Kenya in limbo as incomplete election keeps tensions high

 28 Oct 2017 - 18:40

Kenya in limbo as incomplete election keeps tensions high
Residents of Nairobi's Kibera slum, a stronghold of Kenyan opposition leader, follow up presidential election coverage in the newspaper while waiting official results. AFP / Patrick Meinhardt

AFP

Nairobi: Kenya was stuck in limbo Saturday as a repeat election remained on hold in flashpoint opposition areas, while some picked up the pieces from violent protests that have claimed nine lives.

There was little doubt that President Uhuru Kenyatta would win by a landslide after Thursday's election was boycotted by his rival Raila Odinga, however low turnout is likely to tarnish the credibility of a vote that has deeply polarised the east African nation.

Election commission chief Wafula Chebukati said he would announce Sunday when voting would take place in 25 western constituencies where violent protests and security fears prevented polling from taking place.

With voting incomplete, it remained unclear whether the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) would wait to declare a victor.

"The answer to that question we will arrive at when we reach there. We still have a couple of days to make that decision," said another IEBC commissioner Abdi Guliye.

Thursday's election was held after the Supreme Court annulled the results of an August 8 vote over widespread irregularities, sparking weeks of acrimonious political rhetoric and legal battles.

Despite Odinga's call for supporters to stay home on voting day, protesters took to the streets, blocking voting and engaging in running battles with police.

Tensions remained high Saturday, however opposition strongholds remained largely calm a day after two were killed in clashes in western Homa Bay and the Nairobi slum of Kawangware -- taking the total death toll to nine. 

'We were targeted'

In Nairobi's poor Kawangware neighbourhood, members of Kenyatta's Kikuyu tribe stood over the blackened remains of their houses and shops after a night of clashes with Odinga supporters. 

Both sides were armed with machetes, knives, clubs and rocks. Police said officers shot one man dead but residents claim others also died or were maimed in the clashes.

What started the violence is disputed, with each side blaming the other, but both acknowledge the ethnic logic of what followed.

"We were targeted because this is a Kikuyu place," said Geoffrey Mbithi, a 42-year-old hotelier whose three-room guesthouse is now a pile of bent and blackened corrugated tin sheets. 

"This is about tribalism."

Politics in Kenya is divided along ethnic lines, and the Kikuyu -- the largest grouping -- have long been accused of holding a monopoly on power and resources.

At least 49 people have now died since the August election in Kenya's worst crisis since a 2007 vote sparked months of politically-driven ethnic violence that left 1,100 people dead.

While the dynamics of 2017's political crisis are very different, the memory of the bloodshed a decade ago is never far away.

"From past experience, sporadic incidents of violence quickly burst into a conflagration with tragic consequences. We are likely to go this direction unless quick action is taken," the Daily Nation wrote in an editorial.

In Kisumu, Kenya's third largest city where three people died on polling day, opposition supporters were still on alert to block plans to deploy election material, although shops opened and transport was circulating. 

Fractured nation 

Plans to restage voting in the region on Saturday were delayed after Chebukati said he feared for the safety of his staff.

According to the Supreme Court, the election re-run must be completed by October 31.

At a main roundabout in the city, someone had hung up a dead cat. In recent days, ahead of each announcement, Odinga promises to announce his next moves on how to "slay the cat". 

Richard Ogilo, 24, pointed to the carcass and said: "Look there is a member of IEBC (election board) at this roundabout. This is Wafula Chebukati. Let him know that we do not want elections."

While the Supreme Court ruling was hailed as a chance to deepen democracy, the acrimonious bickering between Odinga and Kenyatta -- whose fathers were rivals before them -- has sharply divided a country where politics is already polarised along tribal lines.

But two weeks before the new elections, Odinga pulled out, calling for a boycott on the grounds that the electoral commission had not made the necessary changes to ensure a free and fair vote in a call that was widely observed.

"Leaders must now begin preaching the message of reconciliation and co-existence. Elections have deeply divided the people and we need to repair the fractures," said the Daily Nation editorial.

Observers expect further legal challenges over the re-run.

Odinga has vowed a campaign of "civil disobedience" and is demanding another new election be held within 90 days.