from MARIA MACHARIA in Nairobi, Kenya
NAIROBI, (CAJ News) – AN alleged ploy to trigger ethnic violence, a messy spat between the president and his deputy, as well as a leading candidate fearing for his life, the atmosphere is increasingly toxic ahead of polls in Kenya.
East Africa’s biggest economy will on Tuesday hold what is projected to be the most fiercely contest election since it transitioned to a multiparty political system 31 years ago.
As the exercise draws closer, allegations by the Kwanza Kenya, of a plot, allegedly by the camp of the outgoing president, Uhuru Kenyatta, to provoke ethnic violence in the strongholds of the alliance have raised temperatures.
The allegations have evoked memories of the 2007/08 poll when post-election violence took a tribal dimension and left more than 1 000 people dead and 600 000 displaced.
This after Mwai Kibaki (now late) was declared the winner ahead of Raila Odinga.
Veteran Odinga (aged 77) is back in contention and is seen as standing the greatest chance of winning, after four previous attempts failed.
However, his prospects have been marred by allegations that his Azimio la Umoja–One Kenya Coalition Party, is involved in machinations to pit Kenyans against each other on tribal lines in areas his main opponent, William Ruto (55), is tipped to win.
Ruto’s alliance has made the allegation, which some in government have given credence to but have not identified the perpetrators behind some pamphlets apparently sowing divisions and said to intimidate his supporters in the Mount Kenya and Rift Valley regions.
Ruto is the outgoing deputy president but his boss, the departing Uhuru Kenyatta, has added to the tensions by endorsing longtime rival and ex-Prime Minister, Odinga.
“We will not allow you to incite the people of Kenya, or use chiefs and other public officials and pamphlets (to create divisions),” Odinga warned at one of his final rallies, held in the central county of Kirinyaga.
In the message directed to the rival camp, he added, “You cannot take the people of Kenya backwards. We are from there. We are not going back. We are marching forward to the unity and prosperity of Kenya.”
Kenyatta projected victory was certain.
“We are not going to agree to conflict merely because one side of the election is going to lose. Our competitors must accept to lose honorably. They cannot incite the people of Kenya. They cannot cause conflict,” Kenyatta said.
He pledged to retain the peace deal 2012 peace pact known as the Nakuru County Peace Accord or Rift Valley Peace Accord.
It was an agreement signed between elders of the Agikuyu (see also Kikuyu) and Kalenjin communities as well as other ethnic groups.
Meanwhile in the Kenya Kwanza rally in Kirinyaga, Ruto’s running mate, Rigathi Gachagua, reiterated the claims of ethnic plots.
“The only remaining card is one…to create ethnic conflict in the Rift Valley,” Gachagua said.
There have also been allegations the state apparatus would be unleashed to suppress voter turnout in Kenya Kwanza strongholds.
Karanja Kibicho, the Principal Secretary in the State Department of Interior and Citizen Services in the Ministry of Interior and Coordination, warned against coercion or “fear-mongering.”
“To our dismay, we’re aware of leaflets warnings the electorate of dire consequences should they fail to vote for certain candidates on August 9,” he said.
“A multi-agency security team is pursuing the authors and distributors of the leaflets for a swift and deserved date with the justice system,” Kibicho assured.
He said the government was committed to safeguarding citizens, including presidential candidates and their running mates.
“We’ve ensured all candidates have security that is commensurate with their needs and that’s continuously reviewed,” Kibicho said.
In late July, Meta (formerly Facebook), stated in the six months leading up to April 30, it “took action” on more than 37 000 post for violating its Hate Speech policies on Facebook and Instagram in Kenya.
“During that same period, we also took action on more than 42 000 pieces of content that violated our Violence and Incitement policies,” Mercy Ndegwa, Meta Director of Public Policy: East and Horn of Africa, stated.
Dominic Kisavi, Commissioner of the National Police Service (NPS), this week assured head of the East African Community of election observers, Jakaya Kikwete, and the public of the enforcers’ security preparedness.
Kikwete is the former president of neighbouring Tanzania.
“NPS assures the public of its commitment to provide adequate security across the country to enable the IEBC and stakeholders to deliver a peaceful, free, fair and credible general election,” the police commissioner stated.
IEBC is acronym for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
Odinga has promised “an innovative and honest” government that includes all groups.
He lamented that Kenya had four enemies, namely “poverty, ignorance, disease, and the biggest of all, corruption.”
“Without ending corruption, we cannot prosper, enlighten or heal our people,” Odinga said.
This has always been projected to be a two-horse race – between Odinga and Ruto- despite four contestants (others are David Waihiga Mwaure and George Wajackoyah, Agano Party and Roots Party of Kenya respectively).
A two-man sideshow pits Kenyatta and Ruto. The fallout between the duo has been spectacular.
As one exits the highest office in the land and the other declares himself its next occupant, the friends-turned-foes have squabbled publicly.
Ruto recently claimed his now-rival wanted to “harm” him.
The two hit out against each other during the final rounds of campaigns.
“As long as you don’t kill my children I shall face you but please let’s respect each other,” Ruto was quoted as saying.
At a rally, he said, “Mr President, stop talking about me, talk about your candidate (Odinga).”
“I supported you when you needed a man to support you. If you do not want to support me, leave me alone.”
Kenyatta has hit back, labeling his former right-hand man as unfit for the presidency and “lying” in order to cause dissatisfaction among the populace.
He recently responded while commissioning the Nairobi Expressway.
“Focus on your (Ruto’s) campaigns and sell your manifesto. Leave me alone. I’m finishing my work,” Kenyatta responded.
Kenyatta’s and Ruto’s alliance was formalized in when they formed the Jubilee alliance for the 2013 presidential election.
The alliance won 50,51 percent of the vote.
In 2014, Kenyatta appointed Ruto acting president of Kenya following his summons to appear before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged involvement in the 2007/08 elections.
Ruto was later summoned. They were later acquitted.
The pair was a united force in the 2017 elections, which they won but courts invalidated because of irregularities.
Uhuru and Ruto were re-elected (with 98 percent) after Odinga pulled out citing problems at IEBC.
However, relations have been strained since 2018 when Kenyatta entered into a pact with Odinga. It is believed Kenyatta accused his deputy of early campaigning to succeed him at the expense of government projects.
There are over 40 ethnic groups in the country of an estimated 56 million people. Kikuyu is the most populous at over 20 percent, followed by the Luhya at 14 percent.
More than 22,1 million people are registered to vote.
– CAJ News