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Crimes, Investigations No Bar to Kenya Election Bids

Protesters chant slogans while marching during a protest to demand peaceful elections and justice for victims of post-election violence in Nairobi, Kenya. Taken 6.23.2022

Lawmakers convicted of bribery, economic crimes and impersonating corruption investigators. All are standing for office in Kenya's Aug. 9 presidential and parliamentary elections, fueling voter frustration over endemic corruption in a country long-regarded as a vibrant democracy..

The leading presidential candidates, Deputy President William Ruto and veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, have both promised to crack down on corruption. But their promises ring hollow to many disillusioned Kenyans.

And once again presidential candidates too are levelling corruption allegations at each other.

Among those allowed to stand is John Waluke, member of parliament for the rural western constituency of Sirisia. He is on bail pending appeal of a 2020 conviction for forging documents relating to a government contract to buy maize, for which he was sentenced to 67 years in jail and fined $7 million.

Waluke said he expected a ruling by October from the Anti-Corruption Court; if that goes against him, he plans to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court.

"I was sentenced politically," he said.

Lilian Muthoni Omollo is standing for governor in Kenya's central Embu county despite facing charges relating to her time as principal secretary at the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs. Prosecutors say nearly $4.7 million was lost or stolen under her watch.

In April 2020, a court ordered her to surrender $105,000 and 2.2 million Kenyan shillings ($18,500) in accounts associated with her. She told the court she made the money selling vegetables. The trial is ongoing.

Omollo and a spokesman for her Jubilee party did not return messages seeking comment.

Other candidates for national and county legislatures have been convicted of soliciting bribes and impersonating EACC investigators, or face charges of forgery, employing relatives, embezzlement and seizing government land.

The government's anti-graft watchdog, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), recommended that 241 candidates be disqualified from running, but only five were.

The EACC's list of candidates that should be disqualified, shared with Reuters, included 55 people charged with criminal offences, three with convictions and 11 under investigation. Others were accused of forging education certificates or not resigning from public office, a requirement to run.

The election board barred six people on the watchdog's list from standing: two governors and a senator who were impeached; two would-be governors who didn't have the necessary academic qualifications, and a county assembly member convicted of bribery. A court overturned the decision to bar the senator.

The board said anyone who had not resigned from public office would also be rejected but did not publish figures.

Former Nairobi governor Mike Sonko - known for his flamboyant dress sense, chunky gold jewellery and impromptu rap videos - was among those prevented from running because he had been impeached. He also faces criminal charges including conflict of interest, abuse of office, money laundering and conspiracy, which he denies.

The election board declined to comment on individual cases but said the constitution only allows it to reject candidates on the basis of convictions if they have exhausted all avenues of appeal.

"The politicians who crafted the constitution ensured they had a backdoor," said Phillip Kagucia, the EACC's deputy director. "That backdoor leaves us vulnerable to unethical leadership."