In hope or despair, Kenyans choose new president from familiar faces

DUNCAN MIRIRI and AYENAT MERSIE

KENYANS voted in national elections, forming long queues at ballot stations in the heartlands of presidential frontrunners Raila Odinga and William Ruto, while widespread voter apathy and frustration dampened turnout elsewhere.

Kenya’s presidential, legislative and local elections come as surging food prices and ingrained corruption have irked many citizens.

Provisional results will start streaming in on Tuesday night but official announcements will take longer.

The electoral commission said it expected turnout to be around 60%. Turnout in the last election was near 80%. Many Kenyans tweeted stories of voting in a few minutes, saying it had taken hours in previous elections.

“Kenyans are tired of waking up early and voting for a government that doesn’t care,” said Joshua Nyanjui at a polling station in the town of Naivasha, around 90 kms (56 miles) northeast of the capital Nairobi.

Large numbers of young people did not even register to vote, electoral commission figures show. Many said they were fed up of widening inequality and don’t trust either Odinga or Ruto.

Ruto, 55, has been President Uhuru Kenyatta’s deputy for nine years, though the two have fallen out. Instead, Kenyatta endorsed veteran opposition leader Odinga, 77.

Odinga, a former political prisoner, picked ex-justice minister Martha Karua as his running mate. If elected, she would be the nation’s first female vice president in a nation where women candidates often face violent attacks. 

Four opinion polls published last week put Odinga ahead by six to eight points. Ruto dismissed them as fake.

Kenya is a stable nation in a volatile region, a close Western ally that hosts regional headquarters for Alphabet, Visa and other international groups. However, less than 0.1% of Kenyans own more wealth than the bottom 99.9% combined, according to Oxfam.

FAITHFUL VOTERS

A voter casts his ballot during the general election by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) at the Kibera primary school in Nairobi, Kenya August 9, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

In the western city of Kisumu, David Onyango, 34, had been queuing for nearly four hours and said turnout was the biggest he’d ever seen.

Near the Rift Valley town of Eldoret, Ruto’s political heartland, Gideon Mengech woke up at 3 a.m. to vote.

“I am honoured to be here,” he said.

Other citizens cast their vote haunted by the violence that followed past election disputes.

“Whenever it nears the election period, I get scared,” said Philip Wangoi, who was among a group of women and children sheltering in a church when it was set alight after the disputed 2007 election. The purple ink that marked his finger as a voter stood out from the swirls of burn scars on his hand.

In other places, some polling stations opened late and some biometric kits used to identify voters failed to work properly. The commission extended voting time in stations that had delays. In Narok, some names beginning with certain letters were missing from lists.

In northern Eldas town, the election was postponed a day for nearly 24,000 voters after violent clashes between rival candidates, election officials said.

On Monday, the commission suspended two gubernatorial elections and two parliamentary races, citing ballot printing errors.

Kenya’s traditional ethnic voting dynamics may also dampen turnout. The largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu, have provided three out of Kenya’s four presidents. This time, there is no Kikuyu candidate, although both frontrunners have Kikuyu deputies.

Ruto comes from the populous Kalenjin community, based in the Rift Valley, while Odinga’s Luo ethnic group have their heartland in western Kenya.

CHALLENGES AHEAD

The next president will have to tackle soaring food, fuel and fertiliser prices. They must also repay the loans that funded outgoing President Kenyatta’s infrastructure boom.

Ruto has sought to capitalise on growing anger among poor Kenyans by promising to provide loans for small enterprises.

Odinga, who has competed unsuccessfully in four previous elections, promises to tackle corruption and make peace with political opponents. The 2007 and 2017 polls were marred by violence after disputes over alleged rigging.

To avoid a run-off, a presidential candidate needs more than 50 percent of the votes and at least 25 percent of votes in more than half of Kenya’s 47 counties.



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