It is a fierce battle between former enemies turned allies and then vying again to lead a relatively stable nation in a volatile region.
Ruto refers to himself as a “top businessman,” referring to his humble beginnings as a chicken salesman in Kenya’s Rift Valley and then a stone’s throw from the most powerful office in the country.
“I may not be anyone’s child, but we want to make this country accessible to everyone,” Kenya’s vice president told CNN from his sprawling official residence in Nairobi’s affluent Karen district.
“We want to make this country a land of opportunity for every child in Kenya.”
Odinga, who says he is running for the last time, has run unsuccessfully for the presidency four times and contested his defeat in the last three elections.
“I thought about not running this time, but my supporters were putting a lot of pressure on me to run because of what I represent,” he told CNN, promising change if elected.
“I have said that the aspirations and desires of the people of Kenya, expressed in the founding document of our nation, what you might call the Kenyan Dream, have not been realized.”
The other two candidates allowed to run in the presidential election are Professor George Wajakoya and David Mwaure Vaihiga. They are both considered long-range shots and unlikely to win.
Kenyatta renounced his deputy Ruto to support Odinga, became chairman of his coalition’s Azimio la Umoja (Striving for Unity) campaign, and brought with him influential figures from his powerful Kikuyu ethnic group.
But Ruto assembled a formidable coalition of his own called Kenya Kwanza (Kenya First), brought in many of the leaders from Kenyatta’s court, and revived a broad national appeal with an oft-repeated rags-to-riches tale.
Although he retains the title of Deputy President of Kenya, Ruto lost most of his powers and responsibilities in 2018 when Kenyatta reconciled with his former rival Odinga, effectively neutralizing the opposition.
A symbolic handshake with Odinga ended Kenyatta’s alliance with Ruto, a well-planned alliance that won them two presidential elections and dropped their cases of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.
Ruto blames this betrayal, as Kenyatta has repeatedly vowed to support his second-in-command as the presidency ends.
“I have a plan, he doesn’t”
“There is a huge difference between me and my competitor. I have a plan, but he doesn’t,” says Ruto about Odinga.
He blames the Odinga campaign for general statements about Kenya’s huge debt burden, high cost of living and unemployment crisis without detail or clarity.
“He’s a good old man, but I don’t think he has the ability today to pull this country out of where it is. or what happens, who depends on other people to make decisions.”
Odinga calls the stolen funds “budgeted corruption” and promises to close the corridors of corruption in case of victory. “There is a lot of theft. When we solve this problem, what we get in savings will be more than what we need to fund the projects we are talking about,” a veteran politician nicknamed Baba told CNN.
“We are not going to make any compromises, and no one will be indispensable, including me, in the fight against corruption, because if it is done effectively, there is no reason why this country cannot achieve its development goals,” Odinga says.
Because of their association with Kenyatta, Odinga and Ruto have to balance between recognizing his administration’s accomplishments and promising to better run the country if elected.
Ruto says their government was “invaded by the opposition” during their second term, derailing their agenda, while Odinga denies that his victory would have been Kenyatta’s unofficial third term.
The Deputy President has been highly critical of his boss and the administration he is still in, while former Prime Minister Odinga mainly attacks Ruto.
“Everything he says today is just empty rhetoric, words, and we know that there is no commitment or determination to fulfill what he promises to the people of this country,” Odinga says of Ruto.
The vice president is dismissive of any criticism and believes that the election is already being decided in his favor.
How will voting work?
To win, any candidate must receive more than half of all the votes cast in the election. Some observers say the result could be so close that Kenya could advance to the second round for the first time. Odinga and Ruto told CNN they would accept the election results if they lost, as long as the process was free and fair.
The election results are expected to be announced by 15 August.
But both have raised concerns about how the Independent Elections and Boundary Commission (IEBC) has managed aspects of the process, warning that it could affect the poll’s credibility.
After Kenya’s Supreme Court annulled the 2017 presidential election and blamed the IEBC, the commission tried to be more transparent in order to add credibility to the process.
Kenya has an electronic voter register, but the actual voting and counting is done manually. Polling stations open across the country at 6:00 am on August 9 and close at 5:00 pm.
For its part, the IEBC says that minor technological changes were made during this election period to restore confidence in the voting system.
The race is expected to be close, with no leading candidate receiving significantly more votes than the other. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes cast, for the first time in Kenya’s history, a second round of elections will be held.