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Kenya Election Watch: Did you catch the Deputy Presidential debate?

 In a landmark event, a crop of four deputy president hopefuls, three women went head-to-head on their respective party manifestos. Among them, Roots Party candidate Justine Wamae forced Kenyans to seriously consider colouring outside the lines.

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While career politician and law titan Martha Karua was an easy favourite for Tuesday’s Deputy Presidential debate, Justine Wamae whose party has been mired in stigma stole the show and left an indelible mark.

If you do not know the basis of the Roots party manifesto, then you aren’t even passively paying attention. Since they presented the idea of Industrial hemp as a cure-all for the bulk of the country’s issues, they’ve been dismissed, ridiculed, and condescended to by both the political class and the public.

The popular notion is that, ‘bhangi’ (slang for cannabis) has destroyed the youth by turning them ‘mad’ or rendering them unable to hold gainful employment. Additionally, many young men with dreadlocks are profiled as drug addicts and menaces of society because of their superficial association with Rastafarians who use cannabis to increase spiritual awareness. This damaging stereotype has led to numerous and horrific extrajudicial killings.

Consequently, the idea of cannabis and hemp has not been explored beyond these misconceptions.


Enter the Roots party, with a core focus on legalising the growth and sale of hemp to increase money circulation in the economy and help settle Kenya’s huge international and domestic debts.

Industrial hemp has various uses, which include the manufacturing of paper, clothing and fibre. Photo credit: Marcia O’Connor Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

Other proposals that the party is committing to include the suspension of the Constitution in the first six months, the death penalty for the corrupt, reducing official working days to four, increasing maternity leave for women to one year, introducing eight prime ministers, and relocating the capital city from Nairobi to Isiolo.

Industrial hemp can make a difference to the economy and put money into the hands of the average Kenyan

In the Deputy Presidential debate Roots candidate, Justine Wamae not only stole the show, but she achieved what she set out to do, destigmatise the premise of their campaign. She posited that Industrial hemp could solve paramount challenges across several sectors. The main ones that she mentioned were viable, lucrative, and innovative.

There is nothing like beard gang, ni pesa youth hawana ya kunyolewa

~Justina Wamae

Agriculture: Costly inputs, rising food prices, and exploitative middlemen have made farming a difficult income stream. Hemp grows rapidly (from seed to harvest in a hundred days) without agricultural chemicals, is impervious to pests, helps lock down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and proactively improves soil health. Farmers could grow it in a cycle with other traditional crops such as tea and coffee because hemp filters waste from the surrounding soil, water, and air thereby improving the yield of the next crop. And due to its high growth rate farmers can harvest multiple times in a single season. In a nutshell low input costs, high yield, high demand, and high rewards.


Healthcare: Cannabidiol, or CBD, a chemical compound that is gaining traction in healthcare and wellness can be extracted from the hemp plant. It interacts with neuroreceptors in your central nervous system, to help regulate your movement, mood, equilibrium, and immune system. Its vast benefits include pain relief, reducing the symptoms of mental health disorders, reducing some cancer-related symptoms such as nausea, treating neurological disorders such as epilepsy and reducing muscle spasticity, lowering high blood pressure, and reducing the chance of strokes and heart attacks.

Martha Karua Deputy Presidential Candidate, Azimio-One Kenya. Photo credit: Presidential Debates Kenya via Facebook

The list quite literally goes on but this cheap medicinal extract could save the average Kenyan literal thousands of shillings in medical bills that the uninsured are paying out of pocket. Even with the National Health Insurance Fund’s recent coverage expansion, healthcare is still very expensive and every Kenyan is quite literally one critical medical bill away from financial ruin or massive debt.

Unemployment: By introducing a commercial industry that has massive success in other countries around the world unemployed Kenyans have an opportunity to tap in. Farming, textiles, manufacturing, milling, biochemistry, export, storage, transport, and so on are but a few of the areas that would provide gainful employment.

Debt and Financial Instability: Kenya’s massive national debt is crippling the economy and continually raising the standard of living to untenable levels. While half of the candidates participating in the debate were so far removed from the everyday person’s struggle that could not quote the price of milk, bread, or kerosene, most Kenyans cannot put food on the table. Kenya’s domestic and external debt has reached the 8.4 trillion mark, according to the Central Bank of Kenya.

Introducing a proven and lucrative industry would not only put money directly into the people’s pockets but if harnessed properly could help offset some of the Government’s external debt.

Wamae also highlighted how hemp could improve food security. The plant can make milk, protein substitutes, and flour. She also went into snake rearing (which surprisingly has provisions in the Tenth Schedule of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, (WCMA) 2013) for breeding, venom harvesting, and ecotourism. Although it may have sounded alien to many people watching, her point was simple- use every resource to push the populace out of poverty. The Roots party’s manifesto may be unorthodox, but it is grounded in evidence-based ideas and a firm understanding of the country’s realities.


To still scoff at what they have brought to fore, is the kind of boomer mentality that got us in this national mess in the first place.

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