Hustlers versus Dynasties? The Elusive Quest for Issue-Based Politics in Kenya

26 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2022

See all articles by Ken Ochieng' Opalo

Ken Ochieng' Opalo

Georgetown University; Center for Global Development

Date Written: September 12, 2022


The tenor of the campaigns ahead of Kenya’s 2022 elections was different from previous cycles. For the first time since the reintroduction of multiparty politics in 1992, serious discussions of economic policies permeated popular discourse. Setting the agenda was then Deputy President William Ruto’s “bottom up” populist economic message. Ruto assailed the “dynasties” that had dominated Kenyan politics and the economy at the expense of “hustlers” (the marginalized poor) since independence. This wedge issue proved particularly potent in Mt Kenya region where, against the wishes of the presumed regional ethnic kingpin (President Uhuru Kenyatta) and its economic establishment, Ruto won almost 80 percent of the vote. This paper puts Ruto’s success in Mt Kenya in comparative perspective. In doing so it answers two questions: How unique was Ruto’s capture of a voting bloc against the wishes of an ethnic kingpin? And does his success signal the end of political ethnicity and a move towards issue-based politics in Kenya? I argue that while Ruto’s capture of Mt Kenya was not unique and on its own does not signal the end of political ethnicity, the enabling economic and institutional factors may continue to undermine the role of ethnicity in Kenyan politics.

Keywords: Elections, Ethnic Politics, Populism, Political Parties, Kenya

Suggested Citation

Opalo, Ken Ochieng', Hustlers versus Dynasties? The Elusive Quest for Issue-Based Politics in Kenya (September 12, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Ken Ochieng' Opalo (Contact Author)

Georgetown University ( email )

Washington, DC 20057
United States

Center for Global Development ( email )

2055 L St. NW
5th floor
Washington, DC 20036
United States

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