Kenyans on edge for result of tight election

Kenyans waited for the result of their closest-ever presidential election on Sunday, fearing more unrest after a chaotic vote count marred by widespread ethnic violence over accusations of rigging.

Several people were killed in tribal disturbances on Saturday across the East African nation, usually seen as an island of relative stability in a volatile region.

The latest results released on Saturday showed President Mwai Kibaki (76) taking the lead, infuriating supporters of opposition challenger Raila Odinga, who led in early tallies and in most opinion polls in the run-up to Thursday’s election.

Odinga’s political allies, accusing the government of a plot to rig the result, tried to shout down the head of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) as he read out the figures that gave Kibaki a lead of roughly 120 000 votes.

At the end of a rowdy briefing broadcast live, the exasperated ECK chairperson announced only an earlier official tally giving Odinga a 38 000 vote lead.

“We are Kenyans, not beasts!” said the ECK’s Samuel Kivuitu.

The commission then abruptly stopped reporting results for the night, leaving Kenya’s 36-million people in suspense as to the result of the closest of four multiparty elections since independence from Britain in 1963.

Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) both claimed victory and the leadership of the region’s biggest economy for the next five years.

An observer mission from the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (Comesa) trading block said it was saddened by the violence and urged both sides to resolve any dispute over the results in the courts.

“Comesa ... calls upon the people of Kenya to maintain peace as the counting goes on and ... on all aggrieved parties ...
to address their grievances through appropriate legal channels in a peaceful manner,” it said in a statement.

Tribal antagonism

Although Kenya’s 42 ethnic groups generally get along, Odinga’s big Luo tribe and Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe, the country’s largest, have a four-decade history of political antagonism.

Up to six people died in clashes following what foreign observers had praised as a largely peaceful voting exercise.

Odinga, the wealthy son of Kenya’s first vice-president who commands almost god-like adulation among Luos, stayed silent as rioting and looting erupted in his western stronghold, Kisumu.

Critics accuse the former political prisoner of being a firebrand who stokes unrest when he doesn’t get his way.

Police in Kisumu had been ordered not to use force to quell unrest. Dozens of people took advantage to loot shops, some owned by Kikuyus but also by Kenyans of Indian origin, many of whom took sanctuary in a Hindu temple.

“Even the police are looting,” said a government security source on condition of anonymity.

Government officials privately said they had been contemplating a curfew that would allow soldiers to patrol at night, but Kenyans needed no persuasion to stay indoors, leaving the streets all but empty and businesses shuttered.

If Odinga wins, analysts say he will have to enlist Kikuyu support to allay fears that he has not left his socialist past behind, and ensure a peaceful handover.

Kibaki would be faced with an opposition Parliament if he returns, but would still command enormous power as president thanks to constitutional changes by his two predecessors that give the executive near-total government control.—Reuters

Client Media Releases

NWU consistently among top SA universities in rankings
MTN gears up for Black Friday sale promotion
Software licensing should be getting simpler, but it's not
Utility outages: looking at the big picture
UKZN scientists get L'Or'eal-UNESCO Women in Science grants