NAIROBI, Kenya — Violence has marred recent elections in this East Africa nation, and Tuesday's presidential election is proving, regrettably, to be no exception. “I'm afraid of the violence, and I can't take chances,” said Joseph Wekesa, 40, a ...
Tonny Onyulo, Special for USA TODAY Published 11:59 a.m. ET Aug. 6, 2017
Kenya destroys a stockpile of 5,250 weapons in an effort to combat armed violence, community conflict and poaching. Video provided by AFP Newslook
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NAIROBI, Kenya — Violence has marred recent elections in this East Africa nation, and Tuesday's presidential election is proving, regrettably, to be no exception.
“I’m afraid of the violence, and I can’t take chances,” said Joseph Wekesa, 40, a mechanic and father of four, who was fleeing with his family from this capital city to safety in the countryside.
Wekesa is among thousands who have left Nairobi, Mombasa and other major cities despite the government's assurances of safety.
That provided little comfort following news this week that a senior election monitoring official had been tortured and murdered. Christopher Msando's death was announced Monday, one day after police killed an armed intruder at the home of Kenya's vice president.
Kenyans protest the killing of electoral commission information technology manager Christopher Msando ahead of the presidential election at a demonstration in downtown Nairobi on Aug. 1, 2017. (Photo: Ben Curtis, AP)
More bloodshed is feared as President Uhuru Kenyatta and candidates in his ruling Jubilee Party face off against Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance, a coalition of opposition groups.
Political polls suggest this election may be the most hotly contested presidential race in Kenyan history.
It may not be the most violent, though. In 2013, police shot and killed five people who were demonstrating against a court ruling that upheld Kenyatta’s controversial victory.
Ahead of the 2008 election, more than 1,300 people were killed in politically related violence that also forced 600,000 others to flee their homes. Prior elections also were preceded by violence and police crackdowns.
Kenyan opposition leader and presidential candidate Raila Odinga addresses supporters at a rally in Nairobi on July 18, 2017. (Photo: Simon Maina, AFP/Getty Images)
One reason for the current violence is that both candidates are appealing to their ethnic group — Kenyatta is Kikuyu and Odinga is Luo — with appeals that could stoke violence between their tribes.
“They have their tribes to use to ascend to power or reject the vote,” said Nazlin Umar Rajput, a political analyst and chairman of the National Muslim Council of Kenya. “Multi-party politics in Kenya brought with it the ills of tribalism through self-centered demagogues who capitalized on the emotions of their neglected and impoverished communities.”
Kenyatta's Kikuyu tribe is the largest, with 6.6 million members. The Luo are the fourth largest, with 4 million. The candidates have also lined up support from leaders of other tribes, giving Odinga a larger base of support.
But Odinga supporter Kennedy Onyango, said he worries that Kenyatta will try to steal the election. "We will not accept this to happen," he vowed.
Odinga, 72, a former prime minister who is making his fourth run for president, blamed vote-rigging for his defeats, including to Kenyatta four years ago.
Msando, the slain election monitoring official, had been in charge of managing IT systems for the national election commission, presumably to reduce fraud.
"The authorities need to investigate and to reassure Kenyans that the government is committed to a free and fair election," said Otsieno Namwaya with Human Rights Watch.
Odinga has told his supporters to guard polling stations to prevent Kenyatta from tampering with the results. He also has established a parallel vote-tallying operation.
Kenyatta, 55, is a son of Kenya’s founding president, Jomo Kenyatta, while Odinga is the son of Kenya‘s first vice president, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. The two founding fathers fell out shortly after Kenya’s independence from Britain in 1963.
“We cannot allow Odinga to become president because he will seek revenge against our community,” said Antony Gichuru, a Kenyatta supporter.
Mechanic Wakesa, at the bus station leaving with his family, said the only way to avert election violence "is to have a free and fair poll.”
“But if the majority vote is stolen then we cannot prevent chaos,” he said.
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