Tensions loom high for Kenya as the country’s general election commences



By Kalendra Withana'

The day has come for Kenya to decide who the country’s next presidential leader will be in this year’s contested election.


After polling stations were opened shortly after 6 o’clock this morning, long escalating queues have begun to form with citizens eagerly waiting to cast their votes.

This election sees President Uhuru Kenyatta going head-to-head against Kenya’s former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga.

Odinga, 72, has run for the nation’s presidency three times and so far has had no success. Kenyatta, the 55 year-old President who beat Odinga in the country’s previous election in 2013, is known as being the candidate’s long-time rival. It has been reported that two men’s fathers were even political opponents in the 1960s.

A member of Kenya’s National Super Alliance Party, Odinga has had a history of accusing Kenyatta’s party of electoral fraud, with these accusations dating back from the candidate’s narrow defeat in 2013 election.

Even today, Odinga has accused his political rival of attempting to rig this year’s general election. In response to such claims, Kenyatta declared that Odinga is purely trying to divide the nation.

In terms of the intentions of both candidates, their campaigns have been based on the prospects of improving Kenya’s economy and fighting the country’s issue of corruption.

Kenyatta himself has a broad focus on diminishing the economic inequalities in Kenya, promising to create 1.3 million jobs and attempting to reduce the cost of general living.

On the other hand however, Kenyatta is faulted for increasing food prices, with food expenditures reportedly soaring up by 20 percent on an annual basis.

His opponent Odinga has pleaded to generate jobs for young people, as well as create programs for the basis of strong food security. The candidate therefore hopes that these initiatives will fight against corruption.

Following Kenya’s brutal election of 2007, which left more than 1,100 dead and 600,000 displaced, there have been vital calls for a peaceful democratic vote to take place this year.

A glimpse of one of the scenarios in the aftermath of the 2007 election. Source - Human Rights Watch

The recent murder of a top-election official, Chris Msando, in the final campaign week has also elevated tensions. However, it is unclear whether Msando’s killing was in any relation to the election, even though his department deals with issues such as voter identification.

It is reported that scared citizens have even stocked up on food and water supplies in case they need to evacuate their homes due to a blood-fuelled election.

However in the run-up to the opening of polling stations, Kenyatta conducted a televised speech in which he appealed for a calm vote. It is said that a peaceful vote is integral to maintaining the country’s regional and economic stability.

Thus, the President strongly advised citizens to go home after they have casted their vote. He said:

“Go back to your neighbour, regardless of where he or she comes from, their tribe, their colour or their religion,"

"Shake their hand, share a meal and tell them 'let us wait for the results', for Kenya will be here long after this general election."

Former US President, Barack Obama, has also instigated calls for the nation’s peace at a time of such political conflict. He declared:

"I urge Kenyan leaders to reject violence and incitement; respect the will of the people."

He furthermore added: "The choices you make in the coming days can either set Kenya back or bring it together”.

In inspecting the turnout for today’s election, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission spokesman Andrew Limo said that the numbers look “huge” following the opening of more than 40,000 polling stations.

So far, there have been reports of only minor stampedes. In Nairobi’s largest slum of Kibera, a 15 minute delay in the opening of the area’s polling station triggered angry shouts, but these ended once citizens were able to cast their ballots.

In terms of the demographics of Kenya’s voting population, there are more than 19 million registered voters. It also seems that there is a significant proportion of young voters, with half of the voting population being aged under 35.

In tackling any violent setbacks, over 150,000 security forces have been distributed all around the nation until the vote ends at 5pm local Kenyan time. These include wildlife, prison and forestry officers.

Sources – BBC News, CNN International, Daily Nation

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