As Kenyans head to the polls today
Millions of registered voters in Kenya go to polls today in one of the most closely watched elections on the African continent.
Though the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) cleared eight candidates for presidency, the two main contenders are incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta and his longtime rival Raila Odinga.
The race is projected to be tight. Opinion polls before today’s presidential election put the pair neck-and-neck. A run-off is possible if neither gains a 50-percent-plus-one majority.
Voters will also choose governors, members of parliament and senators.
Last battle of the dynasties
The two leading 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 rancour.
Incumbent president Kenyatta is seeking a second and final term in office for his Jubilee Party after narrowly winning the 2013.
The 72-year-old Odinga, is taking his fourth and what many believe will be his last attempt 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. last election in
Ethnicity plays a huge role in Kenya’s presidency. The East African country is home to more than 40 tribes but all of Kenya’s presidents have hailed from either the majority Kikuyu or the smaller Kalenjin.
Mr Odinga’s Luo, the second largest ethnic group, has yet to seize the top job. President Uhuru Kenyatta comes from the Kikuyu tribe - the country’s biggest ethnic group.
No single tribe can get on its own the 50% required to win presidency. Candidates form tribal alliances to get themselves and their ethnic group a seat at the top table.
Pre-election jitters triggers exodus
Though the 2013 elections were largely peaceful, preelection jitters have seen foreigners and Kenyans leaving the country or main cities and stocking up food items in case of trouble.
The final days of campaigning for today’s polls have been marred by the brutal murder of the electoral commission’s IT head, Chris Msando.
Kenya descended into violence in 2007after the opposition, led by Odinga, claimed the election results were rigged in favour of the then incumbent Mwai Kibaki. This resulted in the inter-ethnic violence in which more than 1,000 people were killed and 600,000 displaced from their homes.
In a televised national address recently, President Kenyatta urged a peaceful vote and outcome.
This year about 180,000 security forces have been deployed to secure the poll, while the police have brought in fleets of water cannon, armoured vehicles and tear gas to deal with any violence.
Polling staff will be accompanied by security officials and polling stations will be heavily guarded to enable voters to exercise their democratic rights, said electoral commission CEO Ezra Chiloba.
Special Forces march at the presidential palace in Abidjan during celebrations marking the 57th anniversary of the country's independence from France yesterday. Photo: