Grey skies and stench of teargas mark vote in Kenya slums

2017-10-26 15:22
 (File: AFP)

(File: AFP)

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Nairobi - "It is our right not to vote. We voted already in August and you see what happened," shrugged Joseph Otieno as he stood in the drizzling rain with a handful of youths boycotting Thursday's presidential re-run.

In Nairobi's Mathare slum, a neighbourhood of rickety high-rises and tin shacks, mixed ethnicity and mixed political affiliation, some polling stations were deserted, while others opened late, attracting just a trickle of voters.

There was no sign of the thick snaking queues of voters that characterised the August election, whose results were annulled last month, unleashing weeks of acrimonious politicking and angry demonstrations which sometimes turned violent.

Near a polling station at the Heidemarie primary school, a small group of young men stood blowing whistles and shouting.

They were not voting.

All of them were Luos - members of the same tribe as opposition leader Raila Odinga, whose court challenge cancelled the August election victory of President Uhuru Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, resulting in Thursday's rerun.

But he later pulled out of the poll, claiming it would be neither free nor fair, calling his supporters to observe a boycott.

 'Won't achieve much' 

The men lobbed occasional rocks in the direction of the polling station and mugged unfamiliar passersby for their mobile phones but Otieno, who is 25 and unemployed, said they weren't stopping anyone from voting.

"Those who want to vote, it's their right," he said, a wad of gloopy green khat in the corner of his mouth.

Also boycotting the vote was John Owuor, a 45-year-old electrician who, unable to find work, makes a living selling street snacks. But he had little hope anything would change.

"It will not achieve much. Life will go on, people will feel the pinch and when they protest, security forces will be poured upon them," he said with a shrug.

"They are expressing their anger. We are neighbours," he said, meaning Luos, like himself, and Kikuyus.

"But those who are voting are legitimising an illegal government."

 'We have to vote' 

Elsewhere in the city, people were managing to cast their ballots - but the numbers weren't huge.

"Last time there were a lot of people, the queues were long," said an election official at the Redeemed Gospel Church, a polling station with around 9 000 registered voters in Huruma, one of a necklace of slums that encircle Nairobi.

"This is a different scenario."

As the polling station opened shortly after 06:00, only a few dozen people were lined up on the grass outside, turned boggy by heavy overnight rains. Almost all of them were Kikuyus, members of the same tribe as Kenyatta.

He is guaranteed an overwhelming victory thanks to the withdrawal of Odinga.

Susan Ndungu, a 40-year-old television saleswoman, was first in the female line to vote. "Last time it was nullified but the reality is we had voted! We have to vote now. Maybe the opposition won't vote but we will vote."

 'Codswallop' 

Back in August, turnout was around 80% with Kenyatta initially winning with 54% of the vote while Odinga took 45%. If the opposition boycott holds, turnout on Thursday was likely to be far lower - and Kenyatta's figures far higher.

In Odinga's western stronghold of Kisumu, a large number of police were on the streets but only a handful of polling stations appeared to be open in city's western neighbourhoods, one inside a prison where the ballot boxes only turned up in the morning.

Among the tiny handful of election officials - less than 10 - who had dared to venture out, there was a tangible sense of fear, with at least one spending the night inside the city's main polling station to avoid being attacked.

"The perception here is that... you are betraying your community," he told AFP without giving his name, saying he and several others had been threatened and called "traitors" in the street.

"I stayed here because I don't want to get a bullet while on my way home."

Across the city, protesters had pulled together makeshift barricades, using large boulders, concrete blocks or burning tyres.

"We do not want the ballot boxes and ballot papers to go to the polling stations," said George Musundu, 24, who was manning one of the barricades. "Today there is no election, we do not want that sham election to happen."

But back in Nairobi there was scorn for the boycotters.

"They have a codswallop argument!" said 20-year-old business student Pius Muhoro after voting at the Redeemed Gospel Church.

"It's nonsense: whether they vote or don't vote we will elect Uhuru."

Read more on:    uhuru kenyatta  |  raila odinga  |  kenya  |  kenya 2017 elections  |  east africa

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