Kenya polls spark fear of return to last decade’s bloodbath
HE run-up to what is projected to be the most closely-fought election in Kenya has been characterised by fears of a recurrence of the deadly violence of the 2007 elections.
East Africa’s biggest economy will hold eagerly-anticipated polls on August 8, a decade after a disputed result left up to 1 500 people killed and 600 000 others displaced.
The conflict thrust Kenya into global focus that led to the formation of a unity government, an aftermath of the bloodbath that trailed a close contest Mwai Kibaki won by 46.2 percent to Raila Odinga’s 44.07 percent.
For Tuesday a perhaps even tighter contest is projected between Odinga and the incumbent, President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Last week, Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party and Odinga’s National Super Alliance (Nasa) accused each other
Tof poll malpractices, with the latter writing a protest letter to British High Commissioner Nic Hailey.
The Jubilee Party accused the opposition of planning to reject the outcome of the August vote.
Campaigns for the upcoming poll have reopened old wounds.
According to Kenya’s constitution, to be declared president a candidate must garner 51 percent and secure at least 25 percent of the votes cast in half of the 47 counties.
Opinion poll firms, among them Ipsos and Infotrak, have predicted a run-off between the candidates since none of them is likely to secure 50 percent plus one of the votes in the first round of voting.
This has only served to tighten the race, with supporters of the two leaving nothing to chance, as shown by last-minute campaigns to win the vote of 19 million people who will take part in the vote 25 years after the transition to multiparty politics.
As the polls near, fears of political unrest are fast becoming real, with protagonists engaging in unprecedented levels of negative ethnicity on social media and on the campaign trail.
Ethnic relations among Kenya’s 43 tribes are tense.
Foreign missions, security agencies and election observer groups accredited to Kenya continue to raise the red flag.
On Monday, former colonial master Great Britain issued an alert, warning its citizens to be on “high alert” ahead of the polls.
Anglican Church of Kenya Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit has roundly condemned prevailing political intolerance.
The National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders also spoke on alleged intimidation by political groups who were targeting its officers.
“We have reported our concerns to the relevant state institutions for their possible intervention,” said the lobby.
Inspector general of police Joseph Boinett said law enforcers were ready to quell any skirmishes. Some 150 000 security officers have been mobilised to police the polls.
However, police are accused of killing at least 400 people in the 2007 poll fiasco.
The Interior Ministry has imported South Korean-made riot control vehicles, increasing the number of water cannons police plan to use to quell chaos to more than 30.
Last week, legislators Junet Mohammed and Mathew Lempurkel were arrested for allegedly stoking ethnic hate. They have denied the claims.
Hate leaflets were seen in the towns of Kajiado, Naivasha and Mai Mahiu warning members of some tribes to prepare to leave those areas depending on the outcome of the polls. Some families have already fled.
Security officials have identified 32 counties where chaos could occur before, during and after the elections. The western counties of Eldoret and Nakuru are flashpoints.
Lawyer Paul Okinyi said lessons from the bloodbath a decade ago had not been learnt.
Civil society activist Reinhard Ouko said: “The frailty of the Kenyan state is so real that only a determined and honest (election) effort will lead to stability.”
Kenyatta and Odinga have nonetheless allayed the fears of Kenyans. “If I lose fairly I will concede defeat,” Odinga said during a televised debate earlier this week.
Kenyatta concurred. “Raila has to defeat me first. If he does, then I will do everything within my powers to ensure a smooth transfer of power.” – CAJ News
APPEAL TO VOTERS: Campaign posters of candidates staanding to be elected as local representatives in the Barut ward, last month.