign trail in Kenya on August 5.

Nikolai Hammar/NPR


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Nikolai Hammar/NPR

In Kenya, promises of marijuana heaven are electrifying voters: NPR

Kenyan presidential candidate George Wajackoyah on the campaign trail in Kenya on August 5.

Nikolai Hammar/NPR

MWEA, Kenya – At one of the last rallies of his campaign, George Wajackoyah drove into the town of Mwea with his head and shoulders protruding from the sunroof of an SUV. Other cars followed close behind, one with a huge loudspeaker playing reggae and announcing his name.

He’s the Kenyan presidential candidate whose outlandish proposals – including the sale of hyena testicles to prop up the economy – have electrified the young people of the East African country.

Wajackoyah is a respected human rights lawyer who became an overnight celebrity when he announced his candidacy for the presidency. His unorthodox policies – his main proposal is to legalize marijuana – have rocked a presidential race dominated by old and familiar faces in a nation of more than 50 million people.

Mwea is a small rice-growing town at the foot of Mount Kenya, and as soon as locals realized what was happening, a crowd ran after Wajackoyah’s vehicle.

“We are the only political party without a notice board, without a secretariat, without offices,” said the 63-year-old candidate. “We don’t pay people, because where is the money? »

While no one here thinks Wajackoyah will become Kenya’s next leader (polls show he has around 2% of the vote), in a hotly contested race he could force the two favorites – current Vice President William Ruto and veteran opposition activist Raila Odinga – in a runoff if neither side wins more than 50% of the vote in Tuesday’s election.

And the excitement over Wajackoyah’s bid – his convoy being mobbed as it stops at Mwea – suggests that many Kenyans are hungry for a new way of doing things.

“In Japan, if you steal, they give you a chance to kill yourself,” Wajackoyah said. “In Kenya, if you steal, you either go to parliament or you go to the senate.”

In his Kenya, corrupt politicians will have the choice to die. He cracked a big smile as the crowd applauded the remark, then he presented his most popular policy proposal.

“We need to change our mindsets to look at the economy and fix that economy – and the only way to fix the economy is to grow weed!” he shouted into the microphone.

Suddenly you felt the euphoria making its way to every corner of the city. The teenage girls screamed with excitement and the crowd chanted “Bhangi! Bhangi”, or cooking pot in Kiswahili.

Maureen Kaonda, who was watching the rally, said Wajackoyah is misunderstood by young people. She says he is not talking about smoking weed.

“He talks about exporting it – to enrich people, to enrich the country,” she said.

Simon Machira, 57, totally agrees.

“The Kenyan government told us to plant tea, plant cotton, but it didn’t pay off,” he said. After years of government promises, politicians are still corrupt and people are still poor, he added, so maybe it’s time to try something drastic.

Ngala Chome, a policy analyst at Sahan Research, a Nairobi-based think tank, called Wajackoyah’s policy proposals “comical”.

But, he added, they all relate to what Kenyans are most concerned about in this election: the economy.

He says the Wajackoyah campaign is part of something new in Kenya. In the past, politics centered on tribalism. But this time, with high inflation, fuel shortages and high employment, the economy is the most powerful message. And even a fringe candidate like Wajackoyah can feel that.

“He taps into that emotion of people who are in debt, people who are basically broke,” he said.

Chome said he doubted any of his promises would come true. But Wajackoya’s campaign signals a positive development in Kenyan politics: for the first time, he said, politicians are being forced to think about the issues that matter most to Kenyans.

Away from the rally, Wajackoyah showed his serious side. He went from showman, dancing to reggae atop a vehicle, to lawyer defending his radical proposals.

Medical marijuana can be sold to Israel, he said. And if you kill a few corrupt politicians, he added, you will rid the country of corruption.

“African problems can be sorted out,” he said. “It’s very simple. That’s why I even say to the president, I say [front-runner] Raila Odinga, I say [front-runner William] Ruto, ‘The money you stole give it back or I’ll kill you.'”

Wajackoyah looks at the lack of industry in the country and offers to sell dog meat to China. He looks at tired Kenyans and proposes a four-day work week.

When this reporter asked if he was giving Kenyans false hope with easy answers, he bristled. China and the Philippines, he said, have solved big problems, why not Kenya?

When this reporter mentioned that these two countries had atrocious human rights records, he scoffed.

“Human rights, my ass,” said the human rights lawyer. “Come on. Let’s liberate our country first and then we’ll do what we have to do.”

John Odhiambo contributed to this report.


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