Kenya gets ready for poll strife

Army pre­par­ing to step in should the cur­rent pres­i­dent be ousted at the polls

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Fears of rig­ging ahead of Kenya’s gen­eral elec­tion have in­creased al­le­ga­tions by op­po­si­tion leader Raila Odinga that the army was se­cretly plan­ning to sub­vert the Au­gust 8 elec­tions out­come should it not favour in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta. The Kenyan De­fence Force on Fri­day night con­firmed that a doc­u­ment ob­tained by Odinga from un­named sources, ti­tled Ops Du­misha Utulivu (Op­er­a­tion Keep Peace), was real, but claimed it was quoted out of con­text be­cause the mil­i­tary was apo­lit­i­cal and pro­fes­sional.

At a press con­fer­ence in Nairobi on Fri­day, Odinga dis­trib­uted a 10-page doc­u­ment to the me­dia, diplo­mats and on so­cial me­dia, which showed large num­bers of of­fi­cers and sol­diers be­ing pre­pared for this op­er­a­tion. It gives details down to the phone num­bers of the of­fi­cers re­spon­si­ble.

Part of the train­ing, ac­cord­ing to Odinga, in­volves cut­ting off power and wa­ter to the Kibara and Mathare slums in Nairobi, and keep­ing peo­ple out of the city cen­tre. Odinga called it “one of the gravest de­vel­op­ments in the his­tory of our coun­try”.

He made the rev­e­la­tions af­ter what his sup­port­ers have termed a pub­lic re­la­tions vic­tory ear­lier in the week when he was the only par­tic­i­pant in a tele­vised pre-elec­tion de­bate that Keny­atta snubbed.

The rev­e­la­tions also fol­low polls that put Keny­atta and Odinga vir­tu­ally neck and neck in the pres­i­den­tial race, which will be fought around is­sues such as sky­rock­et­ing food prices, ram­pant cor­rup­tion and trib­al­ism. A poll by John Zogby in the US shows Odinga slightly ahead with 47% of sup­port against Keny­atta’s 46%.

Stakes in the elec­tions are high for both can­di­dates. It is the 72-year-old Odinga’s fourth and pos­si­bly last at­tempt at the pres­i­dency, while the 55year-old Keny­atta will be run­ning for his second and last term.

The vi­o­lence af­ter the coun­try’s 2007 elec­tions is still fresh in the minds of many. Wide­spread protests and cul­tural vi­o­lence saw more than 1 000 peo­ple killed af­ter Odinga’s loss to Mwai Kibaki. In­ter­na­tional ob­servers con­firmed rig­ging on both sides.

A woman in Mom­basa who wit­nessed some of the vi­o­lence said: “They would just come and knock on your door and ask you who you voted for. You wouldn’t know which party they were from, but if you said the wrong party, they would just kill you.”

She said many went hun­gry as a re­sult. “It was re­ally tough, and there was no food. The shelves were empty. Then they were burning a shop be­cause the shop owner voted for the wrong party. He just told peo­ple to help them­selves to what­ever he had be­cause the shop was burning down any­way.”

Two weeks ago, it was re­ported that stocks of crowd-con­trol ve­hi­cles, tear gas and guns were be­ing im­ported to help deal with any mass protests af­ter the elec­tions.

Re­cent re­ports have said flights out of the coun­try were fully booked around elec­tion time. An early clo­sure of schools on Fri­day led to a big ex­o­dus of peo­ple trav­el­ling to their home con­stituen­cies.

“Peo­ple are scared. They would rather travel out of the big cities to their homes in the ru­ral ar­eas in case of vi­o­lence, be­cause it would be peace­ful there,” another woman said.

The UK gov­ern­ment has urged its cit­i­zens trav­el­ling to Kenya to be vig­i­lant, say­ing there was a height­ened threat of ter­ror­ist at­tacks in the coun­try’s cap­i­tal Nairobi, as well as in re­sort towns on the coast, in­clud­ing Mom­basa and Malindi. Other than the usual body scans at malls, there is, how­ever, no sign of an in­creased se­cu­rity pres­ence in big cities for now.

Nairobi-based an­a­lyst Nan­jala Nyabola reck­oned the fear of vi­o­lence as a re­sult of na­tional po­lit­i­cal is­sues could be over­stated.

“Nei­ther of the can­di­dates has the abil­ity to in­sti­gate vi­o­lence like they did in 2007,” she said.

She also said that, al­though emo­tions were run­ning high on both sides ahead of the elec­tions, the real sig­nif­i­cance of the re­sults lay in the di­rec­tion they would move the coun­try in.

“The is­sue is not so much about the vi­o­lence, but in a way what we are go­ing through is the same as what you are go­ing through in South Africa. It’s about what we want the coun­try to look like go­ing for­ward,” Nyabola said.

“Kenya is a slow-burn cri­sis, and un­rav­el­ling over time. So many young peo­ple have a clear vi­sion of the so­ci­ety they want to live in, and this one isn’t liv­ing up to their vi­sion. The older peo­ple, on the other hand, have a dated vi­sion of what this coun­try looks like, and many want to keep do­ing things the same way.”

Mean­while, Kenya po­lice told news agen­cies yes­ter­day that a man armed with a ma­chete was be­hind an at­tack on the home of Kenya’s Deputy Pres­i­dent Wil­liam Ruto in the western town of El­doret. For­tu­nately, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal tele­vi­sion sta­tions, Ruto and his fam­ily were ap­par­ently not at home, but a guard was in­jured.

The in­spec­tor-gen­eral of the Na­tional Po­lice Ser­vice, Joseph Boin­net, said that, while cir­cum­stances were un­clear, the in­truder hit an of­fi­cer with a ma­chete and man­aged to gain en­try.

“Other of­fi­cers were quickly mo­bilised and the in­truder was forced to hide in a build­ing that is still un­der con­struc­tion next to the gate. The in­jured of­fi­cer is un­der­go­ing treat­ment and is in a sta­ble con­di­tion. Spe­cial­ist of­fi­cers have been de­ployed to deal with the in­truder.”

Ruto is Keny­atta’s run­ning mate.

A se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial was quoted ear­lier as say­ing that a se­cu­rity op­er­a­tion was un­der way to sub­due the at­tack­ers, whose mo­tives were un­clear. Typ­i­cally, the deputy pres­i­dent’s res­i­dence is guarded by an elite para­mil­i­tary po­lice unit.


COM­ING AROUND AGAIN Cur­rent Kenyan pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta speaks to sup­port­ers

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