Why Kenyans are ner­vous about pres­i­den­tial vote

A look at the is­sues around the elec­tion

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Kenyans vote to­day in a close pres­i­den­tial elec­tion be­tween Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta, who seeks a sec­ond term, and Raila Odinga, who lost the last two elec­tions. The East African high­tech and com­mer­cial hub of 44 mil­lion peo­ple is of­ten de­scribed as one of the con­ti­nent’s most po­lit­i­cally sta­ble coun­tries, but the tor­ture and killing of a top elec­tion of­fi­cial has many re­call­ing the dis­puted 2007 elec­tion be­tween the same can­di­dates that left more than 1,000 peo­ple dead. Here’s a look at the is­sues around the vote:

Keny­atta and Odinga are from sto­ried po­lit­i­cal fam­i­lies. Keny­atta is the son of Jomo Keny­atta, Kenya’s first pres­i­dent, and Odinga is the son of Jaramogi Odinga Odinga, the coun­try’s first vice pres­i­dent. One must win more than 50 per­cent of the vote to avoid a runoff elec­tion. Af­ter los­ing the past two elec­tions, this may be the last chance for the 72-year-old Raila Odinga to claim the seat that eluded his fa­ther. Odinga says he wants to re­store a strong gov­ern­ment, stamp out cor­rup­tion and im­prove the lives of the poor­est Kenyans.

The 55-year-old Keny­atta wants to avoid be­com­ing the first Kenyan pres­i­dent not to win re­elec­tion. He won in 2013 with 50.03 per­cent of the vote, trig­ger­ing an un­suc­cess­ful le­gal chal­lenge by Odinga. Keny­atta at the time was fac­ing crim­i­nal charges at the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court over his al­leged role in the 2007 elec­tion vi­o­lence. Those charges were dropped due to lack of ev­i­dence, with the ICC pros­e­cu­tor blam­ing un­prece­dented wit­ness in­ter­fer­ence and bribery. This time, Keny­atta has ap­peared more con­fi­dent while cam­paign­ing, point­ing to ma­jor in­fras­truc­ture projects, many backed by China, and claim­ing strong eco­nomic growth.


Most po­lit­i­cal or­ga­niz­ing in Kenya is tied to eth­nic­ity. Many vot­ers see Keny­atta as the can­di­date of the Kikuyu peo­ple, the coun­try’s largest eth­nic group, and Odinga rep­re­sent­ing the Luo. That the Luo have never pro­duced a head of state adds drama to the elec­tion. “Many mid­dle-class Kenyans will, in an in­stant, go from speak­ing of glob­al­iza­tion and bor­der­less in­no­va­tion while sip­ping on their cafe mac­chi­atos to of­fer­ing blind sup­port to a well­known thug who hap­pens to be from their tribes,” jour­nal­ist Daniel Kali­naki wrote in a re­cent col­umn for the Daily Mon­i­tor news­pa­per.

Keny­atta’s run­ning mate un­der the Ju­bilee coali­tion, Deputy Pres­i­dent William Ruto, is ex­pected to mar­shal the votes of his Kalen­jin peo­ple. Odinga leads the Na­tional Su­per Al­liance, which in­cludes po­lit­i­cal lead­ers of the Kamba and Luhya eth­nic groups. But Kenya’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape is noted for shift­ing al­liances. Keny­atta’s run­ning mate Ruto was an ally of Odinga in 2007, for ex­am­ple. Ruto is now be­ing chal­lenged at home by an in­flu­en­tial gov­er­nor who sup­ports Odinga, which could split the Kalen­jin vote that was cru­cial in Keny­atta’s 2013 win.


Se­vere drought con­di­tions in half of Kenya’s 47 coun­ties have wors­ened ten­sions over land as farm­ers face in­va­sions from semi-no­madic herders seek­ing room to graze their cat­tle. In Laikipia county, more than 30 peo­ple have died. Some farm­ers say politi­cians have in­cited the herders with the aim of shift­ing de­mo­graph­ics in their fa­vor and win­ning elec­tions. De­spite Kenya’s ex­pand­ing mid­dle class and eco­nomic growth of 5.6 per­cent in 2016, ac­cord­ing to na­tional fig­ures, poverty re­mains wide­spread. More than 40 per­cent of peo­ple live on less than $2 a day. Of­fi­cial cor­rup­tion also feeds ten­sions.


The Al-Shabab ex­trem­ist group, based in neigh­bor­ing So­ma­lia, al­ready has threat­ened Kenya’s elec­tions with a se­ries of deadly at­tacks in bor­der ar­eas. That strains Kenya’s se­cu­rity forces as they seek to keep the elec­tions free of vi­o­lence. The tor­ture and killing in late July of Christo­pher Msando, an of­fi­cial in charge of Kenya’s elec­tronic vot­ing sys­tem, has fu­eled con­cerns that the vote could be rigged. The bio­met­ric sys­tem mal­func­tioned in the 2013 elec­tion, lead­ing to op­po­si­tion claims of vote tam­per­ing.—AP

NAIROBI: Kenyans walk past elec­tion posters in the Kib­era slum. — AFP

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