Kenya's race hots up

2017-08-06 06:01
Raila Odinga (File: AFP)

Raila Odinga (File: AFP)

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Candidates vying for the presidency in Kenya made their final push yesterday by holding massive rallies ahead of the close of election campaigning at midnight last night.

After announcing earlier in the week that his final rally would be at Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi, President Uhuru Kenyatta changed his plans and went to Nakuru, a town in the Rift Valley, instead. His challenger, Raila Odinga, addressed supporters in a packed Uhuru Park, located near the centre of the capital.

In his final run this week, Kenyatta and his running mate, Deputy President William Ruto, called on supporters to turn out in numbers on election day so his Jubilee Party could increase its winning margin from the 2013 elections.

“The last time, we beat him with a difference of 8 000 votes only ... Next week, we want to defeat him by a margin of 5 million votes,” he said at a rally near his home in Kiambu.

The two slated Odinga, flagbearer for the opposition coalition, the National Super Alliance (Nasa), for crying foul about the possibility of election-rigging.

Distrust of the results by both sides in 2007, when Odinga lost out narrowly to Mwai Kibaki, was one of the issues that led to post-election violence.

Odinga has since gone on to criticise the country’s electoral body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, which in the past was rocked by a corruption scandal and slammed for its inaction when election laws were broken.

At Kenyatta’s rally in Uhuru Park on Friday – speaking from the same stage used by Odinga yesterday – Kenyatta asked supporters to judge him on his development record, which he listed as the building of roads and of the Standard Gauge Railway service between Nairobi and Mombasa, and the provision of electricity and free maternity care.

Some supporters attending the rally wore the party’s red caps and T-shirts and held up posters proclaiming that Kenyatta had created jobs.

Odinga’s rally in Uhuru Park was about twice as big as Kenyatta’s, which observers partly ascribed to the fact that the nearby Kibera slum is one of the opposition strongholds in the capital.

Nairobi houses the highest number – 2.3 million – of Kenya’s more than 19 million registered voters.

Some Odinga supporters wore the party’s signature orange caps and held posters proclaiming “48 hours to Canaan” – referring to Odinga’s promise that, like Joshua in the Bible, he would lead Kenyans to the promised land. In the days running up to the election, Canaan has become a social-media phenomenon in the well-connected country.

During his rally, Odinga hit back at an alleged police raid – carried out on a Nasa tallying centre in Westlands, in Nairobi, on Friday night – during which 20 computers were removed, as well as servers and mobile phones. The tallying centre was set up to prevent election rigging.

Odinga also gave details about the measures that the opposition would take to prevent rigging.

Police have denied knowledge of the raid.

Many Kenyan voters fear a repeat of the violence that broke out 10 years ago, following a highly contested election. The devolution of power will see Kenyans fill in six ballot papers for votes from the presidency down to local level, and a resultant competition for resources. This is said to be one of the reasons observers are fearing skirmishes.

The murder a week ago of Chris Msando, a high-ranking electoral official responsible for information technology, has heightened fears of violence. Many people have left their homes in potential hot spots such as Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa with 1.5 million inhabitants, for the countryside.

The prices of bus tickets are said to have more than doubled, while those registered to vote in Nairobi reported having difficulty leaving after their voters’ cards were inspected by bus operators and they were told to vote before they left town.

Former SA president Thabo Mbeki, who heads the African Union’s (AU’s) elections observer team, attended both candidates’ rallies in Uhuru Park.

He urged the AU’s observers to intervene rather than just observe when problems arose.

“We don’t want to be that observer that will observe and then write a negative report, because our task would be to have a peaceful, credible, free and fair election,” he said.

WHAT THE KENYANS SAY

MARIANNE WAIRIMU, 28, HAWKER, NAIROBI 

Like most supporters of President Uhuru Kenyatta, Marianne Wairimu wants him to secure a second term in office. She says he has done a good job while in government. 

“He has been helping mothers and children, and he is giving education for free.” 

Wairimu is mother to a nine-year-old, who attends a government school. She says Kenyatta’s Jubilee administration has helped her to access free healthcare as well. 

These are some of the reasons she is pledging her support for the Jubilee party. 

She counts the building of roads as part of Kenyatta’s accomplishments, adding that people are now able to get title deeds for homes and gardens. 

“And he is helping young men to get jobs,” she says. 

*Another supporter, who only gave his name as Joseph and disappeared from the interview when T-shirts were being handed out, said he wanted to see Kenyatta finish the job he started when he was elected president in 2013. 

“He is the best for this country. He has brought electricity, the SGR [a new railway line between Nairobi and Mombasa] and jobs, and has empowered the youth,” he said. 

Joseph said he worked as a welder when the SGR was constructed. “What has Raila Odinga ever done for this country?” he asked, referring to the opposition contender. 

ELIZABETH ANYANGO ODWILA, 39, FISH SELLER, NAIROBI 

Waiting outside a National Super Alliance rally for opposition leader Raila Odinga to arrive, Elizabeth Anyango Odwila says: “I love Raila very much.” 

She says he has been instrumental in bringing down the price of unga (mealie meal) recently, after it more than doubled from 70 Kenyan shillings (R9) for 2kg to about 150 shillings. It now costs about 100 shillings. 

“Kenyatta gave me very good prices for everything, but this time I want Raila to become my president because the price of everything is very high. If you have children, you cannot survive,” says the mother of six. 

Odwila says it is difficult for her to afford to educate all of her children. 

Asked whether 72-year-old Odinga is good for a young country such as Kenya, her friend, also wearing an orange Odinga T-shirt like Odilwa’s, chips in: “He is not too old. Trump is how many years?” she says, referring to US President Donald Trump, who is 71. 

Nairobi is considered to be an Odinga stronghold. 

Read more on:    kenya

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