Kenya gets ready for poll strife
Army preparing to step in should the current president be ousted at the polls
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