Kenya on knife edge ahead of high-stakes elec­tions

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Kenyans head to the polls to­mor­row to vote in a knife-edge con­test be­tween in­cum­bent Uhuru Keny­atta and his ri­val Raila Odinga which has height­ened claims of vote rig­ging and fears of vi­o­lence. The fi­nal days of cam­paign­ing have been marred by the mur­der and tor­ture of a top elec­tion of­fi­cial, op­po­si­tion claims one of its vote tal­ly­ing cen­tres was raided by po­lice and a fev­er­ish at­mos­phere of con­spir­acy and sus­pi­cion.

The Au­gust 8 elec­tion is seen as a cru­cial test of Kenya’s progress since a dis­puted poll a decade ago led to two months of po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated eth­nic clashes, which along with a po­lice crack­down on protests left more than 1,100 dead and 600,000 dis­placed. Kenyans will cast bal­lots in six dif­fer­ent elec­tions, but all eyes are on what is set to be the last show­down of a dy­nas­tic ri­valry be­tween the Keny­atta and Odinga fam­i­lies that has lasted more than half a cen­tury.

The men be­long to two of the coun­try’s main eth­nic groups, Keny­atta from the Kikuyu, the largest, and Odinga the Luo. Both have se­cured for­mi­da­ble al­liances with other in­flu­en­tial com­mu­ni­ties in a coun­try where vot­ing takes place largely along tribal lines. Polls are so tight the vote is seen as too close to call, and turnout will be cru­cial to ei­ther side’s suc­cess in the 48-mil­lion-strong east African na­tion.

The 72-year-old Odinga at the head of the Na­tional Su­per Al­liance (NASA) coali­tion, is tak­ing his fourth-and what many sus­pect will be his last-stab at the pres­i­dency. He claims both elec­tions in 2007 and 2013 were stolen from him and is adamant Keny­atta’s Ju­bilee party is try­ing to do the same this time around. Mount­ing op­po­si­tion dis­trust of the elec­toral com­mis­sion has seen Odinga cry­ing foul and urg­ing his sup­port­ers to “pro­tect their vote”.

Both can­di­dates are so cer­tain of vic­tory, that Nic Cheese­man, pro­fes­sor of African pol­i­tics at Birm­ing­ham Univer­sity, warns they may have “talked them­selves into a cor­ner” in which de­feat is not an op­tion. “It seems al­most in­evitable that who­ever loses will ques­tion the re­sult. The ques­tion is not whether or not they will ac­cept the re­sult but what they will do when they don’t ac­cept it,” he told AFP.

Mur­der, de­por­ta­tion

Ob­servers agree that the most crit­i­cal as­pect to the elec­tion’s suc­cess is whether a bio­met­ric sys­tem of voter iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and tal­ly­ing works on the day. This sys­tem was in­tro­duced in a bid to counter rig­ging and boost con­fi­dence in the process after the marred 2007 elec­tion. How­ever in 2013 elec­tronic glitches forced polling of­fi­cials to re­sort to man­ual count­ing.

Odinga claimed there was rig­ging, how­ever he took his com­plaints to the courts in­stead of the streets and de­spite a few ri­ots after he lost his case, the process ended peace­fully. The ten­sion around the elec­tronic sys­tem reached break­ing point last week­end after the poll com­mis­sion’s top IT man­ager Chris Msando was found stran­gled and tor­tured in a for­est on the out­skirts of Nairobi.

The In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral and Bound­aries Com­mis­sion (IEBC) said its sys­tem had not been com­pro­mised, and a dry run of the tal­ly­ing process went off with­out a hitch this week. Then late Fri­day the op­po­si­tion claimed its main par­al­lel tal­ly­ing cen­tre which had been a point of dis­pute with the rul­ing par­ty­was raided and their equip­ment stolen.

The same evening, an Amer­i­can and a Cana­dian work­ing with NASA on their poll strat­egy were de­tained be­fore be­ing de­ported the next day. Cheese­man said both these events looked “like an at­tempt by a po­lit­i­cal fac­tion to pre­vent the op­po­si­tion from ver­i­fy­ing and check­ing re­sults. It is highly sug­ges­tive they in­tend some form of ma­nip­u­la­tion.”

Mas­sive se­cu­rity

Pre-elec­tion jit­ters have seen for­eign­ers and Kenyans leav­ing the coun­try or main cities and stock­ing up on pro­vi­sions in case of trou­ble. Up to 180,000 se­cu­rity forces will se­cure the poll in which Kenyans will also elect gover­nors, law­mak­ers, sen­a­tors, county of­fi­cials and women’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives in lo­cal races also rife with ten­sion.

The two pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates’ fa­thers Jomo Keny­atta and Jaramogi Odinga were al­lies in the strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence, but later be­came bit­ter ri­vals, set­ting the stage for decades of po­lit­i­cal ran­cor. Keny­atta, 55, is seek­ing re-elec­tion after a first term in which he and his Ju­bilee Party were cred­ited with a mas­sive in­fra­struc­ture drive and over­see­ing steady eco­nomic growth. How­ever polls show vot­ers con­cerned about soar­ing food prices and mas­sive cor­rup­tion scan­dals.

—AFP

NAIROBI: Kenya’s rul­ing Pres­i­dent and can­di­date to his own suc­ces­sion, Uhuru Keny­atta (R) and his deputy, Wil­liam Ruto (C) at­tend a re­li­gious ser­vice at the De­liv­er­ance Church yes­ter­day in the Nairobi sub­urb of Umoja.

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