Kenya polls spark fear of re­turn to last decade’s blood­bath

African Independent - - NEWS - MARK OLOO

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

PIC­TURE: BAZ RAT­NER / REUTERS

AP­PEAL TO VOT­ERS: Cam­paign posters of can­di­dates staand­ing to be elected as lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the Barut ward, last month.

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