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Africa

Kenya vote count under way in wake of huge turnout

© AFP

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2013-03-06

Uhuru Kenyatta opened an early lead ahead of his main rival Raila Odinga on Tuesday as Kenya counted the votes in a presidential election that brought out millions of voters, despite pockets of violence that killed at least 15 people.

As the morning after the big elections dawned in the sprawling slum of Kibera in Nairobi, a few residents were on the streets, making their way to their jobs as cooks, gardeners and guards in the more affluent parts of the Kenyan capital.

But there was no sign of the teeming army of workforce making their way from their homes to the matatu (minibus) stops or simply walking to work.

'Premature for any candidate to start talking about victory'

With counting well under way after Monday’s general elections, which saw a massive voter turnout, a tense calm prevailed across the country and especially in the volatile urban areas such as Kibera.

“A lot of people are in upcountry,” said Samuel Otaien, using the Kenyan term for rural homes or ancestral regions. “The others are just staying home.”

In the run-up to the elections, many Kenyans who live in the mainly impoverished urban areas that were badly affected by the 2007-2008 post-electoral violence left their urban residences for their ancestral homes in regions dominated by their own tribes in a massive pre-electoral exodus.

The disputed December 2007 elections unleashed an ethnic carnage that killed more than 1,000 people and displaced over 600,000 others.

One of the country’s leading presidential candidates, Uhuru Kenyatta, and his running mate, William Ruto, are among four Kenyans charged with crimes against humanity for their alleged roles in instigating the post-electoral bloodshed.

Monday’s vote saw a massive turnout across the country, with several polling stations remaining open long past the 6pm closing hour to enable voters to cast their ballots. The poll closing extension has pushed back the arrival of voting figures and results. By late Monday, the chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, Issack Hassan, was only able to provide a preliminary figure of the turnout at 5pm, which he put at 70%. That figure is expected to rise.

With the tallying of the complicated vote under way on Tuesday, early provisional results put Kenyatta ahead of his main rival, Raila Odinga. Kenya’s election commission officials have warned that the figures were preliminary and analysts have noted that the early results have been pouring in from Kenyatta stronghold regions.

But as the figures trickle in, the trend gets more apparent and it’s a source of tension in Kibera, a Luo stronghold where support for their fellow Luo and longtime representative Odinga is high.

“It’s very early figures,” said Otaien, echoing the message being drilled by national TV stations. “I don’t think there will be trouble this time,” said the 38-year-old gardener, before adding, “I hope there won’t be trouble this time.”

Absolute majority or run-off vote

Explosion in Nairobi

A blast hit Nairobi's predominantly Somali neighbourhood of Eastleigh on Tuesday evening. Police said there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Kibera experienced some of the country’s worst violence after the December 2007 elections as the disputed results opened ethnic fault lines as deep as the Great Rift Valley.

It was also the place where presidential candidate Raila Odinga cast his vote early on Monday at the Old Kibera Primary School, amid tight security.

Speaking to reporters shortly after voting, Odinga said he was “confident that we will win this election in the first round. I am sure that Kenyans will today express their confidence in us.”

A presidential candidate has to win 50% of the votes and at least 25% of the votes cast in not less than 24 counties. If there is no clear winner of Monday’s vote, the country heads for a runoff, which should be held in mid-April.

Tight security, sporadic attacks

Security was tightened on Monday, with more than 99,000 police officers deployed across the country and over 7,000 senior police officers supervising the elections.

Hours before the polls opened, a group of heavily armed men attacked a police post in the port city of Mombasa, killing at least 10 people, including two police officers, according to Kenyan police officials.

According to Kenyan police officials, the attack was conducted by the MRC (Mombasa Republican Council) a separatist group that had threatened Election Day attacks.

But speaking to FRANCE 24, senior Kenyan analyst Abdullahi Halakhe advised caution about attributing the attacks to the MRC.

“My worry is that the MRC is being used as a bogeyman,” said Halake. “There are many rival and splinter groups that counter the MRC and it could be an opportunistic group.”

In Kitengela, a town south of Nairobi, at least 20 people were hospitalised after a stampede at a polling station, according to a local TV station.

Despite the heightened security fears, most Kenyans express faith and optimism in the democratic system.

“I was never interested in politics. When my father used to go to vote, I would say, ‘why are you voting? Nothing changes.’ But now I want to vote,” said James Otieno, a Kibera resident.

“They say if you participate in voting, you participate in the democracy of your country and I want to participate in the democracy of my country.”  

Date created : 2013-03-05

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