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What Kenyan Voters Want Ahead Of Election Day

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

And now to Kenya. Kenyans are going to the polls this week to elect a president. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports that, amid festive campaign rallies, voters are most worried about how to put food on the table.

(SOUNDBITE OF VUVUZELA SOUNDING)

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Political rallies in Kenya are celebratory affairs. Here in Kitengela, I find mostly men crowding a roadside, waiting for the opposition leader Raila Odinga to ride past, waving and dancing on these flatbed trucks outfitted specially for these political rallies. Frederick Osanga is standing way back, arms crossed, far away from the vuvuzela horns and the men gyrating at the roadside.

FREDERICK OSANGA: My life is somehow desperate.

PERALTA: He's dressed in a pressed button-down. He says he graduated college with a degree in human resource management. And for a year, he's been applying for jobs.

OSANGA: You apply for a job. They look at your name, and you're rejected.

PERALTA: His name reveals his tribe. And Frederick feels left out of Kenya's prosperity, which he says works only for the ruling tribes. As we talk, one of the political floats passes our way. There are so many people on it, the tires sag with the weight.

(SOUNDBITE OF VUVUZELAS SOUNDING)

PERALTA: Much of the media talk around the Kenyan elections has been about potential rigging and violence. But for voters, there are more meaningful issues, unemployment, which has hovered for years at around 40 percent, and inflation, which has been surging, making some staples like corn maize and sugar simply unaffordable for lots of Kenyans. Daniel Uchey, another voter, says underneath all this music and all this dancing is a quiet desperation.

DANIEL UCHEY: We are crying. We are crying. We need a new Kenya. And we need a change.

PERALTA: As we speak, another young guy stops by.

MENASSEH SOSO: My name is Manasseh Soso (ph). You see, this is how we live in Kenya. I don't have a job. I'm just a hustler. I sell these things.

PERALTA: He shows me a plastic bag full of little jars. He's an educated Kenyan simply surviving, selling instant tea for about a dollar a pop.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORGAN MUSIC)

PERALTA: About 40 miles away, at a rally for the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta, things are different. One man tells me if the economy is so bad, how come so many people have cars? Helen Njoki says a $100 loan from the government changed her life. She was able to buy some animals and start a little farm. Life, she says, is good.

HELEN NJOKI: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: "Instead of complaining," she says, "people should look for these opportunities and take advantage of them." But it doesn't take long for me to find another young man with his arms crossed along the edge of the rally. Paul Muthouni, 27, says his life is very difficult.

Do you have a job right now?

PAUL MUTHOUNI: No, no, no. That's why I'm here.

PERALTA: He's an electrician but can't find steady jobs. So he shows up to political rallies for the small handout he gets for food, for tea. I ask him if his tough life means he'll vote against his tribe and in favor of the opposition. He nods. Absolutely not.

MUTHOUNI: Because I can't vote for any other person.

PERALTA: But you're saying that life is tough.

MUTHOUNI: Yeah.

PERALTA: So how does that - what does that...

MUTHOUNI: (Laughter) Alternatively, I elect another person maybe to be harder than that.

PERALTA: Life is tough, he says. But come Election Day, he's going to stick to what he knows. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, on the campaign trail in Kenya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.