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Kenya's pro-pot presidential candidate

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

Kenya is electing a new president on Tuesday. And one of the four candidates is promising to transform the country by legalizing marijuana, hanging corrupt politicians and exporting hyena testicles. His long-shot campaign is rife with comedy, but it might also signal a different kind of politics in the country. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: George Wajackoyah enters the town, sticking out from the sunroof of an SUV. And as soon as the people of Mwea realize what's happening, they run to catch up to him.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN HONKING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

PERALTA: Wajackoyah is a respected human rights lawyer, but he became an overnight celebrity when he announced his run for president. Now he wears a silk do-rag and a big gold watch. He tells the crowd it's time to choose a new direction, not influenced by religion or by politicians. And he offers one huge solution.

GEORGE WAJACKOYAH: We have to change our mindsets to look at the economics and fix those economics. And the only way to fix our economics is by growing weed.

(CHEERING)

PERALTA: As he drives away, you feel euphoria weave through the little fruit stands on the side of the road. I turn to a group of teenage girls enthralled by the pot president. I ask why they like him, and they answer by pretending to take a hit of a joint.

Because of the weed?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: And he will bring us money.

PERALTA: He'll bring you money?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Yes.

PERALTA: The adults next to them push them out of the way. Maureen Kaonda says Wajackoyah isn't talking about smoking.

MAUREEN KAONDA: (Speaking Swahili).

PERALTA: Simon Machira, who is 57, agrees wholeheartedly.

SIMON MACHIRA: The Kenyan government have tried with the tea plantation, with the cotton plantation and any other plantation. But it has not borne fruit.

PERALTA: Years of government promises, and they're still poor. Maybe, he says, it's time to try weed.

NGALA CHOME: These are comical suggestions, but they are all tied to the economy still.

PERALTA: That is political analyst Ngala Chome at Sahan Research. He says Wajackoyah's campaign is part of something new in Kenya. In the past, politics has centered around tribalism. But this time, with high inflation, fuel shortages and high unemployment, the economy is the more powerful message. And even a fringe candidate, like Wajackoyah, can feel that.

CHOME: He's tapping to that emotion of people who are in debt, people who are basically broke.

PERALTA: Chome says he's doubtful any of these promises will come true. But the good thing is that for the first time, he says, politicians are being forced to think about the issues Kenyans most care about.

I catch up with Wajackoyah at a restaurant down the road from the rally, which is already playing some reggae. And he rattles off solutions - selling hyena testicles to China, selling medical marijuana to Israel, starting snake venom farms. If he were president, he says, he would put all corrupt politicians on trial, including the president and the two front-runners in this election.

WAJACKOYAH: African problems can be sorted. It's very simple. That's why I'm telling even the president. I'm telling Raila Odinga. I'm telling Ruto. The money you have stolen - return it. Otherwise, I'm going to kill you.

PERALTA: You're presenting a very simple solution to an extremely complex problem. Are you giving Kenyans false hope?

WAJACKOYAH: It's not false hope. Mine is the rule of law, just like they do it in Philippines, just like they do it in China.

PERALTA: I point out that both the Philippines and China have atrocious human rights records.

WAJACKOYAH: Why would you be stealing, and then I take you to court? Then, yes, you finish. Oh, human rights, human - human rights, my ass. Come on. Let us liberate our country first. Then we can now do what we have to do.

PERALTA: It'll be very easy, he promises.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Mwea in central Kenya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.