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Tensions in Kenya as Incumbent President Declares Electoral Victory

Tensions in Kenya as Incumbent President Declares Electoral Victory

Tuesday, 31 October, 2017 - 09:45
Supporters of Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga react as they listen to his address in Nairobi slum of Kawangware on October 29, 2017. (AFP)

Tensions were high in Kenya on Tuesday in wake of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s declaration of victory in contentious presidential elections that were held last week.

Kenyans braced themselves for the reaction of opposition leader Raila Odinga, who is expected to give his first reaction to Kenyatta’s Monday night victory in a speech to loyalists from his Luo tribe some time after 0700 GMT.

The election has already stoked the deep ethnic tensions dividing the East African nation.

“We are just waiting for Baba to speak,” said Desmond Litava, an Odinga supporter in Kawangware, a restive slum in the capital, Nairobi, using a term of respect for the leader.

In the worse case, Odinga could call for his supporters to take to the streets, unleashing chaos in cities such as Nairobi and Kisumu to the detriment of the already struggling economy.

After a disputed election in 2007, around 1,200 people were killed in clashes between rival ethnic gangs that also led to a prolonged slump in the region’s biggest and most important economy.

On the other hand, Odinga could limit his appeal to the courts, as he did in 2013, and yield to diplomatic pressure to engage in post-election ‘national dialogue’ with his arch political rival.

The announcement of Kenyatta’s victory, by a margin of 98 percent due to an Odinga boycott on the grounds the election was not free or fair, provoked anger in pro-Odinga slums, whose residents burnt tire barricades and threw rocks at police.

Anti-riot officers responded with volleys of tear gas, in scenes that have been common in Nairobi’s slums and Odinga strongholds in western Kenya since the first attempt at an election in August.

That vote was annulled by the Supreme Court on the basis of procedural irregularities in the vote-tallying. Odinga argued that the re-run was also flawed because of a failure to replace key officials of the election commission.

Soon after his electoral victory, Kenyatta's backers celebrated his re-election, but angry Odinga supporters skirmished with police in Nairobi slums and burned tires in Kisumu, one of the opposition strongholds in western Kenya.

Kenya's election commission said the turnout of registered voters in the October 26 election was about 40 percent, compared with roughly twice that in August balloting that was nullified by the Supreme Court because of what it called "irregularities and illegalities."

The rerun was marred by deadly clashes between police and Odinga supporters in the days that followed.

Kenyatta said he expected Odinga followers to mount new legal challenges, indicating the long saga that has left many Kenyans weary of conflict and has hurt business in East Africa's economic hub is not over.

"My victory today was just part of a process that is likely to once again be subjected to a constitutional test through our courts," Kenyatta said at the election commission headquarters after results were announced that gave him a second term. "I will submit to this constitutional path."

Kenyatta said he would consider dialogue with the opposition after the outcome of any court proceedings. He also described his victory as a validation of his win in August, saying the 7.5 million votes that he received this time amounted to 90 percent of what he got earlier.

Odinga, who dismissed the repeat election as a sham and told his supporters not to participate, remained on the ballot and still got 73,000 votes, or just under 1 percent. In August, he received 45 percent to Kenyatta's 54 percent.

At least nine people have died in violence since the rerun election. Some were shot by police; several died in fighting between Kenya's different ethnic groups, highlighting the loyalties that drive Kenyan politics. Mobs have also looted shops and burned property in some areas.

Odinga has said he will form a "resistance" movement to oppose the government, which has in turn accused opposition leaders of fomenting violence with incendiary rhetoric. He also said he wants another election to be held.

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