Nairobi, Kenya – Many perceive it as immoral, completely crazy or both.
But George Wajackoyah, one of four front-line presidential candidates in Kenya, keeps pushing, hoping to become the fifth president-elect and resolve the country’s debt burden by legalizing cannabis cultivation and the export of testicles. hyena
Tuesday’s presidential vote is seen as a direct contest between Vice President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, but less has been said about the other two: David Mwaure, a Conservative cleric, and Wajackoyah.
But the latter, a 62-year-old law professor and former police officer whose unconventional campaign has so far taken the road less traveled, away from the name-calling that abounds in Kenyan political campaigns.
In 10 years, the national debt went from 2 trillion shillings ($16.8 billion), or 40% of gross domestic product (GDP), to 9 trillion shillings ($75.5 billion), or 67% of GDP, and analysts they say the next president faces a difficult task in reviving Kenya’s economic fortunes.
“Growing marijuana… will allow this country to pay off its outstanding debts and ensure that Kenyans have enough money wherever they are so that we can sustain and arrest the [debt] situation,” Wajackoyah said.
“China in 2021 planted 169,000 acres of marijuana and made $1.2 billion in profits,” he added, referring to Kenya’s biggest creditor. “Here is China, we have 9 trillion shillings in debt, which means we are spending China’s marijuana money on our projects.”
He plans a large-scale export of hyena testicles and snake venom to give Kenya enough export earnings and legalize the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes, which he says would earn Kenya 9.2 billion shillings ($77.2 billion). dollars) per year.
The proceeds would help pay off Kenya’s debt and give each citizen 200,000 shillings ($1,679) in annual dividends, he said.
Unsurprisingly, that has spurred a national debate on the issue and his candidacy has cultivated a small and growing following.
A life of many twists and turns
An experienced lawyer, Wajackoyah surprised many when he promised to suspend the constitution for a month if elected and hang convicted criminals to death with a rope made of hemp.
But young people have warmed to his promise to institute four-day workweeks and his campaigns have been more like music concerts than rallies.
Sandwiched between young women dressed in skimpy crocheted outfits and Rastafarian colours, the 60-year-old has appeared in bars and nightclubs, dancing to reggae music before addressing his audience.
He wore a durag and T-shirt to file his Roots Party presidential nomination form at the office of the Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission (IEBC).
And despite being an advocate for the legalization of cannabis, he says he does not smoke or drink and is also a vegetarian.
Multiple local reports have indicated that he has 16 degrees, including a doctorate from Walden University in the United States, as well as an advanced diploma in French from the University of Burundi. She speaks English, French, Swahili, Luhya and Luo.
He grew up on the streets of Nairobi and told reporters he was only three years old when his parents abandoned him after their divorce. He claimed to have been out on the streets while trying to locate his mother, who was rumored to have moved to Uganda.
A supporter reportedly rescued him and enrolled him in school, a story he tells street children as he encourages them to take education seriously.
Wajackoyah also reportedly spent 10 years in the Kenya Police Service Special Branch as a spy under the administration of Daniel Arap Moi. He reportedly fled into exile after uncovering damaging details about the murder of one of his ministers, Robert Ouko.
Information about his posts in the feared spy service in the Moi era is scant, but in an interview he explained that he fled the country in 1991 for the UK.
While studying law there, he claims to have fended for himself as a gravedigger, later moving to the US to improve his academic credentials.
The professor is married to a US citizen with three children who are split between the US and the UK.
‘An impact on the people’
For a largely religious and conservative country, Wajackoyah’s eccentricity and role in politics have been questioned by members of the public.
At a pro-Odinga rally on August 6, Emily Adhiambo, a 31-year-old woman who works menial jobs in Kiambi, a Nairobi slum, said she would not vote for the teacher because “Wajackoyah will pamper our children with bhang [cannabis]”.
When members of the Kenyan clergy strongly accused him of ripping apart the “moral fabric” of society, he responded at a rally in Nairobi’s central business district by saying the bishops “don’t know what they’re talking about”.
“Bhang is smoked in Israel, even Jesus smoked weed,” he continued as the youngsters cheered him on.
Several young people, flattered by his ideologies, followed his campaign truck chanting his slogan, “Bangi! bang! bangi!”, the Swahili word for cannabis.
“Kenya has the best marijuana in the world,” he announced during the rally. “All flower beds will turn into beautiful green bhang bushes.”
On the campaign trail, the law professor wears mostly sweatpants and a T-shirt with “Roots Life” inscribed as a reference to his political party and a signature durag in his graying hair. There are also the sandals that he often pushes aside. preferring to walk barefoot.
Sometimes he wears green overalls with Rastafarian labels and inscriptions.
It’s a departure from years ago when he appeared at court in suits adorned with a bow tie. Her gray beard was also neatly trimmed then, unlike her sprawling mass now.
Kenya’s elections could be forced into a second round if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote. For this reason, it has been suggested that it is “a state project”, strategically positioned in the presidential race to take away enough votes from the main candidates.
This comes as President Uhuru Kenyatta, the ruling Jubilee party and the state machine have been backing former opposition leader Odinga, under the umbrella of the Azimio la Umoja coalition.
At a club in Kisumu on June 24, Wajackoyah asked for respect for Odinga, in what many interpreted as a promise of support or a Freudian slip.
“I have roots in the Luo community and we must respect Raila. If you don’t vote for me, then I would rather vote for him,” she said.
But Wajackoyah is unfazed by those who say he has no chance of winning. For him, the end of the game is not to win elections but to change mentality. “A victory is when it impacts people, and I see that already,” he told Al Jazeera.
That change in mindset has already landed some of his staunch supporters in trouble with the law.
On June 12, a staunch supporter, Boniface Mutua, was prosecuted for smoking during campaigns. He pleaded guilty, but argued that he smokes cannabis to have the courage to campaign for the Roots Party.
“Who knows, I could be among the commercial bhang growers if my candidate is elected president and legalizes marijuana,” Mutua said with a laugh inside the court.
Benard Ogoye, a Nairobi resident, said that while he does not support Wajackoyah’s presidential bid, he supports legalizing cannabis to control its use and likes the campaign.
“Political seasons are often very tense and Wajackoyah adds humor to it, relaxing the atmosphere,” he told Al Jazeera.
In fact, the professor named a comedian, Jaymo Ule Msee, as his spokesman.
Dismus Mokua, a Nairobi-based political analyst, believes the unorthodox campaign has drawn national attention to Wajackoyah, in a country where the spotlight is on two candidates.
“I think he’s positioning himself as an international lobbyist for marijuana,” Mokua said. “He’s a very smart man and clearly, being president is not his goal… when leading pharmaceutical companies look for raw materials or countries where they can grow bhang, they will know who to turn to.”