Roots Party candidate enlivens Kenyan presidential election

Wajackoyah’s `10 commandments’ include legalisation and exportation of marijuana to combat the nation’s rising public debt

Kenya goes to the polls at 6am on Tuesday. Whoever is elected as the country’s fifth president since independence needs to get more than 50 per cent of the vote to secure the position, meaning an unexpected candidate could force a second round run-off.

George Wajackoyah, the candidate for the Roots Party, will certainly not win but he has caused a stir and will potentially force another round of voting.

The 62-year-old has been advocating for the legalisation and exportation of marijuana, saying a “bhang revolution” could raise the equivalent of billions of euro to pay off Kenya’s growing public debt.

“The ganja in . . . Kenya has more value than the one in Holland,” he told journalists on Saturday, while on a last minute campaign tour around the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.


“So guys, we are going into ganja economics.”

“Raising the debt ceiling is a non-issue because we have the solution – the growing of marijuana,” he has previously said. “It will enable this country to pay its outstanding debts, and ensure Kenyans have enough money wherever they are.”

Wajackoyah, a law professor, is one of four candidates vying for the presidency of the east African country of roughly 55 million. Polling has his expected percentage of the vote in the single digits.

In June, Wajackoyah launched a manifesto that he called the “10 commandments of Freedom”. They included legalising marijuana; rearing snakes and extracting their venom for export; hanging people found guilty of corruption; implementing a four-day work week; and deporting “undesirable” foreigners, particularly the Chinese.

The candidate was once a street child taken in by Hare Krishna worshipers. He reportedly claims to have more than a dozen degrees, and has worked as a grave digger in the UK, where he lived as a refugee.

Tuesday’s election will see Kenya’s vice-president, William Ruto (55), pitted against longtime opposition figure Raila Odinga (77), who this time is running with the unexpected backing of Kenya’s current president, Uhuru Kenyatta.

Ruto – who comes from a modest background – presents himself as a champion of the poor. But both leading candidates are among Kenya’s wealthiest citizens, in a country where the president himself says as much as two billion Kenyan shillings (€16.4 million) of public funds are lost each day to corruption.

Voter registration for the election is low among young people, with many saying they are fed up of elite politicians and find it hard to imagine any change, no matter who is in power. In that context, Wajackoyah’s candidacy, if not successful, has at least challenged the status quo.

“Wajackoyah is running on an outrageous platform that would ordinarily be laughed out of town. But there is no doubt that he has captured the imagination of angry, disaffected youth in both urban and rural Kenya, cutting across all the regular ethnic, regional and party lines,” wrote Kenyan Daily Nation columnist Macharia Gaitho last month.

While Wajackoyah himself says he has never smoked marijuana, he has pledged on national TV that he will light up in Kenya’s State House if he wins.

“There is that detox, which is medicinal… I will smoke it in State House to remove the devils.”

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa