Kenya's Kibaki aims for youth, women votes

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NAIROBI, Nov 10 (Reuters) Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki pledged a host of development measures today aimed at boosting his support among women and young people in a December election.

Kibaki, 75, launched the 10-point manifesto of his election vehicle, the Party of National Unity (PNU) coalition, on the same development platform he has espoused since his election in late 2002, but with more emphasis on women and youth voters.

He added more promises beyond free primary and secondary education and free healthcare for children under five, including a pledge to double investment to rebuild Kenya's shattered roads and a plan to help the informal labour sector grow.

Facing a challenge from opposition critic Raila Odinga that has analysts predicting the closest race ever in Kenya's post-colonial history, Kibaki has honed his message to point out his achievements versus the promises of his rivals.

''We are mapping out a bright future for this great nation that is real, tangible and achievable,'' Kibaki said. ''We have made many commitments, but we are confident of achieving them because we have demonstrated our ability to deliver.'' Critics say that though Kibaki has turned Kenya's economy -- east Africa's biggest -- around from negative growth to a forecast of about 7 percent in 2007, he has not fulfilled pledges to cut corruption and rein in rampant violent crime.

About 14 million Kenyans are registered to vote in polls on December 27. The latest national opinion poll yesterday showed Kibaki closing on Odinga, with the support of 41 percent of voters compared to Odinga's 45 percent.

Kibaki, speaking to a thousands in Nairobi's Kenyatta International Conference Centre, aimed several of the newer pledges at the youth vote -- especially one to create technical training schools for the youth in each constituency.

Aiming to get half of Kenya's substantial informal labour force into the formal sector, Kibaki said his government would establish space for street hawkers and jua kali workers -- informal craftsmen who work on the roadside -- in every town.

He also promised that women would have 30 percent or more of all public appointments and elective positions, and would receieve free maternity care.

''Finally a manifesto that stands for the women of Kenya,'' said Diana Amondi, an accountant who is pregant. ''Let the old man finish his term -- maybe I'll be a beneficiary of the free maternal services.'' Kibaki's campaign has moved swiftly to exploit the opposition's promise of federalism, which polls show is not favoured by a majority of Kenyans on the grounds it might promote ethnic animosity.

''We in the PNU see Kenya as one body, with many organs and limbs made up of different communities, regions, and institutions, but all of which must work together for the good of the country,'' he said.

Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) has argued that federalism -- known in Kiswahili as majimbo -- would ensure a fairer distribution of national resources.

Kibaki's defenders say his government has done just that, via the creation of constituency development funds (CDF) where decisions are made at the local level.

Across many Kibaki-allied constituencies, bright yellow and red signs touting the CDF projects have sprung up in recent months, announcing new health care centres, wells, livestock projects and other civic work.

REUTERS SZ RAI2009

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