Kenya gets ready for poll strife

2017-07-30 05:55

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Fears of rigging ahead of Kenya’s general election have increased allegations by opposition leader Raila Odinga that the army was secretly planning to subvert the August 8 elections outcome should it not favour incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The Kenyan Defence Force on Friday night confirmed that a document obtained by Odinga from unnamed sources, titled Ops Dumisha Utulivu (Operation Keep Peace), was real, but claimed it was quoted out of context because the military was apolitical and professional.

Odinga at a press conference in Nairobi on Friday distributed a 10-page document to the media, diplomats and on social media, which showed large numbers of officers and soldiers being prepared for this operation.

It gives details down to the phone numbers of the officers responsible.

Part of the training, according to Odinga, involves cutting off power and water to the Kibara and Mathare slums in Nairobi, and keeping people out of the city centre.

Odinga called it “one of the gravest developments in the history of our country”.

He made the revelations fresh from what his supporters have termed a public relations victory earlier in the week after he was the only participant in a major televised pre-election debate that Kenyatta snubbed.

The revelations also follow polls that put Kenyatta and Odinga virtually neck and neck in the presidential race, which will be fought around issues such as skyrocketing food prices, rampant corruption and tribalism.

One poll by US pollster John Zogby shows Odinga slightly ahead with 47% of support against Kenyatta’s 46%.

Stakes in the elections are high for both candidates. It is the 72-year-old Odinga’s fourth and possibly last attempt at the presidency, while the 55-year-old Kenyatta will be running for his second and last term.

The violence after the country’s 2007 elections is still fresh in the minds of many, when widespread protests and cultural violence saw over 1 000 people killed following Odinga’s loss to Mwai Kibaki.

International observers confirmed rigging on both sides.

"People are scared"

A Mombasa woman who witnessed some of the violence first-hand said:

“They would just come and knock on your door and ask you who you voted for.

"You wouldn’t know which party they were from, but if you said the wrong party, they would just kill you.”

She said many went hungry as a result.

“It was really tough, and there was no food. The shelves were empty.

"Then they were burning a shop because the guy [shop owner] voted for the wrong party, and he just told people to help themselves to whatever he had there, because the shop was burning down anyway.”

Two weeks ago it was reported that stocks of crowd-control vehicles, tear gas and guns were being imported to help deal with any mass protests after the elections.

Recent reports have said flights out of the country had been fully booked around election time.

An early closure by schools on Friday also saw a big exodus of people travelling from cities to their home constituencies.

“People are scared. They would rather travel out of the big cities to their homes in the rural areas in case of violence, because it would be peaceful there,” another woman said.

The UK government has also urged its citizens travelling to Kenya to be vigilant, saying there was a heightened threat of terrorist attacks in the country’s capital Nairobi, as well as in resort towns on the coast, including Mombasa and Malindi.

Other than the usual body scans at malls, there is, however, no sign of an increased security presence in big cities for the time being.

Nairobi-based analyst Nanjala Nyabola reckoned the fear of violence as a result of national political issues could be overstated.

“Neither of the two candidates has the ability to instigate violence like they did in 2007,” she said, adding that there were a lot more tensions with the gubernatorial elections at local level.

She also said though emotions were running high on both sides ahead of the elections, the real significance of the results lay in the direction they would move the country in.

“The issue is not so much about the violence, but in a way what we are going through is the same as what you are going through in South Africa.

"It’s about what we want the country to look like going forward,” she said.

“Kenya is a slow-burn crisis, and unravelling over time. So many young people have a clear vision of the society they want to live in, and this one isn’t living up to their vision.

"The older people, on the other hand, have a dated vision of what this country looks like, and many want to keep doing things the same.”

Read more on:    uhuru kenyatta  |  raila odinga  |  kenya

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