In Kenya, promises of marijuana heaven electrify voters: NPR Pipa News

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Kenya’s presidential candidate George Wazakoyah during his election campaign in Kenya on August 5.

Nikolai Hammar/NPR


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Kenya’s presidential candidate George Wazakoyah during his election campaign in Kenya on August 5.

Nikolai Hammar/NPR

MWEA, Kenya – In one of the final rallies of his campaign, George Wazkoiah entered the city of Mwea with his head and shoulders clinging to the sunroof of an SUV. Other cars were following behind, with one of them playing reggae with a giant speaker and announcing his name.

He is the Kenyan presidential candidate whose outlandish proposals – including selling hyenas to bolster the economy – have electrified the youth in this East African nation.

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

Mwea is a small, rice-farming town at the foot of Mount Kenya, and as soon as residents realized what was happening, a crowd ran behind Wazakoyah’s vehicle.

“We are the only political party without a billboard, without a secretariat, without an office,” the 63-year-old candidate said. “We don’t pay people, because where’s the money?”

While no one here thinks Vazkoya is going to be Kenya’s next leader (he gets about 2% of the vote in the elections), in a tight contest he forces two front-runners – current Vice President William Ruto and veteran opposition campaigner Raila Odinga. Can do. – In a second round run-off if neither side receives more than 50% of the vote during Tuesday’s election.

And the excitement generated by Wazakoiah’s candidacy—his convoy being surrounded when he stops at Mwea—suggests that many Kenyans want a new way of doing things.

“In Japan, if you steal, they give you a chance to commit suicide,” Wazakoiah said. “In Kenya if you steal, you either go to Parliament or you go to the Senate.”

In their Kenya, corrupt politicians will be given the choice of how to die. He smiled big as the crowd cheered on that remark and then introduced his most popular policy proposal.

“We have to change our mindset to look at economics and fix those economics – and the only way to fix economics is to grow weed!” He shouted into the microphone.

Suddenly, you felt the excitement pouring out in every nook and corner of the city. Teenage girls screamed with excitement, and the crowd broke into Kiswahili chants of “Bhangi! Bhangi,” or pot.

Maureen Konda, watching the rally, says that young people misunderstand Vazcoya. She says she’s not talking about smoking weed.

“He is talking about exporting it – to make the people rich, to make the country rich,” she said.

Simon Machira, 57, agreed wholeheartedly.

“The Kenyan government has asked us to plant tea, plant cotton, but to no avail,” he said. He said that even after years of promises of the government, politicians are still corrupt and people are still poor, so maybe now is the time to make some revolutionary efforts.

Nagla Chom, a political analyst at Sahan Research, a Nairobi-based think tank, called Vazkoya’s policy proposals “humorous”.

But, he said, they are all tied to what Kenyans care about most in this election: the economy.

He says Wazakoiah’s campaign is part of something new to do in Kenya. In the past, politics has centered around tribalism. But this time, with higher inflation, fuel shortages and higher employment, the economy is the more powerful message. And even a modest candidate like Vazcoya might feel the same way.

“That’s tapping into the spirit of people who are in debt, people who are basically broke,” he said.

Chom said he doubted any of his promises would be fulfilled. But Wazakoya’s campaign points to a positive development in Kenyan politics: for the first time, he said, politicians are being forced to think about the issues Kenyans care about most.

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

He said medical marijuana could be sold to Israel. And if you kill some corrupt politicians, he said, you will free the country from corruption.

“African problems can be solved,” he said. “It’s very simple. That’s why I’m telling the president too, I’m saying [front-runner] Raila Odinga, I’m Telling [front-runner William] Wait, ‘Take back the money you stole, or I’ll kill you.'”

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

When asked by this reporter whether he was providing false hope to the Kenyans, with a simple answer, he sighed. He said that China and the Philippines have solved big problems, why not Kenya?

When this reporter mentioned that both of those countries had blatant human rights records, he scoffed.

“Human rights my a**,” said the human rights lawyer. “Come on. Let us liberate our country first and then do what we have to do.”

John Odiambo contributed to this report.

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