Protesters hail small victory as Kenya delays poll in the west

Kisumu (Kenya) (AFP) –


"This is not really a victory, it's just the right thing to do," nods Wilson Ochyeng, 38, sipping a beer at a bar in Kisumu after officials again delayed a vote in this bastion of Kenya's opposition.

"Imagine the number of deaths we would have had if they had tried to hold the election, this means no massacre," he said, remembering the three demonstrators killed in Kisumu while protesting over Thursday's presidential re-run.

Like other towns in the area, Kenya's third largest city is a staunch backer of opposition leader Raila Odinga whose call for a boycott of Thursday's ballot was widely observed, with protesters throwing up barricades to block the vote, prompting violent clashes that saw police firing tear gas, water cannon and live bullets.

With almost all polling stations in Kisumu and three other western counties unable to open, officials from the IEBC election board had initially said they would delay the vote there until Saturday.

But following further protests on Friday, they agreed to postpone it yet again -- to an as yet unspecified date, citing fears for the safety of their staff.

The presidential re-run was ordered by Kenya's Supreme Court after it overturned the August victory of President Uhuru Kenyatta over "irregularities" in the transmission of votes. But two weeks beforehand, Odinga pulled out, calling a boycott on the grounds that the electoral commission hadn't made the necessary changes to ensure a free and fair vote.

he boycott call was widely observed by his supporters, with roads barricaded to block the delivery of election paraphernalia, polling stations locked up -- or in one case soldered shut -- and polling staff too afraid to deliver election materials or even show up for work.

- Turning a deaf ear -

Like Odinga, most people in Kisumu and the west belong to the Luo tribe, an ethnic group which has felt marginalised and excluded from power for decades.

Before the delay was announced, tempers were already getting heated, largely in Kisumu's Kondele slum and the surrounding area, the scene of many violent protests by opposition supporters in recent weeks.

On learning that election officials were planning to deliver ballot boxes and other election material to polling stations during the evening under police escort, Odinga's supporters hit the streets, retaking control of dozens of makeshift barricades that had gridlocked the city on Thursday.

"We want to be sure that no ballot paper can be transported to the polling stations," said a protester called Peter who was manning a barricade across one of the city's main streets.

The day had got off to a calm start in Kisumu with traffic returning to the streets and shops opening in an initial semblance of normalcy.

But it didn't last long as the protests resumed and the streets were once again filled with tear gas, with police also firing live rounds as demonstrators pelted them with rocks.

Selling drinks from a stand under a corrugated iron roof, Alex Oweno welcomed the poll delay as "good news for security and for business" but said it didn't resolve the underlying problem of the election itself which "cannot be free and fair".

"The government has turned a deaf ear to us," he told AFP, saying that without reforms at the election board level, there would be no election in opposition strongholds.

"There is no point postponing the presidential election again and again," he said.

"We don't want to vote and that's the way it is."